Last night was a wild American Horror Story: Freak Show, to say the least. Not only did we witness the death of—SPOILER ALERT—tiny Ma Petite, but we were also treated to Freak Show‘s latest musical number: Evan Peters’ Jimmy Darling tried his hand at singing Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” Elsa (Jessica Lange) wasn’t too impressed…but we were. EW has the exclusive performance from last night’s Freak Show below. READ FULL STORY
Tag: American Horror Story (1-10 of 166)
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LATEST EPISODE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW.]
American Horror Story: Freak Show‘s two-part Halloween episode came to a conclusion with two major deaths: Patti LaBelle’s devoted maid Dora and fan favorite Twisty the Clown. But are they really gone for good? Plus, what does it mean that Lily Rabe is returning as Sister Mary Eunice? If you’re an AHS fan, you’ll want to read this interview with co-creator Ryan Murphy. READ FULL STORY
The American Horror Story installments of Asylum and Freak Show just became even more connected: EW has exclusively learned that Lily Rabe will be appearing on Freak Show and reprising her Asylum role as nun Sister Mary Eunice. The actress, who has appeared in every season of AHS and is currently starring in the ABC midseason series The Whispers, will shoot her spot this weekend.
The reason for Sister Mary’s return involves Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and how she ended up going from the freak show to Asylum‘s titular institution, Briarcliff. Rabe’s appearance will be on AHS‘ 10th episode, which is their big winter cliffhanger.
EW has also confirmed reports that Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka, will indeed appear on Freak Show this season but in separate episodes.
American Horror Story: Freak Show has already seen Jessica Lange cover David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Sarah Paulson take on Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” In Wednesday night’s Halloween episode, Lange’s Elsa Mars went full-on glam for a performance of Lana Del Rey’s “Gods & Monsters.” It was such an epic number that it even attracted freak-show urban myth Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), a deadly spirit with two faces. Fun times.
Watch below. READ FULL STORY
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the minds behind American Horror Story, are staying in the scary business: Fox has ordered a new horror-comedy called Scream Queens from the pair and their Glee co-creator Ian Brennan.
Queens is an anthology series much like AHS and the first season, to debut in Fall 2015 with 15 episodes, will be about a college campus rocked by murders; latter seasons will be in different locations and have different plots. READ FULL STORY
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LATEST EPISODE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW!!!]
The second episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show got even wilder with the arrival of strongman Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and hermaphrodite wife Desiree (Angela Bassett) as well as some truly bizarre bonding between Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) and Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock). EW talked to co-creator Ryan Murphy about the episode as well as fan theories for season 5 (Will it be set in space?).
There were several amazing moments from last night’s premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show, from Sarah Paulson’s amazing two-headed performance to Twisty’s horrifying grin. But the one everyone’s talking about is a Baz Luhrmann-esque cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”—performed, appropriately enough, by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange).
EW has exclusive video of the number from the premiere below. It’s worth watching over and over again, if only to see Lange pulled out on a wooden rocket. READ FULL STORY
'American Horror Story: Freak Show' premiere: Ryan Murphy talks sex, scary clowns, and season 5 clues
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SEASON PREMIERE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW!!!]
Well, that was unlike any trip to the circus we’ve ever taken. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story: Freak Show made its highly anticipated debut with a huge episode that included an old-fashioned sex tape, a bearded lady, and a David Bowie musical number. For its biggest season yet, co-creator Murphy talked to EW for an epic postmortem interview that covers all the big twists (and, of course, Twisty) and clues to season five!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the opening credits. They’re animated this year. What made you want to switch it up?
RYAN MURPHY: Well I think the whole thing about this season is we wanted to do something that was more challenging in every way this season. I felt that way. So this is the first season we’ve done an all-animated title sequence, which is really difficult and takes a long time. We also kept the same theme song but redid it. I love them. There’s a lot of startling imagery in them. There’s a lot of clues. A lot of goodies in them for the fans like things that are going to be happening. Like when you watch the Coven titles and you watch all 13 episodes of Coven, you’re like “That makes sense.”
The style is so different. The use of split screens really reminded me of Brian DePalma—was he your inspiration?
