The early reviews are in, and Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star Is Born is a smash hit. Cooper plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine who stumbles upon the remarkable yet undiscovered struggling singer, Ally (Lady Gaga). As Jackson pushes Ally in the spotlight—and falls in love with her in the process—he must battle his own inner demons that threaten to destroy everything he's built.
In the film, Jackson and Ally meet in a drag bar, a change from the original film inspired by Lady Gaga's own personal experience. RuPaul's Drag Race royalty Shangela and Willam get the chance to shine as the bar's wisecracking resident drag queens.
In an exclusive interview with PRIDE, Willam opens up her biggest role yet, working with Lady Gaga, her upcoming album, her appearances on Eastsiders and HGTV's Househunters, and spills the tea on some recent RuPaul's Drag Race drama.
PRIDE: Hi Willam! Thanks for talking with us. How's your morning going?
Willam: It's good. I'm having my morning smoke right now so I'm officially up.
Tell us about your role in A Star Is Born.
Sure! I'm the lead of the movie. I'm kidding. But once you use drag queens in any movie, we kinda steal focus.
I work with Gaga in a drag bar. I'm one of her buddies in the movie and I make a couple appearances. It's the biggest and best role I've ever had. And I have a name! My character's name is Emerald. Sometimes I'm just like, "Drag Queen #2" or "Streetwalker." It was really nice to have a name and all that stuff.
What was it like working with Lady Gaga?
I had met her before and it was a unique experience. The first day we didn't get to work together much but as I was signing the call sheet to exit for the day, the AD gave me a white rose and she said, "This is from LG. She's sorry she didn't get to play with you today." And I was like, "Are you kidding me, she knows who I am and she remembers me?" It was insane.
And at one point, someone was rubbing my shoulders and I turn around and it was her. And I'm like, "Girl, watch my wig." Just like that, kiki-ing with her and talking about songs and shows and music, like all the stuff that drag queens and pop stars do, you know. If you put the circle of drag queens and the circle of pop stars together, we have a large crossover. It makes sense that we all got on like a house on fire too.
When I saw her at the premiere, it was the same way. Bobby, her manager, was like, "Did you talk to her?" And I was like, "No I don't want to," and he was like "No! Come here!" And as soon as she locked eyes, everybody moved.
Being in her orbit is a privilege and working with her on set and having her literally say to me, "Bradley (Cooper) likes these two jokes but flip them around this way..." It was all improv basically. Bradley gave us an outline and then just said, "Play, do what you do. You know what a drag dressing room is like more than me." Just to have a director say that who's also a scene partner in the scene? Just based off of a couple auditions of what he saw me do, he apparently liked me enough to hire me. It was nice to feel that trust from a director, but also that guidance from another performer without being like, "No, this is what you should do." She's literally on everybody's team and it's the greatest feeling ever as another performer to know that you're safe in that environment. Sounds stupid and actor-y, but 20 years doing this, you have to talk seriously about it.
What was your favorite moment on set?
Shit...probably seeing the first 25 minutes of the movie. They showed us at lunch and right after, they were like, "No one has their phones out, right?" And I was like, "Noooooo. You asked that before-"
[to someone else] Sup Cameron? Bye. [to PRIDE] One moment, I'm trying to get out of here because I'm on my way to the airport for a gig...
Anyway, seeing her in the movie and hearing her voice and then not knowing that I was watching her on screen too. She's so transformative in this movie, I didn't recognize her. No makeup, brown hair, parted down the middle. I didn't know who I was looking at, but that's her voice, holy shit. And it was supermarket lighting because one of the scenes is in a supermarket. She's a chameleon and this part is so impressive because she's been on both sides, she's been—
Hold on. [to someone else] I'm in an interview! [back to PRIDE] I'm sorry. It connected to my Bluetooth. I'm so sorry I had to move my car and get in another car to the airport.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Knowing that she could be on both sides of each role, like the girl on the come up and the guy that's been famous and at the top of his game for years. She had a unique perspective to bring to the role and I don't know if anybody else could've brought that. She's amazing.
I'm so excited to see this movie.
Dude, you haven't seen it yet?
Working on getting into a screener.
Oh girl, get in one of the press screenings!
I'm working on it! Haha. Wait, so you were at the premiere at TIFF. Did you see her lift that veil? Gay Twitter had a meltdown over that moment.
