Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, refused to respond to either moniker on the set of “Joker: Folie à Deux,” even when cameras weren’t rolling.
Instead, she went by the simple name Lee, possibly a nickname for her DC Comics character, Harley Quinn, whose alter-ego name is Harleen Quinzel.
But during the first week of filming, the movie’s cinematographer, Lawrence Sher, wasn’t in on the name change. Sher, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the first “Joker,” typically gives actors their space during filming to allow them to focus on their craft. With Gaga, he said this week on “The Trenches Talk” podcast, Sher noticed he was having a hard time making any connection with her whatsoever.
“I didn’t know Stefani at all,” Sher said in the Tuesday episode. “Strangely, I felt like I never even met her, even during the makeup-hair tests. Maybe it was my philosophy of not trying to get in their space. And then I remember for a week, being like, ‘God, I feel like we are disconnecting. Not even connecting. We are like on opposites.’ And I would say to my crew, ‘Jesus, I can’t crack it. She either hates me or we hate each other. There’s something weird going on here.’”
Sher said he continued to respect Lady Gaga’s space, and would tell her “minor little things,” such as, “Stefani, this is where your second team was.” Then, at one point, an assistant director finally pointed out to him, “Oh, you know, Stef would like if you just called her Lee on set.’ And I was like, 100%.”
“The next thing I said was something ‘Lee,’ and it was like everything changed,” Sher recalled. And Lady Gaga started to let him in more for the rest of the production. “It was like our whole connection changed. I was like, all right, cool. That’s all I needed to know, and that changed everything.
“And then obviously, we made the rest of the movie, and it was much more of a connection that just grew over this point of the movie,” Sher continued. “By the end, I think we felt connected in the sense of, like, we’ve done this thing together that was joyous and and fulfilling.”
While Lady Gaga has yet to address the name change, some have begun to wonder whether it was a result of her tendency to use the Method acting technique. Even as far back as early 2022, when the “Born This Way” singer’s “Joker” casting was only a rumor, fans began to post memes of Lady Gaga going Method as Harley Quinn.
Method acting was developed in the early 20th century by Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski and then popularized in the U.S. by the likes of Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner. The technique requires actors to fully immerse themselves and their thoughts and emotions into the life a character, using one’s own life experiences to fuel the character.
Before her time as a pop star, Lady Gaga studied the technique at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute for 10 years. Since then, she has been known to go Method while preparing for and shooting her Oscar-winning turn in the 2018 “A Star Is Born” and her role as socialite Patrizia Reggiani in “House of Gucci,” which had her speaking in an Italian accent. Early in her music career, Gaga would also blur the lines between her pop persona and herself, insisting to reporters that there was no separation between the two.
She said in a 2009 video that the part of the Method she wasn’t good at was where she was supposed to pull out of whatever sensory experience she created. “I’m in a permanent state of Gaga.”
There is still debate in Hollywood around Method. Actors Brian Cox and Mads Mikkelsen are among the recent vocal detractors of Method acting. In a 2021 New Yorker profile of on “Succession” co-star Jeremy Strong, Cox lamented “the crises [Strong] puts himself through in order to prepare.” And Mikkelsen was critical of the practice in an April GQ profile, saying “it’s bull—.” Jennifer Lawrence recently said that Method actors make her “nervous.”
Its critics have pointed out that some actors have used the technique as a means for justifying on-set abuse toward other cast or crew. And its immersive behavior, they worry, can lead to instances of self-harm. Within the DC Cinematic Universe, there are, of course, the horror stories about Jared Leto’s strange Method-related antics while portraying Joker for “Suicide Squad,” including sending co-star Margot Robbie a live rat, anal beads and used condoms.
In Joaquin Phoenix’s less-toxic turn as Joker in Todd Phillips’ 2019 villain origin story, the actor also immersed himself deeply, losing more than 50 pounds for the role.
Some actors, however, such as Andrew Garfield, remain defenders of Method acting, having used it in films such as Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.”
“There [have] been a lot of misconceptions about what Method acting is, I think,” he said on a podcast last year.
“It’s actually just about living truthfully under imagined circumstances,” the “Under the Banner of Heaven” actor continued, “and being really nice to the crew simultaneously, and being a normal human being, and being able to drop it when you need to and staying in it when you want to stay in it.”
Aside from concerns about the Method, after taking a break from social media, Lady Gaga last month updated her fans about what she’s been up to. On the list: production of a concert film around her Chromatica Ball tour and philanthropy work through her Haus Labs cosmetics brand. She called her stint filming “Joker” a “very introspective time.”
“I can say for the first time in many years that my love of making art, music, fashion, and supporting community has never been more fulfilling,” Gaga wrote on Instagram. “I may not be sharing as much of myself online as I have in the past, but I hope you know this time to myself has been extremely healing and recharging for my heart, mind, body, and creativity — to create within myself and to have a personal life that’s just for me.”
“Joker: Folie à Deux” is set to be released Oct. 4, 2024.
Times staff writer Carlos De Loera contributed to this report.