"I like to preach," Lady Gaga says, "but I don't always practice what I preach."
In a Los Angeles Times profile, published today, Gaga speaks candidly about how hard she had to fight to star opposite Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born. She had acted before, winning a Golden Globe for her role in FX's American Horror Story: Hotel, but Warner Bros. wanted her to do a screen test. Cooper, who also directed and produced the project, had his heart set on Gaga, so he set it up; she understood, since people "don't really know what I look like." But when they filmed it in 2016, she a full face of makeup on—so he asked her to take "take it off."
Cooper, she recalled, wanted her to be "completely open" and have "no artifice."
"It put me right in the place I needed to be, because when my character talks about how ugly she feels—that was real," says Gaga, who plays an aspiring singer named Ally. "I'm so insecure."
Gaga doesn't feel insecure all the time, of course—and that's due, in large part, to the support of her Little Monsters. "To be honest, I think what makes me feel beautiful is when I see happiness in my fans. When I see or hear from them that the music that I've made has changed their life in some way, that's what makes me feel beautiful. Because this is just the outside, you know? And at the end of the day, I could be in a million movies and put out a million songs and everyone could say, 'She was so beautiful,' but that's not really what I want," she says. "I want them to say, 'I saw that movie and I cried my eyes out and I learned something about myself.'"
Coincidentally, Gaga learned a lot about herself while making the movie (in theaters Oct. 5). In it, Cooper plays Jackson, a rock star whose addiction issues put his career in decline. Everything changes (temporarily, at least) when he finds his muse in Ally and takes her on tour with him. But as her star burns bright—and his fades—his demons resurface and threaten their romance.
After touring the world for the last decade, Gaga found it easy to relate to both characters. "It's very lonely being a performer. There's a certain loneliness that I feel, anyway—that I'm the only one that does what I do. So, it feels like no one understands. And the urge to use is because you're searching for a way to quell the pain," the actress says. "When I first started to perform around the country doing nightclubs, there was stuff everywhere, but I had already partied when I was younger, so I didn't dabble. I was able to avoid it because I did it when I was a kid."
(Years ago, Gaga said she'd come to "cherish" her loneliness.)
In other aspects, Gaga and her character couldn't be more different.
"When we meet Ally, she's given up on herself. And that's very different from me. I just wasn't overwhelmed by the odds. The truth is, if we were not sitting here today and I hadn't sold as many records as I have, I'd still be in a bar somewhere playing the piano and singing. It's just who I want to be," she says, recalling how she "hit the concrete running" before she got her record deal and dropped her first album, The Fame, in 2008. "I was dragging my piano from dive bar to dive bar to play music. I was calling people, faking being my own manager to get gigs. I really believed in myself that I could do this and that I wasn't going to stop until I made it."