"Arrow" star Rick Gonzalez looks back at the iconic video, reveals his concerns about the religious imagery and spills on working with Gaga and Norman Reedus.
On April 15, 2011, Lady Gaga dropped the second single from "Born This Way," the bop also known as "Judas."
The singer said the song was an "aggressive metaphor" about forgiveness, betrayal and coming to terms with some of the darker things in your life. The title, of course, refers to Judas Iscariot, the biblical figure and disciple who double-crossed Jesus -- and that religious imagery was brought straight into the music video, which dropped a month after the song, on May 11, 2011.
In the video, Jesus (played by "Arrow" star Rick Gonzalez) is the leader of a biker gang, with his Twelve Apostles following him on motorcycles. Gaga stars as Mary Magdalene, while "The Walking Dead" star Norman Reedus is featured as the titular figure. The video features dance breaks, amazing costumes from Nicola Formichetti and came with a bit of controversy when it was released. Gaga was slammed by the Catholic League before it even dropped, but they walked back their criticism once it officially premiered. The song and video also caused protests in Asia.
In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of both the song and its video, TooFab caught up with Jesus himself, where he opened up about his surprising casting, what it was like to work with Gaga and Reedus on set, and whether he had any concerns about the religious imagery before agreeing to the role. He also shared a message for all the Little Monsters who have continued to support him in the decade since the video first dropped.
First off, we just wanted to talk a little about how this video came to you. I saw your manager called and said Gaga specifically wanted you. What was your initial reaction to that and did you ever find out what it was about you she was interested in?
When I got the call I was sort of like sitting there with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, just sitting on the couch kind of like, 'Gaga knows who I am? Really?' It's just so random, and it turned out -- when I got to know her and got to know the team a little bit -- I guess she had seen me in a film. She was watching a film I did called 'Pride and Glory.' I think it was 'Pride and Glory' and I had this small part in it, and I think that part, what I did in that film coupled with the idea that she was kind of creating the storyboards and creative concept for Judas just synchronously just happened that way.
And I believe -- and I don't want to put words in her mouth or anything -- but I do believe she was watching 'Walking Dead' at the time, because I think that was the first season for Norman. So he was already finishing the first season, or still doing it, or it was still airing for that matter, and she was already a fan of the show and what Norman was doing.
I believe Norman and I, we were talking like, 'Man, this is really cool.' We were both kind of shocked like, 'Great! This is going to be fun.' We didn't think much of it. And I do remember meeting Nicola Formichetti, who was her creative director and he was just excited. He looked at me like a canvas, but he was very nonchalant about it. It was almost like excited, but at the same time like, 'Come with me.' And I'd go follow him and he just starts throwing things on me. He's like, 'What does this look like? What does this look like? Just try this.' And he's like, 'I'm gonna put this crown on you.' And I'm like, 'This is nuts.'
What was the concept, as it was originally explained to you?
I think for me it was this idea of replaying the scene in the bible where Jesus kisses Judas knowing that he's going to betray him, right? And so, I guess the whole concept was going to be this idea of having Jesus and Judas, and her affection for Jesus and also her affection for Judas, but she wanted to do a twist on it. She wanted this edge to it and to create this biker gang sort of thing. I think with them, they were worried about how I would feel about a kiss with Norman. So, I was like what kind of kiss are we talking about? What were we thinking, you know? They say like, 'We don't know yet, we'll figure it out. It's nothing serious.' I was like, 'Cool, yeah.'
What I loved about it -- and I believe Laurieann Gibson was also a part of the creative team -- it was this idea of like honoring the text, honoring the ramifications of what that meant in the Bible. But at the same time, letting that lead the story of what she wanted to say in the song. There was this need to want to protect the integrity of the story itself, even though you want to do your thing creatively. And that, I think Norman and I were really excited about, because that kind of made the little actor inside us get excited about it. When they say, 'Action,' and we're like walking towards each other and we see each other and it's like this melodrama of Judas and Jesus and whatnot, that was a lot of fun.
Laurieann Gibson, who co-directed the video, said she was worried about being struck down by God himself over some of the original ideas presented. Were you nervous to play Jesus, knowing backlash that comes with religious imagery in music videos? Obviously, it's nothing new and something we still do see today.
It did cross my mind. I'm not gonna lie. I know how creative she is, and I know that she definitely wants to create new thresholds and push her creativity to new heights. And so, it did worry me. At the time though, I wasn't -- I was a believer, but not like the way that I am today -- so before I was just worried more about what it would look like, in terms of me creating the character, or just being that for her. And also, what she would need from me in terms of what she wanted in a Jesus.
I kind of just blindly dove into it, and just allowed them to steer me, you know, because I wanted to give them exactly what they wanted in terms of their creativity and I tried not to think about like, 'I'm playing Jesus! This is a big deal.' I really just leaned into which direction are we headed and steer me there so that way I'm where you want me to be. And then, if I'm in that place, I can play.
The one time I did get nervous was when I was hearing the rumblings from the creative team while we were shooting like, 'Hey, we're thinking Jesus might have a moment to talk to the crowd' and do that kind of thing. And then my heart started fluttering like, 'Oh, okay man. So, what is Jesus gonna say? What does that mean?' I was just kind of nervous, but that time never came. So, I was just like, 'Phew, great. Great.'
You mention your ideology has changed since you filmed it. Do you think you would approach the video differently now?
