We caught up with the multi-talented artist to chat about the movie, life in the public eye, her Las Vegas residency and the dreams she has yet to achieve
Lady Gaga never does anything by halves, and as the fresh-faced title character in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born, she lit up the silver screen with her soulful vocals and nuanced acting. The blockbuster had movie critics fawning — over the music, the chemistry between its two main stars, Gaga’s acting — and had raked in well over US$200 million by mid-October. We caught up with the multi-talented artist to chat about the movie, life in the public eye, her Las Vegas residency and the dreams she has yet to achieve.
One of the most memorable early scenes in A Star Is Born has you singing “La Vie en Rose” as Edith Piaf at the drag bar. I’m guessing this wasn’t the most unusual performance or most interesting club that you’ve played?
There were many interesting places that I played. I played in a thousand clubs, if not more. I used to do three shows a night, so there are many different places I could say. But I really remember one moment in particular that was very special, which was at Rockwood Music Hall in New York. It’s a very tiny venue and I was a nobody. I was working with Lady Starlight, and we had a show called Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue. She would spin dub plates, which are like vinyls, and I would play piano over the beats and sing. We wore matching bikinis and we did this dance. Rockwood Music Hall is all glass, so everyone could see from the street. The place was packed; but “packed” in this club means 30 people tops. After about 15 minutes into the performance, I looked up and out the window I saw 100 people on the street taking pictures of Lady Starlight and me.
I will never forget that moment as long as I live, because I was no one. I just remember that I looked at Lady Starlight and I was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s happening? People like this, and our voices are being heard.”
You get a lot of love and support from drag queens and the LGBTQ community…
I don’t think there’s any higher honor than having a drag queen impersonate you in your career. It’s very special, and I’m very happy that it’s included in the film. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my gay friends, or my friends who do drag. This was something that touched my heart so much when I was reading the script.
I spoke a lot to Bradley about my life. That’s how he and his fellow screenwriters integrated part of it into the movie. They did it in a very special way, and I’m forever grateful to him for that because there’s some poetry in it, really, when his character sings to the drag queens. And he says, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” For acceptance of everyone.
There’s a lot of struggle — with fame and acceptance, with art and commerce — and internal anguish in the movie.
Watching this film, especially how it ends, I think it’s important that we take care of each other and that people nourish one another. It’s important to nourish talents, especially artists who achieve stardom very quickly.
We see Jack suffering in this film, and we see substance abuse and his trauma. I wish there had been someone earlier in Jack’s life to help him. There were times in my career early on when I wish there had been someone to help nourish me psychologically, to help me handle the change. Because when you become famous, everything — your whole life — changes. You are no longer just a free being and, in many ways, you belong to the world.
Mental health is an important topic to be discussed around this film. I have what’s called the Born This Way Foundation. We are focused on empowering youth, encouraging kindness and bravery and taking care of our mental health. It’s very important that we look out for one another and pay attention when people are suffering. Because sometimes when people are suffering, they don’t even know that they are, because it’s so deep. If we see someone suffering we should reach out and tell them, “I know,” and help them.
What helped you through your own struggle with fame?
What helped me get out of the suffering is the nourishment of people around me, paying attention and validating my feelings. So many people say, “You asked for it, you wanted to be a singer, you wanted to be a star.” It’s almost like an accusation.
But I don’t believe that I asked for it. I can’t explain to you why inside me, since I was a small child, I wanted to be a singer and an actress. It’s something deep inside me, like something from God. We should be kinder to people who live in the spotlight and treat them like human beings.
Did you always have this much ambition in your life?
Ambition is like a fire with constant oxygen being blown into it, making it bigger and bigger. Without ambition at the beginning of my career, I would not be where I am today because you get rejected over and over again. You make mistakes. You fall down. You have performances that you are proud of and some that you’re not proud of.
It’s always wonderful to have ambition, even if that ambition is to improve on how you feel. It doesn’t have to be about your career. It can just be about you as a person.
For me, I’m ambitious now to help more people in the world. I have a platform and I want to use it for good things — to promote kindness and compassion, to empower young people to be kind to one another and to help kids at an early age learn about kindness and mental health. So that we can intervene early, have happier children and prevent things like the end of
In the movie your character wins a Grammy — what was it like the first time you were recognized for your work? Does it push away any doubts you have about your work or yourself?
No, it doesn’t push away all your doubts about yourself. But it’s a tremendous honor. I remember the first time I got a phone call that I was nominated for three Grammys, I believe. I burst into tears and I was so overwhelmed. But awards don’t erase insecurity. The insecurity inside an artist is kind of across the board — we’re always trying to be better, to make more honest work, to dive deeper into our souls. So, no, awards don’t fix things, but they are very humbling and are quite an honor.
You’re about to launch your exclusive Las Vegas residency with two different shows in December. Did you talk to other artists who have done the long-term show?
I’m very close with Elton John. I am the godmother of his children with David Furnish and we’ve talked about his residency shows in Las Vegas. I have two different relationships with Elton. One is a private one, and then the other is when I watch his shows with the audience. I go, “Oh my gosh,” and I start to cry. He’s just magical.
The truth is, I can’t do what I do if I’m partying like crazy in Las Vegas. I’ll be focused and ready to put on the shows of a lifetime. I’ve worked for 10 years now in this business. I’m excited to reinvent what it means to be in Las Vegas at this age. I want to give something back to the fans, and also to people who are just passing through Vegas and want to see a great show.
To outsiders like us, you’ve done it all. But what other dreams are you still pursuing?
I have dreams of being a mother and having a family. I have dreams of doing more films and making more music. But I’m very happy now. I’m not obsessed with career expansion. I’m much more inspired and that’s why I made this movie, because I was inspired and because somebody believed in me. There can be a hundred people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one and your whole career can take off. I’m just incredibly grateful to be here.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Smile magazine.