Musical savant, fashion maven, provocateur, philanthropist. When multi-hyphenate Lady Gaga first added ‘leading actress’ to the list with 2018’s A Star is Born, she was Oscar-nominated. Now, she’s back with House of Gucci. Can Ridley Scott’s film cement her path as a major movie player? Antonia Blyth meets Gaga to dig into the real story behind the star.
In the Ridley Scott-directed House of Gucci, Lady Gaga plays Patrizia Reggiani, the notorious ‘black widow’ who had her husband Maurizio Gucci murdered. And much has been made of Gaga’s deep dive into Patrizia—the nine months spent speaking in her accent, the ‘cloud of black flies’ she felt followed her on set, the granular research she put in—but as a conceptual artist who has always created a 360-degree experience with her music and its videos, and with a personal style that transcends trends and leans towards performance art, could there be any other way than actually living as Patrizia? Certainly, everything Gaga does has taken a full-bodied approach, including the shoot for this piece. “We were able to create something that had artistic value and life to it,” she says of the picture. “I felt that the imagery was graphic, but also indicative of an artist, which is something that I care a lot about when I’m working. We’re not modeling, but we’re creating something that’s capturing a moment in time.”
Here she discusses the potential pitfalls of her immersive method acting, whether she plans to direct a film and the surprising historical figure she’d love to play next.
DEADLINE: You’ve been compared to artists like David Bowie for taking a conceptual approach. Why did you feel that urgency to essentially become Patrizia for this film?
LADY GAGA: I don’t always know that the way that I express and articulate myself as an actor lands as close to home as it could. But the truth is, because I am such a conceptual artist, like you said, and I really inhabit my creations, it is almost entirely impossible for me to imagine being an actor in any other way than this. I’m inside of a world, and it’s like altering your reality in order to get to at the truth.
Patrizia had her own reality, and it’s not mine. So, in order to find her truth, I have to turn the knobs in my brain, my heart and my body, and I have to find the similarities between us and live it. When I’m able to live it, I feel that I can then uncover the truth of her humanity, which is that she is a killer, but at one point she wasn’t. She also was a child before she was the Patrizia that we see in the film.
So, this immersive process that I go through is something that endlessly gives to me. It’s a way for me to learn about people. And especially playing a real person, it was really essential for me to stay inside that and discover her.
DEADLINE: Being that empathic is quite a dangerous place to live. You’ve been very open about your mental health struggles. Does it feel risky to give so much of yourself to your work?
GAGA: It’s definitely my way. I’ve definitely lived life on the edge of art. I think that when you fully sacrifice yourself to art, there’s a real transformation that can take place where you’re able to touch painful things about yourself. I think otherwise you may not go to that place inside you, because it’s so painful. But in art, in a movie, you’re asked to embrace the pieces of yourself that are undoubtedly survival mechanisms, perspectives, childhood trauma, child brain versus adult brain.
All of your life experiences become something that’s inside of a library, and it is a dangerous process to go into that library to work. Anyone can read lines and dress up. But to put your entire library into a character, I think is more the way that I like to work, because I know that I’m using all my books and I don’t use the books I don’t need. There are some books in my library that are not Patrizia, but there are so many that are.
I think it allows for me to tell the story of Patrizia not just in the way the world—or in the way Italy—saw her, but in the way that they saw her. Meaning, the story of many women all over the world who age and get disposed of who try to be advisors to men and get pushed down and told that they don’t belong.
DEADLINE: How did you personally relate to that to play Patrizia, the way women are disposed of?
GAGA: What part of us as women, when we’re sent into that blind rage, is activated? I believe it’s the part of us that’s protecting the little girl inside of us, and saying, “When I was young, I didn’t know this would happen. When I was young, I was taught to be beautiful to matter; I was taught that I needed a man to get down on one knee for me to matter; I was taught that if I married someone successful, that I would be a good woman. And I’m now being taught that none of these things matter. I’m now learning that this is all one big giant gaslight. And I’m protecting that little girl.”
DEADLINE: As a woman in her 30s, you’ve had these moments of, “Wait a minute, I’ve been duped,” right?
GAGA: I think that it’s something I relate to deeply, certainly on a personal level. I often say women are gaslit since birth. But I think it’s something a lot of women share in common, this fear of, “Well, if I’m over 30 and I’m not married, or if I lose my looks at this time, then I’m not going to work anymore.” Or, as an actress in this industry, “My face has to be frozen in time in order to get a job.” Everything from being in the entertainment industry as well as just being a woman in the world has informed my opinion on this, and I think a lot of women can relate to that. Or the women that I’m close with, the community that I connect to.
