But there is something retro, and elegant, about her approach on “Horror Story,” which is especially clear in Wednesday’s second episode. The haunted Los Angeles hotel where all the sex and bloodletting takes place is a showcase of what happens to the body in extreme states: in agony, in the desperation of addiction, in the throes of passion. So it’s fitting that the cast of vampires, creeps and seducers of all sorts has a fine sense of bodily emphasis.
These walking dead don’t lurch. They strut, hips rolling seductively.
With her hair and skin bleached bloodlessly white, Gaga looks a bit fragile. But her body language tells us the opposite. She is fully in control, from the lethal swipe of her fingernails to her magnificent walk. It’s the kind of walk that commands a room, with lots of lateral movement coming from the deep curve in her spine. The long, slow reach of her legs signals that she’s in no hurry at all. Reminiscent of Hollywood actresses of old — Garbo, Dietrich, Jean Harlow and others — Gaga excels in the relentless exploration of style.
Her performances “really evoke a kind of ’40s Hollywood movie star,” said Tim Minear, executive producer of “American Horror Story,” by phone Tuesday afternoon. “I feel like I’m looking at Barbara Stanwyck.”
He likened Gaga’s performance to that of a dancer, in the way she mines physical expressiveness. “Dance is absolutely what she’s doing,” he said. “She knows how to communicate things with her body the way they did in silent movies, like Garbo did.”
You can see this in a flashback to the 1970s, where she glides into a disco trailing miles of sequins and nonchalance. The undead diva is recalling her favorite era. “No fear, no judgment — we were all vampires then,” she says in a voiceover, as we watch her liberating wildness involving a horse, blood-smearing and some (willing?) necks.
According to Minear, Gaga contacted the show’s co-creator Ryan Murphy to say she was interested in a part. “Ryan is a little bit ahead of the zeitgeist; he intuitively understood that Gaga was perfect for this show,” Minear said. “That she would exist in this universe and he would figure out something for her to do.”
That wasn’t difficult, apparently, as Gaga’s physical subtleties came through. “I was watching dailies, and I had to drag Ryan into my office and say, ‘Look at what she’s doing,’” Minear said. “The body language, the interesting way she delivers a line. What surprised me the most is that anything you might fear about someone you haven’t written for before, was completely dispelled by watching these dailies.”
A newcomer to the show’s ensemble cast and to acting in general, Gaga proved to be a natural fit. She’s the rare performer who can convey a cold, sadistic killer with ease, authority and even grace.
“She strikes me as a queen bee, who is at the center of our universe and is comfortable there and is in command,” Minear said. “Gaga inhabits that space effortlessly.”