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Jessica Lange: 'AHS: Freak Show' 'will surpass anything we've done before'

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?
Yes.

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.

Ryan Murphy on 'AHS: Freak Show': 'This season, once you die, you're dead'

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

Matt Bomer to guest star on 'American Horror Story: Freak Show'

There will be nothing white collar — or normal — about Matt Bomer’s next TV gig.

EW has learned that the Emmy nominee will guest star on one episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Creator Ryan Murphy broke the news himself at EW’s Emmy Party saying he’s excited to reunite once again with the “amazing” actor, who is nominated this year for his performance in The Normal Heart, also directed by Murphy.

“I try to get him to do everything for me,” Murphy told EW. “I sent him a text that said, ‘First right of refusal, here’s the role.’ It’s very…warped.” Murphy said he had to work around Bomer’s schedule filming Magic Mike 2 in order to make the appearance work.

American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres on FX on Wednesday, October 8th.

Chris Colfer NOT leaving 'Glee' -- UPDATED

Earlier today, a tweet came from Chris Colfer’s Twitter account. According to the tweet in question, Colfer had been “let go” from the cast of Glee due to “personal issues.” At that time, EW.com wrote a post in which we embedded the tweet from Colfer’s verified account: READ FULL STORY

Ryan Murphy to be honored as a 'Genius' at Critics' Choice TV Awards

Emmy-winning writer and director Ryan Murphy will be honored with the Louis XIII Genius Award at this year’s Critics’ Choice Television Awards. The fourth annual ceremony, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, will air on the CW on Thursday, June 19, at 8 p.m. Murphy is best known as the creator of the Fox series Glee and the FX miniseries American Horror Story and most recently directed the HBO film adaptation of The Normal Heart. The latter two projects are nominated for three and five CCTAs, respectively.

“From poignant reality-based movies to dark and twisted horror to musical theater, Ryan Murphy’s creativity knows no bounds,” said Joey Berlin, Broadcast Television Journalists Association President.  “It is a privilege to be able to recognize the incredible talent and breadth of work that he has developed for television viewers thus far in his career, and we look forward to seeing what lies ahead.”

Previous winners of the award include Judd Apatow (2013) and Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, and Julie Deply (2014), all for their film work at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. Murphy is the first recipient of the award for his work in TV.

'The Normal Heart': Ryan Murphy cried at the sight of Matt Bomer's severe weight loss -- LISTEN

No one expects to get through HBO’s adaptation of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s semiautobiographical play about the rise of AIDS in New York in the early 1980s, without sobbing. But just listening to director Ryan Murphy describe Matt Bomer’s severe weight loss to play Felix Turner, a New York Times style writer whose body is decimated by the disease, will likely get you misty. HBO allowed Murphy to shut down production from July to November last year so Bomer could lose 40 pounds. “I literally think I burst into tears when I saw him, I was so worried for his health,” Murphy told Entertainment Weekly Radio. “I was so worried for his health, because he had taken it taken it to such a level. He was in a chair getting a haircut, and he could barely turn to greet me, he was so weak. But he carried the weight of all the ghosts of those people who had died. I remember he had a very big nude scene in the shower scene, where he had to basically collapse. And that was always the height of his thinness. And we’re like, ‘Okay, after this scene, you’re gonna be in clothes, so you can start to bulk up again hopefully….’ So to celebrate, he had a cracker. He threw up the cracker. His body had been so deprived for so long that he couldn’t hold any food.”

Listen to a clip of Murphy’s chat with EW Morning Live host Dalton Ross below. He also explains why Bomer and Mark Ruffalo, who plays Felix’s partner Ned, cried for 20 minutes after filming Bomer’s final scene.  READ FULL STORY

'Glee': Are Lea Michele and Ryan Murphy teaming for a real 'Funny Girl' Broadway revival? -- EXCLUSIVE

This season of Glee has seen Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) win her dream role as Fanny Brice in a Broadway revival of Funny Girl. But are Michele and series co-creator Ryan Murphy, who owns the rights to the show, planning their own real-life revival of the iconic musical? Earlier this year, Michele gave interviews saying that the pair were indeed interested in bringing Girl to the stage.