I think also there’s this idea that radical love is valuable and that it’s painful to lose that. To feel that your whole life you had a vision for life, and to have it taken away from you because someone says you saw it wrong. And you say, “But I saw it because you taught it to me that way. I grew up in a man’s world and you taught me to see things this way, and now you’re taking it from me because I see it that way.”
DEADLINE: Ridley Scott approached you for this not long after A Star Is Born. You’ve always wanted to be an actress first and foremost, even before your music. How did you handle the pressure of finally having the dream come true in this way?
GAGA: I think that the pressure that I always feel is internal. It has less to do with the nature of the project and more to do with: does this project have heart? And so, I didn’t feel pressure in any other way than to show up as a professional and do my job as the leading actress.
I think being the leader of something is important, and showing up to set prepared, knowing the way that he shoots, learning about the way that he shoots. He’s an architect, the way he sets up the cameras. And sometimes there’s rehearsal, sometimes there isn’t, and he moves [the camera] with a lot of momentum.
But when we met each other, I knew, because he said to me, “She really loved him, and he really loved her. They were really in love.” When he said that to me, I knew it would be a story that was complicated and wild and unassuming, and that it would have a ferocious nature to it in the way that it would be told, unlike the way it had been told before.
DEADLINE: The story challenges the idea that Patrizia is just some so-called ‘crazy’ woman who went off the deep end.
GAGA: I’m grateful to Ridley that he celebrated a performance that challenges that notion. Patriarchy is dangerous also for the men, because they are so toxic in this family and business system that they’re fighting over Gucci; fighting over money and privilege. They are blind to the indelible abuse and fight that they’ve put this woman through, as she’s tried to just simply belong.
So, there was a related story, where it was not about a killer that was born a killer and was just using her body her whole life to put herself in some circumstance where she would end up rich. Rather, she believed she was doing what was best and was doing what she needed to do to survive.
These patriarchal systems, they are ultimately poison, and the men were poisoned, too. So, I appreciate that Ridley allowed me to tell that story.
I think being immersive allows you to look at your life and look at what you want to say and put it into a performance that’s then bigger than me, bigger than Patrizia, bigger than the movie. It’s about the world.
DEADLINE: I was interviewing Maggie Gyllenhaal the other day, about her film The Lost Daughter. She was talking about how there’s this trope in cinema, where people love to see a woman go ‘crazy’. Her film is about a woman that does something objectively terrible—she leaves her children—just as Patrizia does something objectively terrible here. But these stories are nuanced. Patrizia is this passionate, intelligent woman who feels things so deeply. Obviously, it’s not a simple case of she didn’t get what she wanted so she killed him.
GAGA: No, it’s actually the opposite in a way. She did get what she wanted. She just lost everything she loved.
The decision to play her as a passionate woman came from ethnicity and the culture of being Italian. I mean, I’m Italian-American, I come from a long lineage of Italians. And Italians are passionate, vibrant people. To Americans, who might go to Rome and hear women yelling in the piazza at each other, they would hear them as yelling when they’re simply just speaking to each other. There’s something about the way when you’re speaking to each other, it sounds like you’re yelling, but really, it’s your culture, it’s your ethnicity. It’s the culture of grind, of hard work, of the celebration of family and love. So, to me, that type of animal had to be inside of her.
When Patrizia married Maurizio, he was not rich, and when he was murdered, they were divorced. So, there was never a moment that it was only the money. So, that realness, that vibrancy, the passion…
DEADLINE: And yet people still love to apply these labels to her, like ‘crazy’, ‘gold digger’, and so on.
GAGA: People do love to watch women fall apart. But they love to watch women fall apart on film and in television. When women fall apart in real life and are vibrant and passionate, we’re called crazy. We’re called bitches. We’re told we’re too much.
I’ve been called ‘spicy’ before. I really disliked that, spicy. It’s like, what is the flavor of a woman? Patrizia’s flavor was her DNA and it was a product of her upbringing. It was also the product of being incessantly put down by this system of men.
What I always wanted was to portray her in the way that I believed, which is that she has true and real regret at this point in her life. That she regrets this murder. In order to figure out why she did it, I had to track it all the way through the lens of survival. Survival as a woman, I think, is a very complex narrative, and I tried to weave the story of many through her.
