This past weekend was a record-breaking one at the box office, as two films — Sony’s Venom and Warner Bros.’ A Star Is Born — ushered in the biggest October weekend of all time. While it’s no surprise to us, Little Monsters came out to the theaters in droves to support their “Mother Monster,” and the film has received glowing reviews for both Lady Gaga‘s performance and Bradley Cooper’s agile direction.
Those who have seen the film — the third time this particular story has been remade for the big screen — know that in addition to Gaga and Cooper, A Star Is Born also stars two individuals well-known within the LGBTQ community, thanks to their high-profile drag careers and their turns on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Famous queens Willam (Drag Race Season 4) and Shangela (Season 2, 3 and All Stars 3) were an absolute delight to see on the big screen. In fact, GQ magazine actually proclaimed, “The best part of A Star Is Born isn’t Lady Gaga … it’s the drag queens!”
But here are 5 things you may not know about those drag cameos in A Star Is Born:
1. The idea to have Bradley Cooper’s and Lady Gaga’s characters meet in a gay bar was the result of long conversations between the two stars.
During interviews at the Toronto Film Festival, Cooper said that the decision to begin the film in a gay drag bar was the result of long conversations between him, Lady Gaga and Eric Roth, one of Cooper’s script co-writers. “I would just ask [Gaga] tons of questions and listen back to it and try to take things and think, How can we mold this? And we really loved the drag bar idea,” Cooper says. “Once I met [Willam and Shangela] on set, the possibilities became endless of what we could do in this space. It was so exciting.”
2. Several famous drag queens initially auditioned for the roles of the film’s queens, but interestingly, Shangela wasn’t one of them.
Tons of drag queens reportedly came out of the woodwork to audition for the drag queen roles in A Star Is Born, and clearly Willam and Shangela were the two who made the cut. But things would have turned out much differently had Lady Gaga not personally stepped in and tinkered with the casting call.
The initial audition request for the drag queens of A Star Is Born was a look for a “dead icons night” at a drag bar, specifically Marilyn Monroe. (Willam has even shared an image of her audition look from that day on Instagram, which you’ll find below.)
But Shangela, who doesn’t consider Marilyn Monroe in her drag oeuvre, didn’t go in to audition. And that didn’t sit right with Lady Gaga herself. Here’s what Shangela says happened: “Later I got an email from Lady Gaga’s camp and they were like, ‘LG heard you didn’t come in for the audition. She really wants you to audition. She wanted to see you for this role.’ … I had to step away from the computer for a second, I was like, ‘LG … Lady Gaga? Oh my god.’ So I was really thrilled. Honey, I went and found me a blonde wig, I found me a white Marilyn Monroe dress and I went in and sang ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ for the role. I was black Marilyn.”
3. The gay bar scenes featuring Willam and Shangela were mostly unscripted and ad-libbed.
The scenes in A Star Is Born that take place in the gay bar (filmed at The Virgil on Los Angeles‘ “East Side”) and in the bar’s dressing room were mostly off-the-cuff, according to Willam.
“Bradley just said, ‘Go off and do your thing,'” Willam says, referring to the scenes’ dialogue. And that reportedly also included one particularly great moment in the film in which Willam’s character (impersonating Dolly Parton) asks Cooper’s character to sign her breast plate (which Willam says he’s holding onto).
4. Willam and Shangela also created their own looks for the film.
Costumes on a film set is typically handled fully by the professionals of the wardrobe department, but that’s not exactly how it worked for Willam and Shangela on the set of A Star is Born. The two queens are obviously talented themselves in putting a look together.
Willam says his Dolly Parton look in the film was a last-minute creation, as it was something producers asked for the night before shooting. “It was a perfect ’80s Dolly look that randomly I just had laying around and it was white,” Willam says. “Then I took their wig and then stacked my wig on top of it because the higher the hair, the closer to God.”
5. Both Willam and Shangela rave over the experience of working with Lady Gaga.
According to Willam and Shangela, there was zero ‘diva behavior’ by Lady Gaga on the set of A Star Is Born. Both queens have praised the pop icon, saying she was friendly, approachable and kind on-set and in-between takes.
“She was hanging out with us the whole time. She was never in her trailer. She was cool as hell,” Willam says. And Shangela: “When they said, ‘We’re going to switch cameras around. You guys have a moment,’ [Lady Gaga] could have left. She didn’t. She stayed right in that seat and was like, ‘So Shan, what’s going on?’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s do it.'”