By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
NEW YORK—In the newest “American Horror Story” anthology series, idiosyncratic pop singer Lady Gaga appears as the Countess, a hotelier with a secret. The multitalented Grammy winner recently spoke on set about making her transition to acting and joining this popular FX series.
The “Hotel” series, which premiered in October and returns Wednesday, Dec. 2, centers on a Los Angeles hotel operated by a mysterious fashion-oriented proprietress called the Countess. The lodging is the site of some deadly events, which are investigated by an intrepid homicide detective (Wes Bentley). The series also stars Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Chloe Sevigny, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates and Denis O’Hare as well as series mainstay, Jessica Lange.
Q: Do you see this role as correlating with your aesthetic tradition? Is that the reason why you were excited about being involved in this?
Lady Gaga: Well, yes. When I first spoke to Ryan (Murphy, the show’s creator), I told him that my first relationship with “American Horror Story” was because I’m a fan. I loved watching this show. I felt as true kinship with him from afar. Also, there is that thing that we artists like to believe in, which is zeitgeist. When you’re watching something and you’re doing work you sort of start to go, “Oh, he’s thinking what I’m (thinking) but we don’t know each other,” and that’s because we are emotionally and intellectually existing on this really, visceral artistic plane. We’re just following our instincts. So, when I met him, which was on set after I said yes, it was a match made in heaven.
What I find to be interesting is that there’s an aesthetic quality that is similar in that we both have a fascination with darkness, but also what I find really amusing is somehow, even though I’ve had many people tell me it’s not like they’re watching me when they watch the show, I find it very funny that people wonder if that’s just the way that I really am. They think this was very easy for me to just kind of walk in here with my blond hair on and just be a ***** and be rude to everyone. They think that’s just what I do because you’ve seen me do something like that before. But the truth is that it’s actually very challenging to be sincere when you have all of that on. It’s not comfortable. It’s never been comfortable for me, but the idea is to make it look effortless and, to be honest, I have spent a lot of time studying Anthony Perkins from “Psycho,” and Anthony Hopkins from “Silence of the Lambs.” I’ve spent a lot of time watching “The Jinx,” and Robert Durst’s character (on that show), as he’s a rich serial killer similar to the Countess.
If you know me in real life, I’m extremely dramatic and funny. I’m laughing and joking with my friends, and then you watch this show and somehow you still come in here asking me how is it possible that your life is so congruent with the Countess. Actually, her and I are very different. It was so hard for me to be mean all the time. Ryan would be like, “Be more of a *****” or “Be meaner” or “Be more restrained.” It was something I had to really work on.
In that way I found a real freedom in her because I’d like to be able, as an actress, to just be my true self which is a platinum blond and not be viewed that I’m trying to put on any type of character. I hope that I can take a piece of what I’ve learned here with me so that my next character could either be completely different—hair, makeup and all that. I could still be a blond and not be the Countess.
Q: How did you prepare for this? Did you have any first day jitters?
Lady Gaga: You better believe that I prepare my *** off to come in with these fantastically talented actors. All I have is my preparation time and Jesus, really, to save me from possibly screwing this up. I have a scene with Kathy Bates after this and I was just up all night with my script, jotting notes and looking at it and figuring it out, because that’s all I have when I get in there is my discipline. That’s the thing that I’ve learned over the past couple of years is probably my biggest strength in all of this is that I actually am very disciplined and love being an artist. I love being a student, so I read my lines.
I spend a lot of time thinking like her. When I’m walking down the street alone, which is very rare, or if I’m out at a restaurant or I’m in the car and we’re driving past people I’ll sort of look at them and go, “Jeez, I wonder if you’re clean.” (She laughs.)”I wonder if I were to kill you if it would be worth it for me.” You just have to kind of start thinking like that in a totally practical way, almost like the way that if a fly were to come into the room and really be bothering me I would just swat it without thinking about it.
I have to start thinking like that in order for it to feel real when I’m in here. Otherwise, you risk the challenge of the campy, blond in the outfit just being a ***** with the outfit on. Quite frankly, it’s a great role, so (at the beginning) it was about what can I bring to it that’s special?
Q: Do you relate in some way to the Countess?
Lady Gaga: Yes, I suppose I have, in a way. I suppose that I actually think that my objective in life is the same as the Countess’ even though we are very different in character. I believe that the Countess has two objectives that change halfway through the season. At the top of the season, she wants to be celebrated, and if you’re not celebrating her, you’ve got to go. But my second objective, where she is now, actually makes sense because this is my life’s story, I want it to be celebrated by my art and then my objective in my own life changed and hers does too, it’s that I want the people that I know, that I love them.
I want them to love the real me, not the idea of me that they think they know. This has probably been one of my biggest struggles as a human being. Somebody can say to me, “Gaga, I love you.” But I know that there’s still kind of veneer in front of me and a wall that even if they say that they love me, maybe they have yet to see beyond the hair and the makeup. Even if I’ve taken it all off, they just can’t see beyond the fame. I desperately want for you to love the real me, and not the idea of me that you see.
For the Countess, what you’re starting to see is that she want s everyone in this hotel to love her for who she really is, cunning or not. Cunning, evil she feels that they’re all here in this triumph of a hotel because of her and she keeps them together and she wants to be rewarded for that.
Q: Do you watch the show?
Lady Gaga: Yes!
Q: Are you critical of yourself?
Lady Gaga: Are you kidding me? I can’t breathe when I’m watching myself. My stomach hurts. When I watch the show, I’m thinking constantly about how I can make myself better. I’m never having a glass of champagne and patting myself on the back. (She laughs.)