VENICE, Italy—You’ve surely seen the extra, meme-bait photos by now: Lady Gaga in a clinging black dress with matching stilettos, legs crossed, hair spun into magical ’40s Victory rolls, casually leaning over the side of a water taxi whilst fondling a single red flower. As far as Venice Film Festival entrances go, everyone else may as well pack it in.
The musical siren formerly known as Stefani Germanotta has returned to the motherland to unveil A Star Is Born opposite her director/co-star Bradley Cooper. She plays Ally, a young, working-class singer who’s discovered one evening performing in a drag bar by Jackson Maine (Cooper), a drinking-and-drugging country singer whose career has plateaued. The two form a musical and romantic partnership that pushes them in separate directions. It is, of course, a remake, with the original debuting in 1937, and Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand previously embodying the up-and-comer in ’54 and ’76, respectively. Unlike those seasoned performers, however, this is Gaga’s feature-film debut.
And Gaga, as is her wont, channeled movie-star glamour once more, gliding into her press conference Friday afternoon in a white, Monroe-esque number.
“We know already that this story has stood the test of time,” said Gaga. “It’s a story about love… the human plight and addiction, and [was] a remarkable experience for me.”
Her biggest challenge in playing Ally, she explained, was how the character had “completely given up on herself” when we meet her at the beginning of the film, which didn’t mirror Gaga’s own experience breaking into the music industry.
“When I decided I wanted to be a singer and go for it professionally, I was about 19 years old and I hit the ground running. I was dragging my piano from dive bar to dive bar trying to get jobs so I could sing and perform for people, and I really believed in myself.”
Gaga recalled how she landed the role of Ally, owing to a memorable screen test at her Los Angeles home.
“I remember very, very well, I walked down the stairs of my house before we filmed the screen test for A Star Is Born, and [Cooper] had a makeup wipe in his hand,” she said. “He put his hand on my face, and he went like this… and he said, ‘I want no makeup on your face.’ This vulnerability was something he brought out in me.”
All the singing in A Star Is Born was done live, with Gaga and Cooper crooning together in front of thousands of cheering fans at the music festivals Coachella, Stagecoach, and Glastonbury.
“He’s really such a tremendous singer,” Gaga remarked of Cooper. “He sings from his gut, from the nectar of his soul.”
A Star Is Born is also a Pygmalion tale of sorts, as Ally is molded by her demanding manager (Rafi Gavron) into a chart-topping pop star—new hair, outfits and backup dancers included. When asked whether she too was forced to conform to a certain set of music-industry standards, Gaga took a brief pause.
“When I was first starting out, I was not the most beautiful girl in the room and there were lots of women that were singers but did not write their own music, so many record producers wanted to take my songs and give them to other women to sing,” Gaga recounted. “I was holding on to my music with my cold, dead fingers saying, ‘You’re not going to take my songs from me.’ And also, they make suggestions about how you should look… but no matter what they asked me to do, I always had to make sure that it was done my way. I never wanted to be sexy like other women, I never wanted to be like other women. I wanted to be my own artist, and have my own vision.”
“I’ve got to live my dream,” she later added of Cooper’s A Star Is Born. “I’ve always wanted to be an actress, and there can be 100 people in the room and 99 don’t believe in you and you just need one to believe in you, and that was him.”