DEADLINE: Her pain was painful to watch. Like when she tries to give him the photo album to inspire him to return home to his family.
GAGA: Thank you. I appreciate you saying that, because I really felt it deeply.
DEADLINE: All the immersive preparation and studying you did for this role—the year and a half you spent living as Patrizia, speaking and moving like her, watching videos of her—Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates used to call that their ‘kitchen work’. Meaning, it was like chopping the vegetables for the soup.
GAGA: I think that’s a beautiful metaphor. What I like about it is there’s a gentleness to it that I think is often not associated with method acting. In a way, there was not always a gentleness to the way I played Patrizia. But this idea—this sort of meditative process of making a really good soup and the alchemy of being the chemist in the kitchen—this is exactly [what it is]. I love Kathy. I worked with her on American Horror Story. That metaphor really resonates with me.
The way that I used to describe the way I worked on this to people is, I put all of the ingredients into a cauldron; I put in the biography of her that I’ve written, I put in the accent, I put in the script, I put in all of the traumas, I dig through my own library, I contribute my stories. And then I drink the soup. I study the animal. And then I show up on set and Ridley yells action—or Ray [Raymond Kirk], our AD, yells action—and I throw it all out the window and just talk to the actor.
DEADLINE: When you were deep into your method and sense memory work on set, and you were faced with Adam Driver as Maurizio off-camera, how did you react to him?
GAGA: I faced a wide spectrum of emotions all the time, and it spanned across all the characters that I worked with. It was wild and free and exploratory and completely immersive. And because I had consent from my fellow actors, and because we had mutual consent and professionalism and trust, we were able to freely immerse ourselves in this space. I didn’t feel in any way that I had to curtail or edit my work for any other actor.
I don’t think anyone on set felt that way either. I think we were all given a sandbox to play in. But the sandbox, just to articulate it, was a real story and real lives, and something really tragic and horrible took place. So, it’s like nobody at any given moment would have said, “You’re doing this wrong,” or, “This is too much,” because we were all always working towards finding the truth of this story. But yes, it does get complicated. You feel all sorts of things when you’re on set. And off set when you’re living in the character.
When I spent time with Paolo [Jared Leto] on set, I was with Paolo. I was never on set as Lady Gaga, and I was never in my trailer as Lady Gaga. I wasn’t in Italy as Lady Gaga ever. And I wasn’t there as Stefani either. But I brought Stefani with me, because I needed my little girl to align with Patrizia’s little girl, so that when I was protecting her, I would protect her.
I’m inside of myself when I’m working. I’m in there. It’s just that I’m in there through the lens of somebody else. It’s like somebody coloring your vision. It’s like putting on glasses, tweaking your brain, tweaking your heart, and just adjusting. A new physicality. New sensibilities. And your heart center, like I said, the center of gravity.
Patrizia’s center of gravity is so different than mine. All of those things have to shift like planets, and you have to find a new orbit. And yeah, that orbit, it will fling you around the universe when you are performing with such great actors. I mean, Adam’s an incredibly brilliant actor. And we spoke in our accents constantly to each other on set. So, I was not the only person in character the whole time.
DEADLINE: The real Patrizia has told the Italian press that she wasn’t happy about you playing her. You’ve explained previously that you didn’t want to meet her, to collude with her or enable her in any way, and that you feel for her daughters. But how did it feel to inhabit a real person without their blessing, knowing she resented it, even?
GAGA: I have to be honest; I don’t think that Patrizia’s blessing would’ve been meaningful to me. Because she did this reprehensible thing, and all the research that I did of her, I watched a lot of video footage of her and all of the footage of her after his death, and she is very clearly willing to speak of him as excessive and outrageous. Later in her life, after prison, she has this grandiose way of building herself up as this charismatic woman with lots of bravado; this powerhouse who had Maurizio Gucci murdered. She seems to me to possess this quality where she really wanted to drive the narrative of this famous story. And all of that to me was a total lie, and a total coverup for the pain that I knew was inside of her. And I’ve studied this very closely to get it right.
So, I did not feel the need to have her blessing. I think the blessing that you need is when you are on a world stage—the way that I am very often—is that of the audience. And when the audience embraces you and trusts you to tell them a story, that’s the blessing that I need. Someone sitting in a seat in the theater and trusting me that I’m going to be expansive and thoughtful and loving and true.