Well, I mean, I’m always influenced by him, and yes, that is sort of an homage to him in some weird way. But I think this season is unusual in that it’s sort of like a weird cross between Douglas Sirk and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I’m guessing you brought the Douglas Sirk.
I did! If you watch this season as compared to last season, the camera barely moves this season. It’s a much more still cinematic exploration, which means our brilliant director of photography, Michael Goi, had a lot longer time to light. Everything had to be much more spot on because you don’t move the camera. But I really wanted it to be wider frames, bigger frames, stiller frames. And I really put much more of an emphasis this season on the production design and the costumes than ever before because it has that sort of Douglas Sirk ‘50s thing to it.
Did you just want to slow it down to show the sets and the scope? So much of the first 3 seasons was jump cuts and very fast editing.
Yeah we’re using some George Antheil music who was a big composer from back then and whose music was used in a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s horror movies. I like paying homage to the early ‘50s and horror movies and back then they didn’t have Steadicam and they didn’t have jump cuts. So we don’t do as much as that. I felt like I wanted it to be in a more eerie world as opposed to a more startling abrupt world.
And so much more color, like reds. The last two seasons were very dark with a lot of blacks and grays. Why choose color?
Well I think we were paying homage to The Greatest Show on Earth, that great movie. But more than that, I think people when they think of the freak world and the world of carny, it’s a lot of black and white images. That’s how I knew them. I sort of wanted to bring them to life. So with the production design and set design we made a very distinctive choice of let’s do the brightest colors known to man and let’s let everything soak in Lipton iced tea for a week. There’s a faded melancholy feeling to it. You can see that the colors are beginning to dim—that was by design because it’s the end of an era.
How far outside New Orleans is that set? It looks like you all are on water somewhere.
Yeah we’re in New Orleans. We’re in an area where there was some bad flooding from Katrina. It’s a farm. We rented many many acres. The challenge of this season was we built everything twice. We built an entire city so you’re seeing a functioning city—it works. All of the tents we built but a lot of those props—the Ferris wheel, the carousel, the trailers—all that stuff Mark Worthington, our brilliant production designer, scoured the entire country for months to find that stuff and it’s all authentic. It was all used in that carnie world. So we built the exterior of the city and then we built the interior in a soundstage. So we had to do everything twice which we’ve never done before so that’s why I think it feels so big and spectacular.
You haven’t directed an episode of AHS since Asylum—what was it like to be back?
It was fascinating. I did it for many reasons. I wanted to do something that was challenging and by far the biggest challenge I’ve ever done in my career in terms of technically was the Sarah Paulson/two heads thing. I told her I wanted to do something that challenged her and she was a little afraid and she said, “Okay let’s go for it.” Also it was Jessica’s idea and I really wanted to do it for her. To be quite honest, I fell in love with it in the writing of it in a way that was more personal to me than perhaps any of the other seasons we’ve done. I did it and I loved doing it. It took a long time. It took many many weeks. But it was really rewarding. I learned a lot.
The Paulson thing is so seamless. But how rigorous is that to shoot her?
It’s hard. On average, if you have a two-person scene maybe it will take five hours. If Sarah Paulson’s character is in it, it’s around 12-20. Sarah has to do everything four times. We had a fake Dot made for her based on her own head. She pre-records most of her dialogue. So she’s wearing an invisible earwig when she’s doing scenes with herself. It’s incredibly grueling and very draining on Sarah but she really went for it. I think the results are really quite amazing. One of the things is most conjoined twins on film are depicted with two actors that are connected at the chest. That’s certainly something we thought about doing. But for Sarah, I wanted to challenge her and we thought it would be great to do the two-heads/one body.
We did a screen test early on to see if we could even make it work and we were told we could make it work but it would be incredibly time consuming and expensive. I had no idea how time consuming. But we have like 23 people only on those shots so it’s been fascinating. People are really having a reaction to it. At the premiere, people gasped when they first saw Sarah. I’m just so thrilled for her because I think it’s by far the best, most creative challenging work I’ve seen maybe any actor do. Every character thing she does is so thought out. She has backstories for the characters. One is left-handed and one is right so she’s had to work on that. It’s just been brilliant to watch someone at the top of her game working on all those choices.
It’s like two people fighting with each other.
Yeah, and that’s what the season is about: two souls in one body fighting for the right to choose. She’s worked all that out in advance.
