Shangela has made it clear that she’s a werking girl. Since her appearances on season 2 and 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the queen has released music, found herself in TV shows and movies — and toured nonstop. The hustle paid off: The queen was asked by name to audition for a role in A Star Is Born (out Oct. 5) alongside Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
“It’s a really funny story how I landed on this. The original role was for a Marilyn Monroe drag impersonator who was half a zombie. And when my agent brought it to me, I was like, ‘You know, honey, I could put on all the blonde wigs all day, but if they’re going for a spot-on Marilyn Monroe, I don’t think Marilyn Monroe is a lady of color, no matter how long she’s been out in the sun.’”
She originally declined the audition but later received an email from Bobby Campell, Gaga’s longtime manager. “I had worked with Gaga on the ‘Applause’ lyric video, and he said, ‘LG’ — affectionately titled, of course — ‘LG hears that you didn’t come in for the audition. Why didn’t you come in? She would love for you to audition for this role.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, honey, if LG calls, lemme get my white dress and my blonde wig and I’m going out!’ [Laughs] And I seriously did. I went in to audition. I sang ‘I Want to Be Loved by You.’”
After the audition, Shangela’s agent informed her that she didn’t get the drag-zombie Marilyn Monroe role, but instead they offered her a character with dialogue — to which the queen responded with her infamous catchphrase: “Whoooo, hallelu!”
Billboard caught up with the drag superstar during a break in her 181-city (!!!) tour to talk about her role in what’s shaping up to be one of the year’s biggest awards darlings, as well as her tour and her advice to the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4.
I’m so excited that you’re in A Star Is Born. It’s going to be one of the biggest movies of the year, for sure.
You know, I’m blown away by that. I was so excited to be a part of this film, and now that it’s all coming out with so much great buzz, I’m like, “Yes, honey! Yeeeah!”
That’s amazing. Did you get to interact with Gaga or Bradley Cooper much on set?
Honey, I’m Shangela, you know I was gonna pop out of a box and go to their dressing rooms, OK? [Laughs] And yes, we did.
I remember the first day on set with Bradley Cooper, he came up to me and was like, you know, “Shangela” — I’m sure that was the first time he had said the name “Shangela” — he was like, “Shangela, honey, I know you had the script and your lines and everything, but this is your world. This is drag club scenes, this is your world, so feel free to go as far as you’d like with the character, and I’ll pull you back if I feel it’s too far.”
And I said, “OK, Mr. Cooper,” and baby, he hit action, and I just went into full-on Drag Queen Bar Owner Shangela mode, because I do this — I’m on a 181-city tour this year. I’ve been doing this for seven years. I know some draaaag and how to make this character really pop. So I do what I thought was good, and he called, “Cut,” and I was like, “Oh lord, what’d I do?”
So he comes up to me — he’s very intense. He grabs both sides of my face, and I’m like, “Whoa, baby, my makeup,” you know? He grabs my face and is like, “That’s amazing. Do it again. Action!”
To have that validation, it made such a welcoming space on-set. He created such a good environment where he allows you to be you and bring what you bring to the character, but also with great direction. I loved working with him.
Wow, that’s incredible. Did you get to hang out with Gaga?
Gaga, oh honey. So you know how they change set-up cameras — they have to take time to change the cameras around and all that? They would have us in a dressing room all together. It was me and Gaga. She could have gone out to her trailer, private, lush, I’m sure. But she’s in the dressing room with me and a couple of the other queens, and we just kicked it.
And me, I’m doing full-on Oprah-interview style. I was living! I was telling stories. I went into my one-woman cabaret. It was wonderful. I asked her, “You know, what do you do with all those fabulous costumes, girl? ‘Cause over the years, you have worn some things. You have anything you want to give me?” And, she was like, “You know, Shan” — she calls me Shan, OK? — she says, “Shan, honestly, I love my wardrobe and my costumes so much. I actually collect them. I collect different costumes. Not just mine, but other artists that I love, like Michael Jackson.”
So she has this collection, she has these warehouses where she keeps the clothes, and I was like, “Ooh, honey, you need to put me on a golf cart and do celebrity tours!” OK. And she was like, “Oh Shan, yes,” and she was laughing. She was very loose on set, but also very focused. When they called “action,” honey, she was in character and she was in mode and you could tell.
That honestly sounds magical. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I’m in the dark here: How much of you is in your Star is Born character? Is it a different character from the Shangela we know and love?
Well, with this being a drag bar owner and a performing drag queen, I didn’t have to do too much of a stretch to really take ownership of that role. Because it is what I do, so I do bring a large part of Shangela to it, but it’s also a character, so I kind of want to dive into that. But honey, she’s a drag queen, so she’s gonna be fabulous, she’s gonna be loud, and she’s gonna be in charge! How is that not Shangela? [Laughs]
Amazing. So tell me about this tour you’re on.
Well, it’s a 181-city tour that I’m on this year alone around the world. Some of it has been with a group, but most of it is solo touring. So I’m very excited to be able to continue seeing fans and connecting with fans all around the world. It’s a great opportunity, and it’s so cool to see so many people around the world united by one show and by us as drag artists.
That’s so cool. Do you have a favorite city to travel to?
You know, there’s great things about them all, but I’ll tell you one place that I’m so looking forward to: I’ve never been to Asia. This December, I’ll be in Hong Kong and Singapore. I have a comedy tour called Shangela Is Shook, and after this season of All Stars 3, you can see it’s quite appropriately titled.
On the topic of All Stars — they announced that season 4 is happening. Do you have any advice for the queens competing in that season?
Run! [Laughs] Lock the doors! Make sure no eliminated queens return. [Laughs]
Ha! My last question for you: So we’ve established you’re a “werking girl” — what else are you working on?
I’ve always been in tour mode since I came out the gate right after season 2 of Drag Race, and after five years of touring, I’m excited to be able to return back to LA at the end of this year and really focus — laser-focus — on my career working as an actor.
I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of great roles on Bones and Glee and, honey, I beat down an alien with my purse on The X-Files. [Laughs] And, you know, we’ve got those films on Netflix — Hurricane Bianca and Hurricane Bianca 2. I’m going to be featured in my drag mom Alyssa Edwards’ new docuseries for Netflix coming out in October, and of course, this film.
Are you looking for roles in drag or out of drag?
I’ve been fortunate to work in and out of drag, like in both the Hurricane Bianca films and shows like 2 Broke Girls, so honey, listen. I probably got many personalities living in my head and they all have to pay rent, OK? I’m gonna explore every opportunity out there possible, but yes, I want to work a lot in and out of drag. I just think there’s so many great LGBTQ stories and more that can be told and I want to be a part of that.
Update: Shangela was under the impression that the drag bar scenes were going to be cut from A Star Is Born until Lady Gaga intervened. Billboard has learned that wasn’t the case.