I don’t think the world has heard from her in a real way. So that’s why I wanted to play her in a real way. I did my best to get there.
DEADLINE: Did you shoot chronologically? Because being method and in character, if you didn’t, how did you handle that non-linear timeline?
GAGA: We did not shoot chronologically. We actually shot very much all over the place. In fact, the beginning of the film was shot at the end. But then also a lot of the beginning of the film was shot at the beginning, too. So, we had to go back and forth.
DEADLINE: Wasn’t that stressful for you, since you were really living as Patrizia? What anchored you?
GAGA: It wasn’t stressful because I was so studied in the script, and I was very clear about each scene. I was very clear about the hair and the makeup. Everything was designed by me, as well as Haus of Gaga. My entire creative team, we pitched something to Ridley that was then ever-changing as we began to work with [costume designer] Janty Yates every day.
Just in the alchemy of being on set, things become more inspired. But we had a bible, essentially, that we were always referring to. And that was a breakdown of the script in terms of the story, where she was in her life, what her hair was like at that time, the way she dressed at that time, her makeup at that time, her nails at that time. Her accent at that time, meaning at some point, my voice lowers because she started to smoke cigarettes, so her voice dropped. Also, the more she hung out with the Guccis, the more she began to speak like them. And the more she hung out with Pina, the more that she would talk a little bit more like she had a thicker Naples edge to her.
So, I guess I would say there was a lot of preparation and precision behind the madness of also being in character. On any given day, no matter how much I was inside of Patrizia, we had a bible to refer to, but we knew exactly what we were going to do. It’s like drawing a map through the labyrinth.
My script is completely marked head to toe. And then there’s a separate script that’s just for hair and makeup alone. I mean, there’s writing on every single page. It’s my heart.
Also, all the work I did with Susan Batson, my acting teacher. All the work I did with Beatrice Pelliccia, who was my dialect coach on set, and she worked with me every day. Your blood, sweat, and tears are in this bible and inside your body. And then you walk to set and you just get to fly because Ridley’s so ready for you. And if you’re ready for him, then it’s the runway for lots of doves to take off and fly.
DEADLINE: I can’t help thinking the next natural step for you would be to direct a film or show. This is essentially what you’re doing in your head already.
GAGA: I’ve directed my own music videos before. It’s something that I want to take my time on. I’d liken this to people asking me years ago if I would be a fashion designer because I loved fashion so much and I was seen in so many high fashion editorials, as well as art pieces. And I remember saying, “What fashion designers do is not what I do, but I do love fashion.” Meaning, I’m not a film director. But I could be. I would have to devote a significant piece of my life to that, if not all of my life, the way that a passionate artist does.
I have made short films for my own music videos and I love them and cherish them. But they’re eternally mine and inside of my own life and the rapture of my existence. To tell a story, I think, requires an authenticity and knowledge of filmmaking that I very much would want to study, the way that I’ve studied acting. I studied acting since I was 11 years old. Even younger, I started to dance and to sing. And I was a classical pianist when I was really young. I loved art. But I studied and I practiced.
So, what I would say is I’m interested in it, yes, but it’s something I would want to practice and to become nuanced and nimble. And I would never want to say that I could be great at something that I was not enough of a student of yet.
DEADLINE: Speaking of fashion, how much you did you dig into the classic vibe of Gucci, especially the pre-Tom Ford period? Did you talk to anyone at Gucci?
GAGA: I did speak to people. I don’t want to say who. I also spoke to other fashion houses and other people in fashion about the family, as well as [about] Patrizia Gucci herself. I also did a lot of research in terms of what the brand really stood for from the beginning. Guccio Gucci started Gucci and it was really a leather brand. It was all about the leather of these sacred cows in Tuscany that were raised for Gucci. The monogram Gs—the thing we all see and know and recognize as Gucci—was actually established by Aldo Gucci.
So, I knew when Tom Ford was brought on that something really grave was taking place in terms of what was an Italian family business, which is that by bringing in Tom Ford, an outsider, and not an Italian also, and moving away from this being just an operation of the family treasures, in terms of the designs, what happened was there was a shift in gravity. The center of gravity of Gucci changed from being a family-oriented business, to now being a brand that was going to intersect with other great brands around the world.
What’s very interesting in the film—and I’m not sure if people think it’s true or not—is the moment where Patrizia confronts Aldo Gucci about the counterfeit bags that she discovers. This is something that really happened. He was profiting off of counterfeit Gucci goods and people thought that they were buying a copy when they were down in Chinatown, when in fact they were buying a replica that the family was profiting off of.