Bette seems so sweet, but we learn in the premiere that Bette is the one that killed their mother. So she’s actually the darker one?
Well Bette is the one with show business dreams and people with show business dreams are usually killers. I love that she’s show business obsessed and will do anything to be a star and if her mother doesn’t let her go see films in glorious Technicolor she acts out. It was also because the mother was ashamed of them and hiding them on the farm. It was more than just a show business dream, she got sick of being hidden in the shadows. It’s sort of 20 something years of misery bubbling up.
It does feel like the other theme is the dream of fame because Elsa is also holding onto that.
Yeah. There’s something about Elsa that the carny world is also exploring: you have to remember that in the ’20s and ’30s, when that world was at its peak, those performers were in many ways the biggest stars America had to offer. They were making thousands of dollars. They were treated like royalty. And then overnight that went away. So she’s the representation of the dashed dream.
Her look seemed very inspired by Marlene Dietrich.
Yes and no. There’s also a lot of Bette Davis in there. When Jessica and I were first talking about that character I always imagined her in that monkey fur which is what she’s first wearing. We shot that scene in 102-degree weather and here she is in that literal 1952 period coat that weighed 80lbs. So she made me put that on at one point.
I bet you loved that!
It was so hot. It was literally like wearing a monkey. It was awful. But that’s the fun of the show. And Lou Eyrich, our costume designer, does such a brilliant job of that. Many times we’re finding real stuff carny performers wore or copy the costumes. Yesterday, Lou was making a Harlequin suit for an 8ft tall man. So everybody I feel is very challenged by the material, which was the point. Last year, which was our most successful year I thought in many ways, was our easiest year because it was glamorous and funny and modern and contemporary. This year was much more research-involved and I like that.
I love that Elsa has a burn book for Marlene Dietrich!
[Laughs] I like that too. Jessica loves that book.
The first episode really zeroes in on Elsa, Jimmy and the twins. Are they what the focus of the season will be?
Well in typical fashion when you have a cast like this you can do it two ways: you can throw everybody into the first episode and then there’s not a lot of time to service those backstories. So what we decided in the writing was we’re parceling everything out. So the first one is about Elsa and Bette and Dot and Jimmy. Then the second one you spend a lot of time with Kathy Bates and Chilies and Angela Bassett. Then in the third one you meet Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare. That’s when the story coalesces. It’s a slower rollout than we’ve ever done.
Twisty might be one of the scariest creations you guys have done. Who came up with him?
That’s interesting. When we first started to do Twisty, he was the same character. Then it was my boss Dana Walden who said I think you need to do something physically with him so that he’s different than the other clowns we’ve seen in pop culture. The clown is such a trope in that genre. So we worked a little bit before we even started to write on the backstory and we really came up with a gruesome, hideous story that you find out in episode four. You see the bottom part of his face in episode two. But in episode four we spend a lot of time with that and you see it more and you learn what is going on with him and it’s really awful and scary.
A lot of people are freaked out by this clown. A couple people walked out on the premiere because they were too upset by the clown. I personally don’t have that phobia but I understand that people do. To them I say, watch it in the daytime because it only gets worse.
Will we eventually understand his end game?
Yeah you will find out very early on, like why is he collecting children in the school bus?
And at the end he sees the freak show troupe disposing of the cop’s body. Will he hold that over them?
Well yeah. All I’ll say about that is Twisty is not to be trusted. He’s specifically plotting something and you find out why he’s doing what he’s doing.
He seems to not like the freak show and we’ll find out why?
Oh yeah. He hates them.
What is Ethel’s accent? Where is she from?
Kathy came up with that idea which I love. She thought that Ethel would be from Baltimore. So we’re saying in that period the two most famous things to come out of Baltimore were Kathy Bates’ character and Wallis Simpson. She worked really hard on her Baltimore-ese. Somebody watched a screening of the first episode and said, “I thought Kathy Bates was out of a John Waters movie.” And I’m like “You’re right!” Because that’s set in Baltimore and back in the day, the accents were even thicker. But I love that. I love when she says “spektakular.”
Is that Pepper’s brother? Or is that just someone who looks like her?
That is not a physical relation. That is just another pinhead that was with her in the orphanage.
