Lady Gaga and Jared Leto were nowhere to be found. According to director Ridley Scott, neither of the Oscar-winning stars of his lush biographical drama House of Gucci ever bothered setting foot on set once principal photography began in Rome at the end of February. Instead, they showed up completely in character — Gaga radiating diffidence as Patrizia Reggiani, the ambitious Italian socialite convicted of hiring assassins to murder her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, in 1995, and Leto under pounds of prosthetic makeup and a bald cap as the luxury label’s passionate, personally conflicted vice-president, Paolo Gucci. The two remained in full gucch both on and off the set for the duration of the two-and-a-half-month shoot.
While Leto is well known for going full Method, Gaga was new to the process of dramatically sublimating her personality to embody someone not Stefani Germanotta. Scott, for his part, admits that during the shoot he couldn’t remember whether his leading Lady actually spoke with an Italian accent. “Well, at first I forgot,” the 83-year-old director of such modern classics as Alien, Gladiator, and last month’s The Last Duel says. “Because she was so in character every minute of the day I saw her. Even socially, she was right in character. So I thought, I think this has always been her. But it wasn’t. Similar to Jared Leto. He works in a very similar fashion. Once he goes in, it’s like he’s immersed, and he doesn’t come out and breathe for air until he’s finished.”
Although the immaculately detailed, $75 million period biodrama is endowed with a top-tier cast that includes Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Adam Driver as members of Italian fashion’s First Family (with Salma Hayek as a hex-conjuring clairvoyant and confidante), House of Gucci basically belongs to Gaga. (The movie arrives in theaters Thanksgiving weekend.) In only her second starring film role and first since earning a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for A Star Is Born, she schemes and fumes, rages and seethes. She even reached a real dissociative state during a scene in which she knocked a lit candle across the room (or so she told The Hollywood Reporter). All in the service of portraying Patrizia, a woman of complex motives who helped elevate the Gucci brand to the cutting edge of chic while facilitating a family rift that ultimately tore their dynasty apart. (The real Reggiani was convicted of arranging the murder in 1997 and released from prison after serving 18 years of a 29-year sentence.)
In interviews, Gaga has detailed how she studied the movements of a panther to inhabit her character’s distinct physicality and worked with a dialect coach for six months to nail Reggiani’s Northern Italian accent. Some have taken issue with the results — including a House of Gucci dialect coach who did not work with Gaga — but Gucci producer Giannina Facio, for one, was blown away by the actress-singer. “She understood the part,” says Facio, who is Scott’s wife and sometimes producing partner. “When she talked about Patrizia, she understood that this is not black and white; we’re not going to do a film about a bad woman killing her husband. This is a human being. So Gaga approached it with the beautiful, enormous heart she has, trying to understand what made Patrizia get to this point, who she was when she started, and what transformed her.”
As for Gaga’s Method-style immersion, Facio chalks it up to a single-minded dedication to craft: “And she really studied every single emotion of Patrizia from beginning to end. As you see, she even changes physically because she’s so enthralled in the role that she became Patrizia. During the whole shoot, she only spoke to us as Patrizia and always looked like Patrizia when she was around any of us.”
In preparation for his scenery-chewing portrayal of Paolo, longtime Gucci fan Leto — who has walked in the fashion house’s runway shows and is known to pal around with its lead designer, Alessandro Michele — spent five hours a day in the makeup chair being plied with artificial jowls, a receding hairline, and liver spots. He never broke character between takes, conversing with cast and crew in the highly animated, That’s a spicy meat-ah-ball! accent of his character, a sad-clown dreamer who totters between the grandiosity of his ambitions and the daily humiliations of his family. On his first day on set, Leto said he approached Pacino, who plays Gucci patriarch Aldo Gucci, in full character drag, greeting him brightly with “Papa, it’s me, Paolo!” (Not realizing this middle-aged Italiano was in fact the lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars, Pacino initially kept his distance until being informed it was Leto.)
“We never saw him without his prosthetic,” Facio says. “I mean, he would be standing next to us, and you would never think it was Jared. He does his own thing. He shows up as the character with his own ideas. It was insane!”
Insane but perhaps less than a shock from the actor at this point. He maintained his transgender character Rayon’s wardrobe and speaking affect throughout production on 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, for which he claimed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. But ever since he gifted his cast members spent condoms and dead pigs in order to stay in the tortured mind of his Joker character for 2016’s Suicide Squad, Leto’s Stanislavski leanings have become as much a marketing hook as an integral acting idiom — no matter whether his Method ultimately adds to or detracts from the story on screen.
I ask Scott what Leto and Gaga’s dedication to Method acting ultimately lent the production. “At first I was anxious — the fact that some smart aleck might say, ‘Well, it’s Italians. Why is it not in Italian?’” the director says. “And so I’d say, ‘Well, because, you idiot, you’d have to have subtitles, and people don’t tend to see expensive subtitle movies.’ That’s the answer. And so therefore they say, ‘Well, I was distracted because the Italian accent.’ But in this, they were so adept, and it was just so tied in to who they were. I mean there’s moments where Jared was positively comical. Fantastic.”
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