Why is it some people still think of Lady Gaga as the woman in the meat dress, and not a six-time Grammy award winner and Golden Globe-earning actress?
In her new Netflix documentary, Five Foot Two, the 31-year-old pop star takes us behind the scenes of her creative process as she begins working on her fifth studio album, Joanne, and later prepares for her 2017 Super Bowl halftime performance. The film offers a raw, emotional glimpse at the always “on” entertainer we’ve grown to love. She discusses her breakup with ex fiancé Taylor Kinney, shows us her chronic pain and battle with fibromyalgia, and even addresses her feelings about Madonna, who’s previously called her “reductive” in the media.
“She wouldn’t look me in the eye and tell me that I was reductive or whatever,” Gaga says, explaining she heard the news on TV. “Telling me you think I’m a piece of s— through the media? It’s like a guy passing me a note through his friend.”
Perhaps most interestingly, however, we see Gaga, born Stephanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta, unveil her “Lady Gaga” alter ego, stripping away the person she’s put forth to the world for years, and instead revealing a softer side. Specifically, her and her team discuss her fashion as they explain why she chooses to take off the massive wigs, inches-high platforms, and seemingly “outrageous” costumes for Joanne.
“Honestly, we’ve just seen me fu—ing glamorous for almost 10 years. It’s boring. It really is boring,” she says in conversation with Ruth Hogben, her creative director, “The truth of the matter is I just want to have a uniform and I think the uniform should be a black T-shirt and black jeans and black boots. And I just wear that a lot and we get versions of that made.”
Later in the film, they return to discussing her style on the set of her “Perfect Illusion” music video, which best illustrates this new look. “Do you think that some of my older fans are gonna be disappointed that I’m not dressed up?” Gaga says, adding, “It’s not about me being out in the front with my hair blowing in the wind with some high fashion on, you know what I mean? Not that I don’t love that.”
In another scene, she explains that she thinks the world wasn’t quite ready to see who she really was because she wasn’t ready herself. Speaking to stylist Brandon Maxwell, she further discusses the idea of dressing as “Lady Gaga.”
“I don’t need to have a million wings on and all that s— to make a statement. I know that we want to elevate everything, I’m trying to elevate everything, but I can’t elevate it to a point where I become Lady Gaga again. Because then it’s like, why even, why did I make this record?” she tells him.
RELATED: Watch the Trailer for Five Foot Two
To get the scoop on what it was like to work with Gaga first-hand, we caught up with director Chris Moukarbel, who spent eight months with the star. Scroll down for our full Q&A with the artist—and catch Five Foot Two on Netflix September 22.
You got to see her turn on her Lady Gaga persona while filming. What’s the difference between her “on” and “off”?
“One is softer and one is harder. I guess that’s the only way I can describe it. Her energy gets harder. Her body gets harder. Like everything that is required of her, physically and mentally, in order to be able to sustain being Lady Gaga, she kind of has learned how to make that transformation for herself. So it was a physical and energetic shift that slowly started to happen.”
Why’d you choose not to conduct any interviews with her or her team for the film?
“I didn’t want to interview her manager and have him tell me how hard she works. I wanted to see it. It means shooting a lot more and really committing to this verite-style of filmmaking where I was just shooting a lot and then hoping that the story would kind of emerge from what we saw rather than have someone tell me about it. And I think it worked for the most part…She talks to the camera a lot, so there’s definitely these kind of on-the-fly interviews… She was gonna treat the camera as casually as if I was a person standing in the room, so for her to pretend like it wasn’t there wasn’t realistic because she was just being herself.”
You captured some of the toughest moments in Gaga’s life. Had you two discussed including these topics before shooting, or did it just pan out this way?
“I don’t know because to be honest, I don’t have a reference for what her life was like outside of those eight months. I have a feeling her life is really always traumatic and exciting and insane. And whether she’s dealing with one thing or something else, I think it’s always a 10. It seemed like there was a lot going on both in her world and in her interior world over the time that I was shooting and I thought it was great that I was able to capture a lot of that stuff…Whether it’s about her separation with her fiancé or her health issues, you know, she was definitely going through it and I tried to be respectful…I just kind of let her know she had agency and I wasn’t there to do an exposé.”
What do you think separates her from other artists?
“This is the biggest distinction for me: When you think of her as a pop star, it’s that she writes her own music and she’s really good at it. It’s not like she has these songs handed down to her. A lot of pop stars do and that’s fine and they’re great performers and singers. But there’s a really big difference between writing your own music and not...She really does have this artistry that she brings to it. And so watching her work was cool because she was building this house from the ground up.”
I was surprised her relationship with Madonna came up. She addresses the fact that Madonna has previously called her music “reductive” in the media.
“She was trying to make a broader point about artists kind of referencing each other…I think while she was talking about that she saw it as an opportunity to talk about Madonna and ‘Born This Way’ because obviously that’s something people constantly have been bringing up and her and Madonna have constantly been pitted against each other. She was trying to say, straight up, like, ‘I respect her and I’ve always admired her musically and creatively and as a human being.’ And she was gonna leave it at that…
Then she kind of went off on that point about how she felt Madonna handled any sort of tension or competition that people were placing between them. I think she felt like Madonna handled it badly or not the way that she would have. And what I respected about it and why I wanted to have it in the film is because at least for me, I didn’t know Gaga super well at that point, it was early for me, it helped me understand what kind of person she was and where her values were. Everything she was saying, it didn’t feel like a dig. It felt like she was saying, ‘This is the way I treat people. This is the way I expect to be treated. And so for her to not treat me this way or to give me that respect was the real foul for me in that situation. It wasn’t anything else.’ I thought it was kind of big."
How tough was it to shoot the scenes in which she’s suffering from chronic pain?
"That was one of the few storylines that she actually felt needed to be in the film. A lot of the other stuff, she didn’t really have too much of an opinion on. But she’s very aware of her platform and her position and she’s always trying to see if there’s an opportunity to find a positive message in what she’s doing. She saw the film as a potentially good vehicle for talking about chronic pain and the fact that a lot of people actually suffer from similar things and don’t have the resources that she has…If she was having a chronic pain episode and I was rolling, people would try to help her. I would give her words of comfort if I could but would also just roll and understood that she wanted me to unless she asked me to turn it off. And then sometimes she did."