And then Grace Gummer returns after being in Coven. Is that character going to recur?
Oh yes. I love her. She’s very talented. The Peppermint Girl comes back. I’m not going to say for good or for bad. But I think the world of her. She’s really talented and really funny. What happens to her might be the scariest thing that happens all season but she was game.
Well that’s saying a lot because you already had Meryl Streep’s daughter do a carny sex tape!
Well yes I did but I was very chaste with Grace in those takes. I was very protective of her. We don’t show what happened to that character but we allude to it.
This season is much more sexual compared to Coven. Is that a conscious choice?
Yes. It was a conscious choice only because we’re really following the research. I mean the people who were in these carnivals loved to party to be quite blunt. They were very free with their sexuality. Within the protective world of their family, they felt very uninhibited. They actually liked and appreciated their differences. There’s a reason for where that phrase comes from, “Get your freak on.” I love juxtaposing the freethinking, non-judgmental carnie folks with the Mamie Eisenhower housewives. The carny folk got it right in many ways. It is sexier this year and more graphic sexually than any of the seasons.
How did you find all the people that play the carnies?
Well for the most part it was research. When we decided this was the world we were going to write about, we did a lot of research. In the case of Jyoti Amge (Ma Petite), we saw video where she was crowned World’s Smallest Woman by the Guinness Book of World Records. At the end of that, she says “I really wanna be an actress.” I called her up and said, “You came to the right place—are you interested?” She said, “Yes!” And then it took 8 months to get the visa.
In the case of Amazon Eve, that part was originally written for a man. That part was originally called Johnny Long in the Pants and we were searching for a man. Erika Ervin saw the call and she auditioned and I thought she was so great and unusual that we rewrote the part for her.
In the case of Rose Siggins (Legless Suzi) and Mat Fraser who plays Paul the Illustrated Seal Boy, we found out something about them online. We personally called them up and said “Would you join the show? We want to write something for you.” So it happened in many different ways but it took a long time to happen.
Dandy and Gloria Mott are the opposite end of the spectrum. She seems a little too attached and he seems like a grown child.
Well that’s our homage to “What would Norman Bates have been like if he lived in Florida?” He’s a boy who was born into great life and privilege and on the outside has it all but on the inside he feels like a freak. So he wants to be somewhere where he fits in. So when he’s not allowed to, he becomes dark and murderous. I love all those scenes that Franny and Finn have together. It’s fun to rich those rich, pampered people who are on the outside are so beautiful but on the inside are the biggest monsters of them all.
Elsa sings Bowie’s “Life on Mars” at the end. So there will be modern music this season?
Well we don’t do a lot of them this season. Maybe we only have five numbers. But as we started writing it, I thought I just don’t want to do ‘50s music and neither did Jessica. So we thought long and hard about that. I was very inspired with Baz Luhrmann. I love what he does with his movies like Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge where you don’t play period stuff, you do stuff from all eras that fit the story. So we decided we only were going to highlight musical artists who at some point in their career had identified themselves as feeling like freaks or misfits or outcasts, which our people are going through. That’s why we do David Bowie, Fiona Apple, Lana Del Rey, Kurt Cobain. We do people who sort of have the same feelings as our characters do.
Did Jessica know Bowie? Did she know “Life on Mars?”
Well I said to her, “Surely you must have dated David Bowie?” “No. The one I did not!” Jessica knows everybody! But no she had never known David. She immediately loved the song. She loved doing Lana Del Rey, she was not that familiar when we started with Lana Del Rey. But that’s been fun for her to do I think.
The big reveal at the end is that Elsa has no legs. When will we learn what happened?
There’s an episode coming up where you get her backstory but then as we go on you get more and more backstories.
Does it involve her being in Germany during the war?
No. We’re not doing any war thing at all.
Do other members of the freak show, like Ethel, know?
That is revealed but it seems to be a big secret. I just love that shot that Jessica plays so well where she feels maybe even like maybe she’s more of a misfit and a freak than all of her freaks.
What can you say about next week’s episode? I’ve seen it but there’s a fairly big development with Dandy and Twisty.
We meet Michael Chiklis and Angela Bassett’s characters that I love. And Dandy, whose catchphrase is, “I’m bored. I’m so bored,” finally finds something that does not bore him, which is Twisty. So we explore that and that plays out over several episodes.