Oh, 100%. I feel like I would be way more prepared now. I feel like now, I would just go into so many other places with that character. Do so many things. Now that I have a full understanding of who Christ is and what that means to me. Oh man, I'd have so much fun playing that. 100%. We should just do another Judas remix.
What were your first interactions with Gaga herself like?
Consummate professional. Someone who cared about artists. Someone who cared about acting and the craft and the work. She really seemed like a student of the work, and someone who really loves cinema. I think that's the interesting part about her, people don't realize how much of a student in the terms of film, music and just art that she really does love.
I think what struck me is first how humble she is. She is extremely humble. And also that she wants to see other people succeed and win. I do remember her saying, 'Man I think you guys are awesome and talented and I really hope this video helps you guys, and pushes you guys further.' It was just constant, like, 'I want you guys to succeed in this and find success in this.' That meant a lot to me for someone at her level to just say, 'I want my platform to also benefit you.' And I think that speaks volumes to the kind of person she is because that meant a lot. It's the reason I'm talking to you. Her platform definitely helps others. I think that's the blessing in it.
So, that's what really struck me whenever I talked to her. She was very gracious, she -- was open to all the ideas we brought up. Was never upset about anything in terms of when things couldn't happen or whatever. They had asked me, for example, could I ride the motorcycle. They knew I had did a film called 'Biker Boys' many many years ago, and felt like, since you did that film maybe you could ... And I'm like, 'Well, it's a movie, and I only did a little bit of riding. It was a stunt double.' So, the fact that they wanted me to have Gaga on the back of the bike, I was like, 'There's no way I'm going to have the biggest pop star on the planet on the back of a bike with me when I'm nowhere near good.' So, just always humble, just cool, like, 'Let's figure it out.' So, my interactions with her were always positive, and I really enjoyed it.
Did the video bring new opportunities to you after the fact?
I did notice that there's so many people that remember it. I think on social media there's always folks who tag me or Instagram it. It's taken on a life of its own in terms of the song and the video. So, nonstop. Even folks in the industry and peers, so in love with the song. Actually I think the thing that's interesting is that people don't realize it's me. It's this thing of like, 'Wait I didn't know. That's insane. That was you! I didn't… I couldn't put it… now I am. It's blowing me away!' It's always that reaction which is fun
How did you feel once you got on set and in your full Jesus costume, thorn crown and all? It's gotta be surreal.
It was pretty trippy. I'm not gonna lie. It was trippy. Being on set with everyone and sort of like everyone just kind of like conforming to their characters and just like, you know like, Norman was like the badass. He was Judas. He was the rebel. He was doing him, and he just walked with so much swag, so people kind of like clinged to him in that sort of way and became a follower for him in that regard. And I'm sort of, people kind of created like this pathway for me just in terms of the characters and being on set. That energy was being reciprocated. Being in that, in that world and in that vibe, it was surreal and I loved that everyone, including the creative team, we're down to play in that idea of it.
I think that's what made Norman and I excited because it was like, man this is coming out pretty cool, like we're really going for it in our own way, in our own creative way. To play this kind of character, for me, I tried not to focus on the idea of like Jesus, but more like the relationship that Jesus has with Lady Gaga. So, that's what I cared more about, and I think it resonated because as soon as I put the clothes on and the reaction I got from everyone on set, it was just kind of like, 'Holy smokes.'
I think everyone was just in love with what Nicola was doing at the time. That guy is so iconic with what he does. So, like I said he did it so nonchalant. He was just throwing things on me. Just trying things like, 'No, no, no! Let's not do that. Let's do this. No, he has to wear a leather jacket. No shirt underneath.' It was just incredible. And then he did my hair, and he was like, 'I want you to do the braids, and then I want the crown.' He was just amazing like he was in his zone.
The song and the video did spark controversy at the time, with protests and pearl clutching from conservative groups. When it dropped, what was the reception like for you? Did you feel any of that?
I think people, if I remember correctly, I think certain people kind of felt a kind of way about it a little bit, but it wasn't a huge backlash. I could be wrong, but I don't think it was that bad.
No, there were a couple religious groups that were mad beforehand but, once they saw it, were like, 'It's not that bad.'
I saw more people enjoy it. People were just like, 'Wow, this is really incredible.' And I think the song resonated the longer it was out. I think more people started to appreciate it more and more. And so, I didn't see the backlash as much. I think that was Laurieann Gibson, and Gaga, and the other team members just making sure there was still integrity to the text, and the Bible and stuff.
Overall, what does stands out the most when you look back at the whole experience now?
I think it's that. The idea of that photo you have behind you, ya know? It's just like this idea of me playing Jesus with Lady Gaga and a song about Judas, and what that means to the fans and how they still care about it till this day, right? Her fans are very loyal. They love her creativity and they appreciate what she puts into her art. And to this day, I think all those components kind of factor into the idea that this video still speaks volumes and they still care and people celebrate it every year, really, because I get hit up every year about it.
And they're constantly discovering me every year. Like, 'Oh, I didn't know.' It's just kind of like they're putting everything together. So, yeah I think for me it's just kind of like, you know just like shaking my head saying I can't believe that happened.
Lastly, do you have a message for the fans who will be celebrating the anniversary this year and adding some more views to that YouTube link?
Just to say thank you for watching and to celebrate it and thanks for showing me love and appreciating what I did with the video and what I had to offer in it. I just appreciate the love, because it means a lot.