October 23, 2018

The Politics of Makeup in “A Star is Born”

““Take it off,” Bradley Cooper supposedly said to Lady Gaga.

“It” refers to the tiny bit of makeup Gaga was wearing at the screen test for what became her starring role in the latest reboot of A Star Is Born, according to a widely circulated story in the LA Times.

The story, which has now been repeated by its stars several times and elevated to lore in only a few short weeks, goes like this: During the screen test, Cooper, who is the producer, director, and lead actor in the movie, whipped out a makeup wipe and dragged it down Gaga’s face from forehead to chin. He then told her, “Completely open. No artifice.”

This narrative thread continued this past weekend, when Gaga and Cooper went on The Graham Norton Show in the UK. There, she told a tale about trying to sneak some makeup onto the set, according to the Evening Standard, “but Bradley wouldn’t go for it.” Cooper apparently jumped in and said, “It’s how the character is.”

Gaga’s character, Ally, is an unknown singer-songwriter who has pretty much given up on her dream to be a performer. She is also plagued by self-doubt because of her appearance. This no-makeup story has been getting so much attention in part because Lady Gaga has built her persona — multiple personas, really — using props that are sometimes purposely jarring. Makeup, wigs, shoes, facial prosthetics, a giant egg, and, yes, a meat dress have all been part of her repertoire. She likes to challenge what we consider norms for women’s looks and fashion, so seeing her with her natural hair color and no makeup is jarring in a different way.”

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