Are they gonna be like Bonnie & Clyde?
Well let it suffice to say that Dandy becomes Twisty’s apprentice.
It seems like Jimmy has eyes for Dot.
No I don’t think Jimmy has eyes for Dot, I think Dot has eyes for Jimmy.
Patti LaBelle shows up next week as Frances Conroy’s maid, Nora, for a brief scene. Will she have a bigger role?
Um, Patti did three episodes to me as a favor. When she found out the end game there, she said yes. She’s great. I loved her scenes. She has some fun stuff coming up in episodes two, three and four.
I’m guessing it’s a dark end game since she’s in the Mott house and Twisty’s around.
Well never underestimate Patti LaBelle.
Do you know what Matt Bomer is playing?
Yeah, we wrote that part. Then I wrote Matt said and said you have first offer of refusal. He said “What is it?” because he was getting ready to do Magic Mike XXL. When I told him the role, he immediately said yes and cut a week out of his schedule and came down to New Orleans and shot that episode which might be one of our most horrendous episodes ever. But Matt loved doing it.
Is he part of the freak show?
Mmm I don’t wanna say too much because I think if I say one thing it will give it away. But it’s something Matt has never played before, which was interesting for him.
Has there been more talk of Neil Patrick Harris coming on?
Yeah I spoke to Neil last week. He sort of had an idea of what he wanted to do, and I had an idea that he liked. So I’m going to call him next week. If I can make it work, it will be something that shoots at the end. He’s very interested in the show and obviously Neil is a magician and likes all that magic stuff. So he’s fascinated with that. We’re trying to make it work. I’m optimistic.
Are you going to be writing something for Jamie Brewer?
I hope so. Later in this season, perhaps. I like our troupe of people to come in and out. Sometimes it’s a whole season long arc and sometimes its an episode. So we’re working on all of that always. All of our people I always try to keep their hand in in some regard.
I’m guessing Gabourey Sidibe is later since you told me her character arrives after her mother, Patti LaBelle, goes MIA?
Yeah, she comes later for, like, three episodes.
And have you figured out season 5?
Yes, I have figured it out. I’m already meeting with actors about asking them to play roles.
Can you say anything about it?
Noooooooo! But there are clues in the first two episodes because I figured out season 5 very early on and I know that the fans love that. So there are clues that are dropped.
Having staked his claim in horror, Ryan Murphy is now turning his attentions to crime. FX announced today that it has ordered American Crime Story, a new anthology series from the American Horror Story creator, for a 10-episode first season focusing on the O.J. Simpson trial.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, will look at the Simpson trial from the viewpoint of the lawyers. According to a press release, the season “explores the chaotic behind-the-scenes dealings and maneuvering on both sides of the court, and how a combination of prosecution confidence, defense wiliness, and the LAPD’s history with the city’s African-American community gave a jury what it needed: reasonable doubt.” READ FULL STORY
In the three previous seasons of American Horror Story, Sarah Paulson has played a medium, a reporter targeted by a serial killer, and a witch blinded by acid. Clearly, Paulson loves a challenge…which brings us to this year’s Freak Show. Playing conjoined twins Bette and Dot, who are discovered by freak show manager Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), Paulson admits it’s been her most difficult AHS character to date. But the actress is also finding the fun in it. “Now I’m really overusing the twin emoji on my iPhone,” Paulson jokes on location in New Orleans. “Boy, do I use it a lot. That thing was invented for me.” EW talked to the Emmy nominee about playing two very different ladies and whether she’ll ever get to play Asylum‘s Lana Winters again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So where does Elsa find you? Are you at, like, a Starbucks?
SARAH PAULSON: Well let’s just say they didn’t see the light of day very often.
Ryan said that Bette and Dot might be responsible for dark things.
Yes. Bette and Dot might be responsible for some dark things. When they’re discovered, Elsa in a way, even though it may not appear to be that in the beginning kind of saves them from what may befall them because of their dark deeds. Elsa at least in the beginning seems to be offering them an alternative to what would have happened if they were left where they were found.
Are their personalities different?