Now, Murphy is confirming those discussions. While sitting down with EW for this week’s cover on his adaptation of HBO’s The Normal Heart, Murphy revealed, “I have the rights to it. It’s something that we’re talking about. I’ve never done Broadway. I’ve always wanted to. Right now, we’re just sort of testing the waters with different people.” READ FULL STORY

'American Horror Story: Freak Show': A bearded lady? A scary clown? Details on the new season -- EXCLUSIVE

FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show, about a 1950s Florida freak show run by a German (Jessica Lange, naturally), won’t premiere until later this year — but co-creator Ryan Murphy is revealing some more details on what he and the writers have in store for the series’ fourth iteration.

“It was always a concept that Jessica and I talked about really early on,” says Murphy of Freak Show. “It was always her favorite one, which I thought was funny. I’ve had many different versions that I’ve run by her. I just love it. It feels really right. I thought it was going to be light but it’s turning out to be quite terrifyingly dark, which it feels much more like the Asylum season. But look — if you have a character named the Clown Killer, it’s going to be dark.” READ FULL STORY

'The Normal Heart': Larry Kramer, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and more share tales from the HBO set -- EXCLUSIVE

“Writers are given one great story to tell their story. I’m telling my story as a political document.”

Larry Kramer, the pioneering LGBT activist and playwright, gets another chance to tell his powerful tale about facing the HIV-AIDS crisis in the early ’80s via HBO’s The Normal Heart,. Based on Kramer’s Tony-winning play of the same name, Ryan Murphy’s buzzy adaptation has attracted the likes of Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons (who also appeared in the play’s 2011 Broadway revival), Matt Bomer and Taylor Kitsch to its starry cast. The result is one of this year’s most anticipated projects.

Below, enjoy this early invitation behind the scenes of the film’s set, and hear from Kramer, Roberts, Ruffalo and more as they shed light on what goes into an influential production like The Normal Heart. READ FULL STORY

Broken heart takes spotlight in new 'Normal Heart' poster

Ryan Murphy’s upcoming HBO movie The Normal Heart has its first official poster, featuring a shattered glass heart.

Glee and American Horror Story showrunner Murphy adapted The Normal Heart from Larry Kramer’s play of the same name, which follows the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York during the 1980s. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons.

The Normal Heart premieres on HBO May 25 at 9 p.m.

'The Normal Heart': HBO releases full trailer for Ryan Murphy adaptation -- VIDEO

After a series of teaser spots, HBO has finally released a full trailer for May’s highly anticipated adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. Directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) and starring Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons, the stirring film chronicles the rise of AIDS in the 1980s in New York City.  Watch it below: READ FULL STORY

'The Normal Heart': See the new trailer for Ryan Murphy's powerful HBO adaptation -- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of Glee and American Horror Story, tackles his most dramatic and emotional project to date with his adaptation of Larry Kramer’s iconic play The Normal Heart. Set to air May 25 on HBO, the film chronicles the rise of AIDS in New York City in the early 1980s and features a sterling cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, and Jim Parsons. EW is exclusively premiering Heart‘s new trailer. Watch below. READ FULL STORY

'American Horror Story: Coven' at PaleyFest: Next season scoop, wild audience interactions, and more

The cast that plays together, stays together.

That seems to be the case with American Horror Story: Coven, the third season in Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series on FX and the subject of a panel during the final night of this year’s PaleyFest. Though we won’t get another season of Coven witches, Murphy unveiled new details about the freaky next season, while the cast — including Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett — revealed how they got caught up in the revelry of New Orleans while filming there. Here’s what we learned from the panel, which provided further proof that the Coven fans are some of the most loyal around.

READ FULL STORY

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