Star Is Born, A: Can Lady Gaga Act? Yes, She Can

A Star is Born, which represents Bradley Cooper’s impressive directing debut, world premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Fest. This is the third remake of the 1937 film, produced by David O. Selznick and directed by William Wellman, which starred Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in Oscar-nominated roles; both March and Gaynor were already Oscar-winners by that time.

George Cukor directed a second version, a dramatic musical, in 1954, starring Judy Garland in her most fully realized-(Oscar nominated) performance and the incomparable James Mason, a film that garnered many Oscar nods, but won none; the upset Best Actress winner was Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.

Then in 1976, Frank Pierson changed the locale to the music world, and offered good roles for Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand (also serving as co-producer).

All three version were Oscar nominated and commercial hits at the box-office, and the same fate awaits Cooper’s “new” version.

And now, 42 years later, comes the fourth version, which, at one point, was going to be directed by Clint Eastwood with Beyonce in the lead.  The “new” Star Is Born is so dramatically compelling and so smoothly and elegantly directed that Cooper may be a natural-born filmmaker; it doesn’t feel like first effort. Why is it not in competition?  Was it the choice of the festival or the studio’s (Warner)?

The best element of this picture is the powerful performances of Cooper and Lady Gaga, and more importantly, the strong chemistry between them, the dynamite energy in their interactions and joint singing.  So to answer my initial question?  Lady Gaga Can Act!  And she acts very well—after all it’s not easy to step into the shoes worn by Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand.

Lady Gaga has big—tremendous—voice, and when she sings, she channels her character’s feelings at that particular moment in the story into the rendition of songs, which she wrote, and which are far better than the music in the 1976 picture.

The fears of Lady Gaga, until now known mostly for her Golden Globe winning part in TV’s American Horror Story, were rooted in her limited acting experience on the big screen: “It’s very vulnerable, because you see everything, your face and your body are so big, larger than life, and it’s different from watching myself on the small screen. It was overwhelming and emotional.” She credits Cooper for her performance: “I just feel incredibly grateful, because I have such an incredible companion, director, and actor.  From the moment the film starts, it’s clear that he’s a rock star and the real deal.  We both felt that in the movie’s first ten minutes, the audience needs to buy into the fact that he is a musician and I am an actress. It has to happen in the first scene for the movie to work.”

She fondly recalls how she was rejected in auditions because of her “strange” appearance and nose, and how she decided—just like Streisand (who also has long nose) not to change it. But now she has come to terms with her looks: “I am happy with my nose, and more confident as a woman. As a child, I was much more insecure about my nose. I come from Italian immigrant family and I looked very different than the girls in school–blonde, blue eyes, perfect symmetrical faces. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate and be proud of my heritage.”

What caused her renewed self-assurance: “It’s all Bradley, who challenged me to take my makeup off and to have my natural color hair.  It was essential for me to really feel like I became my character. Dying my hair long before the shoot was crucial to get into the rhythm of my character. I never told anyone this, but some record executives suggested that I get a nose job before putting out my first album, and I defiantly didn’t do that!”

This article first appeared in the Italian magazine, Ciak, published daily in the Venice Film Fest.