It’s not as simple as nice and evil. It’s more complicated in true Ryan Murphy style. One has more darkness in her but not darkness of evil—darkness of depression, of knowing what’s out in the world. The other one is more of an innocent. It’s innocent and more cynical. Even though they share a body, they have different brains and different hearts. They experience everything differently from each one another.
The process to create these twins sounds so intense.
There are so many ways that we’re making this happen that it’s not any one thing. It’s not just a visual effect, it’s not just the other head effect. This is a combination of 9,000 things. The part that’s the most hardest is when we’re doing the visual effects. I think I thought when I was going to do it was I would do all of Bette, in all camera sizes, and then switch over to Dot and vice versa. But what happens is because the effects have to be the same, the camera has to be locked off. Basically, I have to do Bette and Dot within each camera size and so I’m going back and forth with each girl, every time they change the lens and go tighter. So I don’t get like nine takes as one person. I have to go back and forth and back and forth. They have the same hairstyle but they wear different color headbands. So every time we go back and forth, five people descend upon me. We’ve gotten it down to a science—I can practically do it in my sleep. But there’s 9,000 things that happen as we change everything over, not the least of which is what goes on with me internally to play both of them.
Is this the most challenging AHS role you’ve had so far?
It is the most challenging so far. There’s the inherent reality that everyone knows that I do not have two heads. So we’re asking the audience to go with us on this journey. We’re asking everybody that’s a fan of the show, like people who are with the show, so I have anxiety because I just want so much for everything about it to work that people forget that they’re watching something that they know isn’t real and that they buy it and they believe it. I think that’s why these two girls seem like two different creatures. It’s hard to find to find all the color and variation and nuances. It’s hard to play one person with all of those things going on. It’s obviously doubly difficult to do it when you are trying to give shading and characterization to two people. And I have a southern accent also.
So is the Elsa and twin relationship maternal?
It’s more reminiscent to me of Jude/Lana, certainly between Dot and Elsa. Between Bette and Elsa, Elsa represents so much glamour and so much beauty that Elsa to Bette is like the most glamorous thing she’s ever seen. Bette is such an innocent. There’s so much wonder in her. It’s a very different kind of relationship.
What is Bette and Dot’s relationship to the group? Are you a threat to the other freak show people? Are you welcomed?
The troupe is in need of a real jolt of energy and a new attraction to make people in the town come and see it. The show is not in its heyday. It’s definitely on the downward spiral. I think because they all want to be employed and all of them recognize a kindred. When they see the twins, they’re hopeful and excited that we’re going to bring about a certain kind of change that’s going to be good for the group.
Do you deal with Twisty the Clown?
I think he’s watching us. But as of right now there’s no story there with that character.
Have you had to do crazy stuff yet, like snakes covering you or more goat’s blood dropped on you?
Yes. In the first episode. I mean I’ve got two heads, Tim. It’s almost like there’s no event that needs to happen for it to be the craziest thing I’ve done. But there is something that happens in the very first episode that’s crazy, that sets the scene for the rest of the season for them. It happens in episode one.
Everyone keeps telling me it’s the best one yet.
I think it is. I don’t know that I always have a finger on my pulse. I certainly didn’t think Coven would have the reaction it did because it was so much lighter in tone than Asylum.
I do know from an artistic standpoint both as a reader when I read the scripts the stories are so rich and complicated and it’s just so fascinating. I can’t imagine it not being something that people embrace. I think from a creative standpoint it’s got that feeling of Asylum, in that it’s really about something: this idea of being a forgotten soul in the world that’s just been cast aside. Everybody feels like that at some point in their lives. It’s something that I think has a tremendous amount of currency. It feels very honest about what it means to be a person. I also just think I don’t know how you’re not going to fall in love with everybody and root for people and there’s terrible things happening to people. And the way it looks! The set design! The costumes! The stuff that’s happening this year with the sets and the costumes it is so beyond. And Ryan’s going very different with the style of the show in terms of the way it’s being shot.
He said the look is different in terms of the camera movement.
It’s very different. There’s a stillness to it comparatively. I’m not saying it’s going to be still because it’s American Horror Story. But you think about the defining things of the show and you think about fish eye lenses and rapid fire editing. It is my understanding from working with Ryan the way it was being shot there weren’t a lot of Dutch camera angles, there were no fish eyes, no high and wide in the corner like the view of a spider. It wasn’t like that. I think it’s a very unique visual style and very different than what we’ve done. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about it. The minute you think you can figure out what you think we can expect from the show, it’s Ryan turning it on its head and going, “No I don’t think so.”
