LADY Gaga did not expect her role as an unknown singer-songwriter in the hotly anticipated film A Star is Born to prove quite so cathartic and emotionally gruelling.
“I was able to take all the pain, all of the despair, all of the memories of betrayal or let-downs I’ve gone through, and put it somewhere where it could help people,” Gaga tells news.com.au. She tears up. “This movie has changed my life. Now I feel like the pain was not for nothing. If I can help make one person feel stronger or feel understood, it’s worth it.”
This is the fourth incarnation of A Star is Born, and marks Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. He also co-wrote the script and took on the lead role as a country rock musician battling addiction while his career is on the decline. His life changes when he meets an aspiring female entertainer who falls for him.
Gaga has famously battled addiction herself, and lost friends along the way to the same disease, most recently, model Rick “Zombie Boy” Genest, who co-starred in her Born This Way video and died of an apparent suicide last month.
“It’s not something I can talk about,” she says. “But I’d like to say that I’m so happy to be here. I am extremely grateful and very humbled.”
We are at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel during the Toronto Film Festival, where the film premiered and earned rave reviews. Gaga cannot contain her delight. Many of those favourable critical notices acknowledged the palpable on-screen chemistry between the pair, which the film’s leading lady is thrilled to discuss.
“From the moment that I met Bradley at my house in California, the second I saw his eyes, we had an instant connection. And before I knew it, I was feeding him leftover pasta from the house,” she laughs.
“He’s Italian, we are both from the East Coast, so we had just an instant synergy. And not long after that, he asked me if I would sing a song called Midnight Special with him.
“As I began to play he started to sing with me. I stopped immediately, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, Bradley, you have this incredible voice.’”
The project was an ambitious move for both of its stars. Lady Gaga has limited acting experience, although she did win a 2016 Golden Globe award for her role in American Horror Story, and Cooper had never directed nor sung to such a degree on screen. It was Gaga who insisted he sang the tracks live.
“His voice is something that comes from deep in the soul, a voice that is from the gut, from the nectar of who you are,” she gushes. “I was beyond inspired. I knew that this was the only actor in the world who could play a rock star 100 per cent with certainty.”
She pauses. “He believed in me so much and I believed in him so much, and that is why we made this movie.”
The movie famously examines ambition and fame as themes, two subjects very close to home for Gaga. “What does it mean to be a star?” she muses, repeating the question. “Being a star takes courage of the human spirit. To be a star means bravery, compassion, understanding. That’s what makes a real star.”
And when does she really feel like one? “There are moments when I am very aware of it, and then there are most moments, when I am just truly a human being like everyone else. I am not here to be a star, I am here to have a voice. I am also here to have something to say that will be good for the world.”
A fierce advocate for mental health, she started the Born This Way Foundation “where we are focused on empowering youth and kindness”. “I think it’s very important we look out for one another and pay attention when others are suffering,” she said.
Gaga’s own personal demons, including an addiction to cocaine, have been well-documented.
She also struggled to adjust to her own fame. Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in 1986, Gaga was raised in New York City by Italian-American parents, and began playing the piano aged four.
She started singing lessons at 11 (with Christina Aguilera’s vocal coach) while attending an all-girls Catholic school where she excelled academically and also started acting in school plays.
By 2008, Gaga was writing hits for boy band New Kids on the Block and Britney Spears before R&B songwriter Akon signed her to his own label. That same year, she released her first album, The Fame, which sold more than four million copies, and a star was, very quickly, born.
“It’s especially important to nourish artists that have big stardom or big fame that happens very quickly,” she says now, recalling those days.
“I think it is important that we take care of them. There were times early on where I wish there was someone to help nourish me psychologically, to handle the change. When you become famous, everything changes in your whole life.
“You are no longer just a free being because in many ways you belong to the world. We should be kinder to people that live in the spotlight and treat them like humans.”
Some might say, and rightfully so, that it’s a little late for buyer’s remorse, given that Gaga famously chased the spotlight.
“Yes, many people say, ‘You asked for it,’ if you wanted to be a singer, if you wanted to be a star,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.
“To me, that’s almost like blaming. 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 is something deep inside me, like something from God,” she adds earnestly.
Does she have her own ‘A Star is Born’ moment, when she realised she’d made it?
“The moment that I truly think I felt like a star for the first time was when I looked into the eyes of my fans and I saw myself.”