Part of the fun of A Star Is Born is picking out the constellation of bit parts and surprising cameos that made it into Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. Jackson Maine’s ear doctor was the actor’s real ear doctor, and his dog was his real-life dog; Eddie Griffin married Jackson and Ally in Memphis; we were all introduced to an HBIC named Gail. But in an early scene at a supermarket, another star pops up: Luenell, one of four comedians handpicked by Cooper for supporting roles in the movie.
As Jackson Maine and Ally (Lady Gaga) drink at a cop bar open late, their sexy heart-to-heart about singing and songwriting is interrupted when a drunk cop heckles Jackson for a photo. Ally pops him in the mouth, and Jackson carts her to a supermarket, icing her swollen knuckles with frozen peas. As they check out, the cashier snaps a photo with her flash on. “I’m sorry,” Luenell says. “I had to.” Ally glares, but Jackson smiles warmly and shrugs it off, the first hint that maybe what he sees in Ally is not just a great singer, but a woman he can talk to as an artist, not as a star.
“I’m the pop-up queen,” Luenell told Vulture about her role. “Nobody gives me any really big, big parts. I think they know that I’m brain damaged from pot from the ’70s and I can’t remember the big monologues that well! One day I’ll get a role like that I’m sure, but I just keep popping up. I don’t care. My role was no longer than Eddie Griffin’s. I’m very happy about it. I get to be in this movie forever.” She’d worked with Cooper on the romantic comedy All About Steve in 2009, and cooed his praises: “I’m just glad that I got a little tiny crumb piece of the pie.” Luenell talked to Vulture about the role — and how she’s also deeply attracted to Bradley Cooper’s deep Jackson Maine voice.
I’ve seen the movie four times now. I’m obsessed.
Oh my God. I can’t see it again for a while. Ha!
Can you tell me why?
It shook me. It shook me. I love Bradley so much, and it was so sad at the end, it just shook me. I can’t see it again for a while.
You worked with Bradley Cooper on All About Steve. How did you get into A Star Is Born?
My agency contacted me, and they told me that I was doing it. I didn’t have an audition or anything like that. I just take it as a part of the lovely friendship that Bradley and I have been able to sustain since the years of doing All About Steve. He just threw me a bone.
Now, a girl on Facebook the other day said that she auditioned for the role that I got. That could be true or could not be true, I don’t know. But I know that he had four comics in the movie, and they were all handpicked: Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Griffin, and myself.
How did it feel to be a part of that exclusive group?
Well, I’ve worked with legends for a long, long time, and I’ve been in movies with them. That part didn’t throw me. It was more the fact that this is Bradley’s directorial debut, and that I get to reunite with him, and also with Gaga, whom I worked with on the “Telephone” video with Beyoncé many years ago. It wasn’t like I had that moment of Oh my God, oh my God, because I had already met with them and worked with them. It was just great to reunite.
And you’re so good at it. Your scene is really pivotal because it’s Jackson and Ally’s first date, but until that point we don’t really have a sense of how famous Jackson Maine is, and maybe how that fame wears on him.
Yeah, I say, “I’m sorry, I had to.” And Gaga says, “No, actually you didn’t.”
I live that every day of my life. When I leave the house, I’m asked to take pictures all day. Whether I’m just running to Rite Aid to get toothpaste, or uptown having dinner, or out with my family — I know the life, just not on that grand scale, but in my little world.
How did it feel for you to be on the other side of that dynamic?
People can’t help themselves. The thing that makes me sad, however, is that people are no longer really interested in meeting you. They just want the photo. As soon as they get the photo, a lot of time they don’t even say thank you, they just click it and walk away.
Back in the day, it used to be “I can’t wait to meet this person.” When I met Blair Underwood, I probably met him four times before I ever asked for a photo. But these people are so photo obsessed — look who I saw, look who I met — they don’t really embrace the meeting of the celebrity anymore, they just want the photo.
What was it like on set in that supermarket for your scene?
We were filming in the grocery store, and the thing that’s crazy is that the grocery store was still carrying on its daily business while we were in another aisle shooting. There were people two aisles away buying cereal for their families, not knowing that two aisles over, two of the biggest stars in the industry were there. And Gaga, without her blonde hair, threw a lot of people off. She looked just like any other girl, like she did in the movie. She’s very tiny in stature. It was really funny to me that we were filming in a live, working, active grocery store.
That’s crazy! Can you tell me a little bit about Bradley as a director? Did he use the deep voice?
He did. He practiced for months on that Sam Elliott voice. I think he said he dropped his voice an octave! It was, of course, extreeeemely sexy.
Oh my gosh, I love the voice!
I mean, come on. I had to get used to it for a minute, then I was like, Oooooooooooh, this is hot! He did talk to me in that way. Of course, we took two cute, cute pictures.
Yes, I saw them on Instagram!
He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve met in Hollywood. Even when we were doing All About Steve, I got a chance to meet his parents. His parents came on set. After we shot that film, I gave a present to him and to Sandra: a bottle of cologne for him, a bottle of perfume for Sandra, and a picture of me and my daughter, who came on set. Bradley told me years later that that picture is still on his parents’ piano at his parents’ house. I mean, come on, you know? That’s amazing. He’s just one of those good guys. Just a great, great guy.
He fights for what he wants. He had to fight to get this picture made. He had to fight for like seven or eight years. Didn’t nobody want him to do it, didn’t nobody want him to do it; nobody wanted him to direct and star and write the music and sing. He took singing lessons and learned how to play the guitar. He went all-in. That’s what Oscar films are made of, dedication like that. And I know it’ll be nominated across the board.
What was it like when you saw the movie at the cast and crew screening?
My daughter had to go to a secret audition for Chris Brown, so I had to see it by myself. The theater was three-quarters full. I went in and sat in the eighth empty row by myself, with people all behind me. I’m watching the film and I’m enjoying the film, all the drag queens, Gaga’s best friend. I’m loving the falling-in-love story; everything was very inspiring. And then when it started to go south — not even when he was in rehab — but when the manager came! He said, “God, she’d be so much better without you,” and everything. When that went into Jackson’s head, and he started slipping away, I couldn’t take it. When he got out that belt — pardon my French — I fucking lost it. I sat up there and bawled. I started crying and sniffing and blowing my nose until 20 minutes after the credits rolled. I cried so hard that the people behind me — it was dead silent in the theater, but all you could hear was me sniffing and crying. So they came to say, “Girl, are you all right?!” I cried for like 30 minutes. I was just shook. Suicide is terrible; hanging is terrible. I was a raging lunatic of tears at the end of the movie.
And what about hearing the music for the first time?
Well, who knew Bradley could sing, first of all! Gaga made it a requirement that he sing his own music, that he not loop or have it overdubbed. I thought that was pretty ballsy.
I think the soundtrack is amazing. That one song that Gaga sings, I can’t get it out of my head. [Sings] “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in!” That’s in your head. It’s haunting. I’ve watched a lot of their interviews about how they clicked, and personally, I don’t know how she didn’t fall in love with him during the making of this film. I know he has a girlfriend and a baby, and I know she has a man, but this is what movie romances are made of, if you ask me. I don’t know how she didn’t fall in love with that man! Because I fell in love with him many, many years ago.
[Laughs in agreement]
If Bradley wanted me — I’d leave my husband if he wanted to get with me!