Have there been crazy moments in the make up trailer where it’s like “Oh, Angela’s got three breasts and Kathy’s wearing a beard”?
Oh my god. There’s nothing more insane than walking into that trailer. Jessica’s over there getting her hair, freaky make up done. Kathy’s next to me getting her beard put on. And Angela likes to flash them. She’s like, “Look at my three boobs!” Because they’re covering up everything. She can walk around with her three t*** hanging out and everybody is very happy that she’s doing so even though we’re not looking at her real boobs. It’s amazing.
This year in particular like you walk out of a trailer and you’re like Oh Jesus. You really feel like you’re at a sideshow. So many of the people there are really people with special abilities from that world. So many of our extras and background artists are like, “Oh I play at this show” or “I work in this circus.” It’s incredible and it gives it such a feeling of authenticity.
I know Pepper is back. That must be so exciting to you that this is sort of like an Asylum-prequel because I know how special that season is to you.
I love that idea. Maybe season five will be Aslyum the sequel! I just wanna play Lana Winters again—is that so bad?
Like old Lana?
No I think it should be Lana in the ‘70s. That was my favorite look in the world.
Do you know Bette and Dot’s arc? Like do you know what happens in episode 13?
Nope. It always changes. Ryan has told me what he plans for me. But I refuse to believe it until it’s here because I’ve done this long enough with him to know that he’s a man of fever dream inspiration and things come to him out of nowhere and all of a sudden things take a hairpin turn and it ends in a different way than expected. I do know sort of where I’m headed.
Despite changing plots and wild twists, one of the constants of the four seasons of American Horror Story has been star Jessica Lange, who has now won two Emmys for AHS. The actress is back for this year’s Freak Show (premiering Oct. 8 at 10 p.m. on FX) to play the maestro behind the titular group of performers, an ex-German cabaret star named Elsa Mars. Lange, who has said that this will be her last AHS installment, talked to EW about about bringing the concept to co-creator Ryan Murphy, musical numbers, and what else is in store for this year’s epic Show.
EW: So Ryan said you brought this to him, right?
JESSICA LANGE: Yeah this had been in my mind for a long time. I have forever been fascinated and I photograph it a lot myself—small-time kind of carnival, sideshow, things like that. I mean I started kind of looking into freak shows. It is an amazing history and I’ve always been fascinated by a community of people living like gypsies, on the road and traveling from place to place and, in this case, heightened to the degree that they’re all extremely special.
So it was something I suggested to him a year or so ago. I had originally imagined it like a traveling freak show, maybe Dustbowl, with that kind of desperation. Ryan has set it in another time, which I think is clever, actually.
With the time setting and the return of Pepper (Naomi Grossman), it’s almost like a prequel a bit to Asylum.
Well, with that character, yes. For all the outrage at exhibiting freaks at the time, the fact is they had community. They had family. Some of them made quite a bit of money. They were extremely popular in Victorian times. Yes, they were being exhibited, but when you look at the other side of that, they were cared for. The most important thing—and I think this is what people don’t understand—is the idea of community.
I think what will be revealed with Pepper is that when these freak shows were finally closed down, in a lot of cases they were closed down without the consent of the performers. And a lot of these people ended up in asylums, alone and isolated. So you’ve got many facets to this topic.
You play Elsa Mars, a German lady. And you’re sort of the owner of the freak show and it’s on its last legs.
Yeah, it’s kind of that thing of the end of one popular entertainment and the beginning of another. As Ryan likes to say, “The end of one freak show and the beginning of another.”
And you arrive in this town and you discover conjoined twins Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson) and they become the new star of your show?
Yeah, that was a way a lot of these people were found. They would find them in hospitals or jails or wherever and recruited. So that’s how Sarah is introduced into the story. I hear something about her, she’s in the hospital, and I go there.
Is it a maternal relationship between Elsa and the twins?