Gaga really just created a moment in history pic.twitter.com/mY8gU2p1Tz
— Lee Dawson (@LeeDawsonPT) September 9, 2018
Yeah, I mean, she's her! She knows how to make a fucking entrance. Did you see her on that boat in Venice? Work bitch. The water splashing around her heels and she looks so majestic. Gorgeous! She's Gaga! God is a Gaga!
Lady Gaga in Venice, Italy pic.twitter.com/UaBRAgo8O8
— - (@badestoutfit) September 1, 2018
Are you ready for this Best Picture Oscar?
Yes, I am. I'm ready to be on the carpet. I know what I'm wearing. I know what's going to happen. This is it. This is the fun time. We worked and now we get to say thank you to all the people that love it.
It was weird seeing how much I was in the movie, I thought I was going to get a joke or two. But it turned out I got like five or six and they were belly laughs. It was crazy that Bradley just thought I was funny I guess, which was cool!
Season 3 of Eastsiders premiered earlier this year, and you got engaged in your episode! Do you know what's next for Gomorrah Ray. A wedding?
We got engaged in the last episode. I hope there's a wedding because I have my eye on a few gowns. I don't know exactly, they sent me the script but I have not read them because this week I was busy shooting videos for my new album, which is out on October 5. I've just been working so I haven't really read them yet but I can't wait to be back on it. The fourth season is going to be the last one and it's nice to wrap things up knowing this is it. This is your chance to sell this story and this character. The character is basically me if I wasn't successful. I would be miserable, you know?
You're working on an album? Can we have details? Any collaborations?
Sure! I do a collaboration with Trixie on the song called "The Ballad of Aileen Wuornos." It's a parody of "Jolene." I do a collaboration with [phone cuts out] called "Why Are You Eating My Fries?" I do a song called "Unshart My Farts." I have a song called "Poop." Umm....Oh, Latrice is on a song called "Oral" which is amazing. Then I'm doing the second season of my podcast next week with Alaska called Race Chaser where we go over every single episode of Drag Race to dissect, dilute, and disseminate.
Every single episode from season one?
Yep! One by one bitch. We don't get paid for repeats so we're going to find a way to make money off them. As long as they have episodes, we have content. Thank you podcast land.
I'm still thinking about "Unshart My Fart." Toni Braxton is shaking.
Oh, bitch. It's so good. I'm proudest of one of my rhymes. It's:
Unshart my fart, oh baby
Chipotle guts gone crazy
Unshart my fart, sweet darling
I don't even remember eating corn
But it's up the octave, of course. Because I'm that girl.
And that's out on October 5?
Yeah! Oh, and I'm on the HGTV show Househunters. I'm the first ever drag queen on the show. We're infiltrating the homes and minds of everyone now.
She's booked and busy! Last question. So, Pearl recently shook the Drag Race fandom when she revealed that on their first meeting, RuPaul told her that "nothing you say matters unless that camera is rolling." When that interview went viral, producers called and told her she was blacklisted from All Stars. Pearl then took to YouTube to say, "This narrative about how we Drag Race contestants owe our lives to RuPaul’s Drag Race — that needs to completely change…I’m finally at the place in my life where I’m confident enough to know that I would have been somebody with or without Drag Race." What do you think of this idea that Drag Race queens owe their success to the show and to RuPaul?
In my personal case, which was different from a lot of the other girls, I worked hard before the show and I worked hard after the show. I think success depends on what you're willing to input and being in the right place at the right time and sucking the right dick. Bitch, I sucked a dick for a job and I'm glad I did. Every job I got got me to where I am because work begets work. I'm only half joking because I used to be a hooker. I wrote about all this shit in a book.
I think hard work is very important. That show is a giant springboard that springboards you into a pool and once you get in that pool, you can either do laps and put the work in or you can just swim up the bar and get a Mai Tai. Some of the girls swim to the bar and get a Mai Tai and some of the girls put in fucking laps. Bianca, Latrice, me, we're always at the airports every weekend. Every weekend probably, except once a month, going to two or three different places. You know? It's based on the work.
I know Pearl, I've danced to Pearl's music when she DJs. I've enjoyed that. I don't know exactly how she feels about the show. I'm sure she's thankful for the opportunity and everything but making a statement like I would be successful with or without the show is purely hypothetical. Because we don't know that now because she did go on the show. I'm not judging her for saying that, we're friends. But yeah, that's my point of view on that.
Look out for Willam in A Star Is Born, smashing into theaters on October 5.