Lady Gaga and Lin-Manuel Miranda sat down for a chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.
Few artists have been decorated as frequently as Lin-Manuel Miranda. The impresario has won a Pulitzer and shared a Kennedy Center Honors designation for the stage bombshell “Hamilton”; he’s also won an Emmy, three Tonys and three Grammys. He’s in the Oscar hunt this year for “Mary Poppins Returns,” the Disney sequel to which Miranda adds theater-kid vim.
Fellow New Yorker Lady Gaga shares Miranda’s knack for winning awards — she’s the recipient of a Golden Globe and six Grammys — and his theatrical brio. In 2018’s update of “A Star Is Born,” Gaga brought persona-erasing humility and full voice to a role previously inhabited by Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Unlike her predecessors, Gaga had next to no big-screen experience. But the movie’s seismic impact lends her one more common bond with Miranda: Both now enjoy a future in which any artistic reinvention seems newly possible.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: What I feel when I watched the movie was the incredible amount of trust. I’m curious how Bradley [Cooper] prepped you, because he’s a first-time director.
Lady Gaga: Looking back on my career, I created all these characters for each of my albums, because I was not an actress. I created the star of my own movie, and that was it. When I have created characters on my own through my music, I have complete control. When you’re dealing with a script, costume department, props department, set design, lighting and producers, you have to collaborate with other people.
Miranda: What you just said resonated with me. I started writing musicals because I really wanted to be in musicals. I didn’t see that many opportunities for myself. If you’re a Puerto Rican dude, you get Paul from “A Chorus Line.” When Rob Marshall came to me with this part, it felt like the fruit of the harvest, of the seeds I planted when I started writing “In the Heights.” It was like, “Oh, I don’t have to write the whole thing?!” And we had three months of pre-production on “Mary Poppins Returns.” That’s more than Broadway shows get. It was, in a way, a perfect first step for me.
Gaga: So the preparation process felt similar to putting on a Broadway show?
Miranda: Totally. Rob comes from theater. It was just a similar language. Emily Blunt actually gave me the best advice on the first day. She said, “Rob is paying more attention than we are. He’s not gonna move on until he’s got what he needs. He’s just not gonna move on until we’ve got it, so your only job is to give him everything.” That’s the gig.
Gaga: It is the gig. What’s interesting is that when I’m performing onstage with my music, there’s this tremendous connection with the audience. You feed off of the energy in the room, and it changes every night. What I’ve found working on film was I was much more interested in being completely present with who I was communicating with on camera, and very acutely aware that it was important for me to forget that there were cameras around me. I’m actually the type of actress that the director has to find me, because I will not make sure they’re getting the shot. Once we start to go, I really was Ally. Everything around me, other than what is meant to be in the circumstances, disappears. When we break out into song in [“A Star Is Born”], it’s because we are singing onstage.
Miranda: Or in a parking lot.
Gaga: Exactly. When you guys break into song, it’s almost like you have to break into song because you can’t say it simply with words.
Miranda: Rob Marshall is born in the wrong era. He would have been at home making MGM musicals with [Gene] Kelly and Fred Astaire, because he has that thing. And he rehearses it like it’s a show. So that big dance number around all the lamps? We did that as an eight-minute continuous number. There weren’t cuts between each dance move. You rehearse it like you’re doing the show in front of a live audience. Then he just has 20 cameras on it, and he gets the best stuff.
Gaga: That’s sort of how we did it. Except we didn’t rehearse before. We sang live every single time, with earwigs so that we could hear the recordings but get a completely clean vocal on the mic. Then we would shoot over and over again in a continuous take so we would have different things to pull from.
Miranda: The fun for me was realizing, all right, “what’s the adrenaline source?” Because I get so much adrenaline from the audience when I’m performing in “Hamilton.” Who’s in the front row? What’s the energy? Is it a matinee energy? Is it “these people had this date circled in blood” energy? For me, the adrenaline source became “we’re never going to be here again.” What about you?
Gaga: I like to draw from my deck of cards of all my experiences and my sense memory and do my sorcery before I get to set. For [the “Shallow” scene], I was like, “This could actually be quite simple. I’ve never been a lead actress in a movie before.” I’m walking onto the stage with Bradley Cooper, this huge, incredible film actor, so this is brand-new. I was able to kind of put myself in that circumstance a little bit more simply. It was funny because he was so kind; he asked a lot of my fans to be extras for scenes where there were fans in the audience. Shelley, our first A.D., would come out and say, “Whatever you do, please do not hold up any Lady Gaga signs! If you have a cowboy hat, please make sure it’s not pink, because that looks like ‘Joanne.’” Something about acting, knowing that my fans were in the audience was quite exhilarating for me. I had to forget, of course, that they were my fans out there, but before I went onstage, I would go, “My fans are out there, and they’re watching me act in a movie. That is my circumstance.” I know that you’re very active on Twitter and that you have a relationship with your fans, and so do I. I was wondering about that, because I really admire that you love kindness as much as I do.
Miranda: It’s interesting because I think I got on social media like anybody else did — but I think the worst thing you could give me is an audience in my pocket. That’s a dangerous thing to give a theater person.
Gaga: You just perform constantly.
Miranda: I think of it as a literal megaphone, and that swings both good and bad. You can bring light to issues that you care about deeply. If you use it 24 hours a day, everyone ignores the crazy guy on the corner with a megaphone. I feel like I get more kindness back because that’s what I choose to put out in the world. You are incredible on social media, and the way you rally your fans around causes that are important to you — that’s an incredible way to use your voice.
Gaga: Well, when I started to perform out in clubs and I was doing three shows a night, nonstop traveling around the country, I would look out into the audience and see my fans. I was like, “I’m pretty sure I’m looking at myself.” I always felt like a loser, like I didn’t belong. I’m not saying that all of my fans are that way, but there were so many of them that I couldn’t ignore it. I then saw very quickly once my career started to take off that, yeah, like you said, there’s this megaphone. What am I going to do with this megaphone? What I have found with Twitter is it’s this awesome thing we can use, and it’s also a toilet. It can be totally dangerous, so the more that we stick together and promote good things happening in the world … I usually don’t like to do this because I feel like when you do charity work, having a camera crew with you — it’s the Catholic in me — it’s not selfless. But since the California fires, I went to a shelter. The first time I went, I took photos with people that were there that wanted them. The second time that I went, I was like, “I’m going to post about this because I want people to know that it’s important to do kind things.” I just want to always be on the side of kindness.
Miranda: OK. Music, check. Big movie, you’re incredible in it, check. Do you ever want to do eight shows a week on Broadway?
Gaga: Check. I’d love that. That was my dream. I think I’ve seen “Rent” probably 30 times.
Miranda: ”Rent’s” the one that got me writing. I saw it for my 17th birthday. I always loved musicals, but they never took place in the present.
Gaga: I lost my mind when I saw “Rent.” I used to go — you stand in line and put your name in, and they call a raffle.
Miranda: They invented the lottery system.
Gaga: I’m like staring at Maureen as she’s belting. I’m just like, I just want to be Maureen. For many years, record executives told me I was too theater.
Miranda: Any record executive using “theater” as pejorative, you know you’re dead to me.
Watch the full interview below.
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