So, she’s trying to clean up the business, and keep the family together, and the joke is on her. They were going to do what they wanted to do. There was no infiltrating that system. It was really chaotic, but it was born of heart, which is something I can relate to as an Italian-American. Being inside of a family that’s passionate and chaotic, but for there to be heart that keeps everybody together, because of family. Simply the name, in and of itself, would make a Gucci cry or hug each other. They were one hell of a family.
DEADLINE: You’re close to your own family. What was that like for them seeing you being Patrizia and speaking as her?
GAGA: I started off speaking to my parents towards the beginning in my accent. And then I will say, I sort of dropped off a bit in terms of interaction with my family, just because it’s confusing. We still spoke along the way, it’s just more how much I forced them to deal with me was relatively boundaried and loving, because I understand that my process is very much that of an individual that has a way of doing things. But also, I would call my father and talk to him, and he would laugh. My family finds me interesting and quirky, and they celebrate my quirks.
DEADLINE: Recently on Oprah’s show The Me You Can’t See you talked about a sexual assault you experienced at age 19. How did you decide to be transparent about this trauma?
GAGA: I think that for me it was just a healing process because I’m in the public eye often. At the time when I first started to come out of things that I was going through, I was in the public eye very frequently and followed all the time. I really felt like I was living this big lie by not sharing what I was experiencing. And it actually helped me to share my life experiences because then my fans—or people that were following me, people that were discovering me—they knew more of the human side of me. I just felt more comfortable in the world. It’s like living in your truth.
I was with Jake Gyllenhaal the other day, Maggie’s brother, and we were talking about his film [The Guilty]. I believe the quote at the beginning of the movie is like something like, “It’s the truth that will set you free.” And I really believe that. I think when you live in your values and your truth, it can help you. In my particular existence it helps me to not feel like an imposter, but rather to know that I’m uniquely and truly myself, wounds and all.
DEADLINE: Did that decision to open up on the show feel especially timely?
GAGA: I think my true dream for the world would be that we socialize women’s issues such as sexual assault, and maybe not use the word ‘sexual’ and just call it ‘assault’. I think that when you apply the word sexual, it implies that there’s something sexy about it. Assault is assault. And I think that women, from a young age, experience assault all the time, and our bodies sort of learn to protect ourselves. We start surviving as we experience these assaults.
What I would wish for the world is that it would be less of a reveal from famous people in Hollywood, and that there would be a more profound conversation around the way that young people are related to in inappropriate and criminal ways—abusive ways—from when they’re very young.
All types of people experience assaults, and it’s part of the nature of society. We are so comfortable with this poison because we just say, “Well, that’s how it is.” I really challenge that and I wish to say, “But what if it was not that way? What if every time somebody was touched without consent and was assaulted, we paid attention? What if we talked about this?”
I think a lot of people don’t feel safe in their bodies, and there’s a reason why. I wish that the conversation would shift from Hollywood—or even from people like me speaking out—and would shift more towards the everyday person who might look more closely at their life and ask themselves if they’re in an environment that is healthy for them. We have to challenge those systems, and we have to clean them, or we have to destroy them and rebuild them.
DEADLINE: Having played a real person now, is there anyone else in history you’d really love to play?
GAGA: You know what, I always wanted to play Mary Magdalene. But I think that’s because I was fascinated by her growing up, because she was seen as this harlot that was essentially Jesus’s girlfriend and she washed the feet of Christ. She’s in so much iconography, she has an iconic existence, and she’s so important. She was there at the ascension. She was also there at the crucifixion. She’s this essential piece of history, but she’s also seen as a dark figure, a harlot. She’s very much The Scarlet Letter.
I wrote a song about her a long time ago called “Bloody Mary”. And in those lyrics, it’s, “Love is just a history that they may prove/And when you’re gone, I’ll tell them my religion’s you/ When Punk-tius comes to kill the King upon his throne/I’m ready for their stones.” So, it was all about this woman that was willing to do anything to love who she believed to be the greatest gift to Earth. I always thought that that could be interesting, the story of her. I guess I’m interested in women’s stories.
DEADLINE: And you said you’re interested in the value of great love.
GAGA: I think love is essential. I think that kindness is the only perfect system. And yet it causes… For the yin and yang of life to occur, where there’s kindness, you will also find evil and defeat.