You’ve heard the buzz on A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga in a role played by such divas as Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand. Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut while co-starring. THE EMOTIONS! THE MUSIC! THE SHALLOWS! But squirrel friend, how are we not talking about the drag queens?!
In this version of A Star Is Born, the aspiring chanteuse is discovered while performing at a New York drag club, singing “La Vie En Rose” live and living her Edith Piaf realness in a black slip with taped-on eyebrows. But don’t get it twisted. The true stars of this sequence are RuPaul’s Drag Race all-stars Shangela and Willam, providing swagger, sizzle, and sass.
In an interview with The Inquirer, Willam Belli shared his experience on A Star Is Born, and playing one of Lady Gaga’s “kiki sisters.”
After watching “La Vie En Rose,” and not getting to be in many scenes with her, I was signing the out-sheet and the assistant director handed me a white rose and said, ‘This is from LG. She said she’s sorry she didn’t get to play with you as much today.’ The fact that [Gaga] knows my name and cares enough to tell the director to give me a rose, Holy [cow]! Everything I wanted my childhood idol to be, she is.
My rule with celebrities is to never be the one that’s like ‘Ooo can I get a picture?’ just because I don’t want to be that girl. Every time that Gaga sees me in drag, she’s been like, ‘Oh my god, let’s get a picture.’ She loves us. She loves our community.
This maybe shouldn’t be a surprise, as Lady Gaga’s a noted fan of Drag Race, and even made an appearance on the season nine premiere. Still, I gagged when Shangela sashayed onto the screen and screamed when Willam started flirting with Cooper’s rugged romantic lead, telling him to sing a song, any song, “Just look at me when you do it.”
Okay. Full Disclosure: I wasn’t super into this remake. And part of that may have been that I felt like Cooper left the most mesmerizing star behind to sob into her autographed breastplate.
For Life & Style, Shangela spilled the tea on her A Star Is Born experience, including an audition which called for a “drag zombie Marilyn Monroe,” and how her and Willam’s parts grew over the course of production.
Shangela was asked to audition for the role of a drag performer who’d be performing onstage when drunken country star Jackson Maine (Cooper) stumbles in looking for another round. Over the course of casting, the breakdown went from “drag zombie Marilyn Monroe” to “black Marilyn Monroe” to “Etta James.” That role went to Derek Kevin James, who lipsyncs to “At Last” in A Star Is Born. But don’t cry for Shangela. She got a call back telling her they wanted her for a larger speaking role in the film.
Credited as D.J. Shangela Pierce, she plays the club’s emcee/drag mama to Lady Gaga’s lady drag baby Ally. “I was scheduled for one day of filming,” Shangela explained, “I went in did the filming and had such a good time on set.” She goes on to describe being directed by Cooper, “He said, ‘Now this is your world. You know this. There’s a script and it’s great. But feel free to be you. Do you, and if it’s too much, I’ll pull you back.”
“I did me,” Shangela said, “When it was over, he comes up to me and says, ‘Shan, that was perfect. Do it again. Go further.’” Cooper liked what she and Willam brought so much, they wrote the pair into another scene. “I got to come back the next day and film a scene. It’s just me, my friend Willam, BC and LG, just the four of us in the scene. It’s sickening. I hope it makes the cut.”
It did. And it’s my favorite scene in the whole damn movie. Slay, queens. Slay.
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