Well, maternal would be putting it very generously. My character is very manipulative. She understands what’s needed, and she provides it. However, the thing I want to be very clear in this is that my character Elsa really loves these people. She truly cares for them, in her own selfish, narcissistic way. But they mean a great deal to her. It’s not just exploitation. She’s tough, and she’s mean sometimes, and all of that, but she really does love them.
Is she not as villainous as Fiona or Constance?
I don’t see her as villainous. She’s delusional—let’s put it that way [laughs]. But it’s fun to play a delusional character. But she came out of the Weimar Republic, out of that just the s–tstorm between the two wars in Germany and was at one moment a very successful cabaret performer and then everything dissembled. And this is ultimately where she ended up: in a freak show, small town circuit in the south in the early ’50s. So it’s been a wild ride for Elsa. I don’t see her as villainous. I see her as delusional, as narcissistic, as ruthless in her ambition. But her ambition is all tied up in her delusion.
I heard you get to sing again.
Oh my God! Singing, yes! In the first four episodes, I sing three numbers. Which is nuts!
How was that?
Well, actually, it was great. Ryan is a little more than usual playing a little loose with time and genre. So we’ve got a couple really big production numbers that I think if they work are going to be very unique.
You perform in the freak show?
And there’s a flashback?
Yes there’s a flashback to the cabaret, to the late 1920s, early ’30s.
Well, “The Name Game” performance was one of the highlights of Asylum, so I can’t wait for more Jessica Lange singing.
Yeah, well, you’re gonna get it, for better or worse!
And Kathy Bates basically plays your henchwoman/right hand gal, Ethel Darling.
Yeah that’s another character I kind of save. We have a long history and bond together. We’ve got some amazing characters I think this year. The actors, of course, are all great.
I heard the sets are phenomenal too. Ryan said you actually got emotional when you walked on.
Well I walked onto our big set, the big compound where all the tents are set up and the trailers and everything. I mean I told our art director it was like a poem. It was like you are inside this poem. Incredible. I’ve never seen a set like that.
Have you had to do any scary stuff yet, like deal with Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch)?
No. Ryan always keeps me out of that fray because he knows that’s not my favorite part. I think this is very different, certainly very different from last year. I mean, I don’t know where this is going, so there’s always that! But I don’t forsee any real slasher moments.
Has Ryan told you what the end of Elsa’s arc will be?
Yeah, he has. He just came up with it the other day.
And what did you think of his plan?
I thought it was kind of brilliant.
You had said previously this would be your last AHS. Has this made you want to sign up for another season?
I haven’t reconsidered. I’m just trying to get through this year, and I think this year, without a doubt, will be my favorite. In a way, it was an idea that I had wanted to explore for a while. I think just the richness of it and the time and the place and the characters. I just think it’s going to be unique. And I think, to my mind, what I’ve seen already and what we’ve done, it will far surpass anything we’ve done before.
By now, avid TV watchers know that each season of American Horror Story is an entirely new plot but with much of the same group of actors. Each installment also most importantly stems from the brilliant and imaginative minds of co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. For EW‘s Fall TV Preview, on stands now, Murphy offered up some details from the New Orleans set of AHS‘s latest installment, Freak Show—about the titular group of entertainers in 1952 in Jupiter, Florida—which premieres Oct. 8 at 10pm on FX.
EW: Where did this come from? I know it’s something you and Jessica talked about it right?
RYAN MURPHY: It’s something that Jessica she had always talked about it. Jessica’s a photographer so she had always been interested in that carny world. If you look at her photography, she’s always interested in the lost and the forgotten and the beautiful survivor of it all. We talked about it like every couple of weeks. She sent me a book actually. I once I started investigating it I really loved the idea of it because I felt it was such a ripe world. The carny world, the freak show really ended for the most part when television began. So one freak show replaced another so that was always the idea.
I always was very interested in Tod Browning’s Freaks. I loved that movie and Carnival of Lost Souls so there’s a lot of horror tropes to pull from and admire. It’s also our biggest year so I think it took a while and it took success for us to earn the money to do what we had to do. We had to build an entire city. We built an entire huge compound and then we had to build the interior of all those buildings on set. It’s all period. And it’s all based on [production designer] Mark Worthington’s immaculate research. Jessica went she first walked in said she was brought to tears. She kept saying, “It’s like a poem. It’s like a poem.” It’s a very romantic, sad place. READ FULL STORY
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