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The second Lady Gaga entered the room for our E! News interview on the set of American Horror Story: Hotel, it was clear something was…off.
Dressed down in jean cutoffs and an Elvis Presley T-shirt, she looked confident but relaxed, blissful but tired after a long day on set, and missing something notable: Her entourage.
Accompanied only by her manager, she shook the hand of our entire crew, looked us all in the eye with a genuine smile, and sat down to talk without so much as giving a second thought to the lighting, the angle or the line of questioning.
Then the realization hit. This wasn't Lady Gaga, the untouchable music icon and one of the best-selling musicians of all time. This was Stefani, the 29-year-old New York native whose parents were visiting her on set that day. A real person with real feelings and emotions, who isn't afraid to open up about her greatest fears and the greatest misconceptions she feels people have about her.
She was in a word: Lovely. And the room—tucked inside a set that was equal parts bloody, terrifying and deadly—suddenly felt very alive.
This was a stripped-down Gaga. And in an exclusive and deeply personal sit-down with the actress for E! News (airing tonight at 7 and 11), on the eve of her TV debut on American Horror Story: Hotel, the actress revealed she feels more "normal" and unguarded than ever, thanks to the cast and specifically creator Ryan Murphy, whom she deemed a "soul mate." She said she's been able to be herself and truly connect with new people after a long time.
"I do know isolation," Gaga explained, "because I'm famous and it's hard to go be normal all the time. And when you meet people in public, 99 percent of the time, people aren't that interested in really getting to know me. There's sort of a wall between us that they think something of me that I'm not. I'm really just a human being that makes this...stuff."
A human being who is now feeling markedly different, thanks to the people surrounding her on set.
"I haven't said this before, and I should have," Gaga said. "I really hope, more than anything that anyone could take away from me being on Horror Story, I'd really, really like for artists and their managers and people in any industry to know the importance of caring for people that you work with, and keeping them in a good mental state and taking care of their health and making sure that we're all OK. It's important to work hard, and making money is important to survive, but what's more important is that we support one another through the challenges of life."
"I'm happier than I've ever been now," Gaga revealed, "because the people that I work with really, really care that my life is different and really, really work to make sure that I feel as normal as possible—so that I can have a great time and just be a normal girl, and just be a woman for Ryan on film, or you know... [laughs] a hemophiliac."
The "hemophiliac" she's referencing, of course, is her show-stopping AHS: Hotel character, The Countess, a 100-year-old woman with an insatiable appetite for highly physical group sex and blood. She's not a vampire, but rather afflicted with a hemophiliac "virus"—the kind of virus that brings hot people like Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson and Angela Bassett into her bed in some very dramatic and highly sexual ways. (A virus that, let's be honest, roughly 99.9 percent of the population wouldn't mind contracting if it meant such company.)
Not only is the season premiere of Hotel arguably the best episode so far of the entire AHS series, but Gaga slays in this role—in every way. Her opening scene with Bomer, set to the song "Tear You Apart" by She Wants Revenge, is one you will never forget after watching—which you will do with your jaw unhinged, dangling somewhere around your knees.
As one might expect, those shocking-yet-artful (people always say that; in this case it's true) sex scenes haven't rattled Gaga one bit—and she's actually asked for some of the scenes to go further. "In a strange way, I actually almost prefer to watch myself in a love scene," she reveals. "I know it has to look convincing and real." As her co-star (and sex-scene partner) Cheyenne Jackson put it, "[Gaga] doesn't flinch. She goes there. Like right off the bat. She said, 'It has to be real or I can't do it.'"
For a show that is all about fear, Gaga seems more fearless than ever. And yet she admitted there's vulnerability within.
"In order to build strength," the actress-musician said, "you have to usually come from a lot of weakness. So, I'm actually extremely weak in a lot of ways and extremely vulnerable and extremely open and reckless and crazy with my mind, my emotions. Things that I make, I'm always throwing everything that I have at it, and I was not actually that fearless when I first came to this set. I was very nervous. I did the Oscars at the top of the year, I was very nervous for that. I prepared, prepared, prepared, and was like, 'I did that and that was great,' but I couldn't even enjoy it because I was still kind of in preparation mode after it happened. It's like I wasn't even there. So I was just very nervous. "
Gaga's greatest fear was not being accepted by the cast and crew, who might not see her as who she truly is. So when she secured the AHS gig in February after calling up Murphy and asking for it, as a fan of the show—and stepping into an intimidating spotlight after Jessica Lange chose to take an undetermined hiatus—Gaga did everything she could to shatter preconceptions about her ego.
"Something that was so important to me when I got here is I really wanted to bond with the cast," she explained. "And I wanted to get to know them, and I wanted them to feel comfortable with me as a human being and a person, and know that I was going to be available and open to them, and that I wasn't going to come on set and be like, 'Where's my make up?! Where's my trailer?!' and be a huge bitch and make this The Gaga Show. The most important thing to me was that that did not happen."
By all accounts, mission accomplished and Gaga has quickly become a beloved member of the AHS family. "You know before I met her, I had such a vision of her that turned out to be completely untrue," Murphy admitted. "She's the sweetest, the kindest. She shows up every day and hugs and kisses each crew member. She's brought the cast together in an amazing way. She's really a maternal figure. She's so young, and I had not expected that. She's the queen of [our] universe...She really is."
"Generous." "Joyful." "Sweet." "Humble." Those are just a few of the words her co-stars use to describe her. (See what the cast and producers have to say about Gaga in the video below.)
From instant fame in 2008 with the release of her debut album, The Fame, to meat dresses to epic performances and image-shattering choices, Gaga's latest foray into the world of TV actress proves she can reinvent herself once more. And yet, she's still aware that some people might be skeptical she can act.
"I'm new to acting in a lot of ways," she admitted, having only acted on TV once before, in a small role at age 15 on The Sopranos. "But also, I'm not, because I studied it for over 10 years, so that also sounds ridiculous. I know I say I've done a lot of things, but the truth is that I was a Renaissance woman since I was maybe 4. Classical piano and then you know, acting classes at 7 or 8. Little things, I did ballet, and then I started the Strasberg method, which is method acting. I went to [NYU's] Tisch School [for the Arts] and did musical theater, and I wrote songs. And I've always been someone that was interested in the arts...I have all this training in these other areas so [coming into Horror Story], I was like, 'I'm just going to go to set and I'm going to know my lines perfectly, but not too perfectly that I can't keep it loose and live in it. And I'm going to really read the f--k out of these scripts, over and over and over, 10 times each at least.'"
The result for Gaga was the ability to tear down the aforementioned "wall." "Can you imagine feeling isolated all the time?" she mused, "and working constantly and being on tour and doing stuff like that to then being, like, living and breathing and having true exchanges and emotions and real-life drama constantly all the time? Even though it's fake, I'm still having exchanges with people and looking them in the eye...because you're available. When you're not around people that are available to you, you shut down, so here I am and I'm on."
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And perhaps most surprising? Gaga's greatest hope for Wednesday's premiere is that she is completely...forgettable. "I'd really like people to watch it and not feel like they're watching Lady Gaga. I'd like them to feel like they're watching The Countess. So that's important to me, and I've spent a lot of time working on that. I can't wait for everyone to just enjoy the show."
Hopefully you'll do just that when American Horror Story: Hotel premieres this Wed on FX. Be prepared to be to let Gaga TEAR YOU APART. In the best way.
In the meantime, tune into E! News tonight at 7 and 11 to see the footage of our intimate sit-down with Gaga—including what she says about her fiancé Taylor Kinney and his remarkable role in her TV transition. You do not want to miss it.