Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video is nothing short of epic. Nearly 10 minutes long, it picks up where her "Paparazzi" video ended -- with the pop star headed to jail for murder. Once inside, Gaga does what any woman in her situation would do -- she finds herself a hot girlfriend. Canadian performance artist and personal trainer Heather Cassils was handpicked by Gaga to play the role of her prison yard girlfriend. We chatted with Cassils to find out how she ended up in the "Telephone" video, her feelings about depictions of queer women in mainstream media, and what it's like to make out with the most famous woman in the world.
Out: Were you familiar with Gaga's work before you were cast for the shoot?
Heather Cassils: I was not a totally massive fan per se, but my background and training is as an artist, and I did notice she was bringing a lot of elements of performance art into her pop cultural practice. And she has referenced people like Leigh Bowery and feminist performances, so I was aware of that, and that's what caught my eye about her more than anything else -- as well as the fact that she was doing something different and presenting herself differently from other pop stars who have been around in the last little while.
How did you get cast in the video?
I got cast because I work as a personal trainer. I run my own independent contracting business, and I run it out of a gay gym in Silver Lake. There's a woman at my gym named Dallas, and she's also kind of an aspiring actress of sorts, and she had been called in to play one of the guards. She called me up from the casting and said they were desperate for bodybuilders, and she told them, "There's this person at my gym who's not a pro bodybuilder, but she has a really cut physique," and she suggested I'd be perfect for it. So I went down and auditioned -- but I'm not hormones or anything like that -- so they ended up casting me as an inmate in the prison scene. They were blocking the scene, and the woman who was blocking for Gaga disappeared, and Gaga came out, and she just kind of instantly called me over, and it just happened like that. She called me over and asked me to portray her girlfriend and said, "OK, you're going to be my prison girlfriend, and you're going to come to me, and I'd like you to touch me inappropriately." [Laughs] We just kind of went from there.
So, it just happened right there on the spot?
Yeah. It was a very strange, organic Los Angeles moment.
What was Gaga like on set?
She was extremely professional and very, very funny. After we did the [kissing] shot, she screamed across the yard to me, "I think you got me pregnant!" [Laughs] She was also very present and real. She took the time to ask people what they did for a living and who they were and where they were from. She was a very genuine, grounded person.
OK -- let's get to the juicy stuff: What was the kiss like?
I think we did several takes -- to be honest, it was a little bit of a blur because it happened so quickly. On the first, take her cigarette sunglasses were steaming a little bit, but by the third or fourth take we were both inhaling a lot of secondhand smoke [Laughs]. It was kind of intense. And it just kind of happened naturally because she didn't really give me explicit instructions to kiss her -- it just felt like a natural thing to do. In fact, I sniffed her like a kind of aggressive beast. And as we got closer, she actually put her tongue in my mouth. She just went for it. [Laughs] It was really good.
What do you think about the new breed of younger pop stars -- and some have accused Gaga of this -- who claim bisexuality or a kind of pansexuality in an effort to use queer culture for their own personal gains?
That's been going on since the dawn of time. Elvis stole from African American music. Everybody's constantly riffing -- Madonna stole voguing from poor, disenfranchised black drag queens in Harlem. This isn't a new concept. I think there's more reverence with regard to Lady Gaga as she's obviously educated herself in her trajectory with visual arts practices and the stuff that she's doing isn't light stuff. It's difficult when they're making millions of dollars and placating to the masses -- it's tricky to maintain that, but I think she tries. And even including someone like me is a part of that. The thing that was kind of interesting was that in between takes I was getting kind of annoyed because the camera guys were really kind of drooling and talking about "girl-on-girl action" and I said, "What about boy-on-girl action?" And she turned to me and said "Oh. Do you identify as male?" [Laughs] And I said, "Well, probably more than you do." And she said "I'll be sure to tell people that." We just had this abstracted conversation about gender in the middle of this shoot, which I thought was really weird and pretty interesting: A) that she would take the time and B) that she would even ask me about that.
For the whole interview click here.