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'AHS' star Sarah Paulson calls conjoined twins her 'craziest' role yet

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.

Aaron Sorkin: I didn't know how 'The Newsroom' was going to end

The lights are about to dim on the HBO’s The Newsroom. The drama, created by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and focusing on fictional cable news channel ACN, begins its final season on Nov. 9, and will wrap up its story in a tight six episodes. “It was because of my schedule,” Sorkin says of the shortened season. “But, as it turned out, six was the right number. I don’t know what we would have done with a seventh episode.”

So what’s in these final hours? EW talked to Sorkin about weddings, power plays, and Twitter scandals.

EW: Will there be a time jump when the show premieres?
AARON SORKIN: We’re ahead about five months. However, once the season starts each episode begins right after the last one ended so there are no time jumps during the season. It’s a very compressed season. Once again, we’re telling one story throughout the whole season, there are stories that come off like branches, but there’s one story that we begin in the first episode and goes to the end.

Can you tease the main story?
Well, without giving too much away, it’s something that we’ve been talking about for the last 2 years: government and journalism. A lot of people feel like the current administration has been really tough on reporters and whistleblowers. I realize I’m not making it sound exciting but it involves one of our characters in a lot of jeopardy. Our people have a story that was given to them by a government whistleblower and the Justice Department wants the name of their source and they won’t give it up. So we see how far they’re willing to go for that.

Will the fallout from Jerry (Hamish Linklater) and Genoa play in?
It does a little bit. But the bigger thing that comes along is that we meet Reese’s father’s children by his next wife so we meet his half-brother and his half-sister is Kat Dennings. And they own a 45-percent share of the controlling stock in the company and that begins a story rolling of a hostile takeover of AWN.

Will (Jeff Daniels) proposed to Mac (Emily Mortimer) in the finale. Are they still engaged?
Again without giving too much away, I knew going into this season that they’re gonna have to get married. There’s gonna have to be a wedding. How do you do a wedding that we haven’t seen before on TV? And I think we came up with a way.

Is Maggie back on stable ground?
When we meet Maggie at the beginning of the season, she sort of has the eye of the tiger. She is trying to shed every rotten thing that’s happened to her in the last few years and toughen up and breathe new life into herself. She really completes that part of her character arc this season.

Is Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) still dating Hallie (Grace Gummer)?
Yeah Jim is still dating Hallie, but there’s tension in that relationship. Hallie is actually now working for ACN Digital at the beginning of the season. And mirroring something that happened at MSNBC a while back when someone tweeted a quip that was offensive to Republicans. It was a big deal—MSNBC had to apologize. They had to fire the producer who sent the tweet and everything. So something very similar happens to Hallie. She in the middle of the night, really tired, tweets something from ACN’s account, sort of immediately realizes what she’s done, deletes it but it’s too late. That begins a story that lasts the whole season, too.

How do you feel about this last season? Excited? Sad?
I’m really excited. I do feel it’s a really solid season. I think we’re wrapping up a lot of stories in a nice way. I miss everybody already but I’m in the editing room every day with the show so for me I don’t have postpartum depression yet. But that will come, I promise. On the other side of the wall from the editing room is our stage, so I can hear them pulling apart our set and throwing it in dumpsters, so that’s hard.

Did the show end how you thought it would? Did things evolve?
For most of the time, I didn’t know how the show was going to end. I would have small images of what I wanted to see. But the closer I got to the end of the season in terms of writing, the more I was able to see the end of the season finale. Once we got there, it happened more easily than I thought it was going to.

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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

Spoiler Room: Scoop on 'SVU,' 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,' 'The Blacklist'

Welcome to the Spoiler Room, a safe place for spoiler addicts to come on a weekly basis to learn what’s coming next on their favorite shows and, hopefully, get a few of their own questions answered. If you want scoop on a specific show, send your questions to spoilerroom@ew.com.

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Storybrooke gets 'Frozen' over in new 'Once Upon a Time' poster

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Yes, fan favorite Pepper will return to 'American Horror Story'

This season of American Horror Story: Freak Show is shaping up to be one of the most memorable so far, in part due to one majorly terrifying clown, conjoined twins, and a gal with three boobs. But now EW can exclusively confirm a rumor that fans have been buzzing about for months: AHS: Asylum fan favorite Pepper, a Briarcliff patient played by Naomi Grossman, will indeed appear on Freak Show. READ FULL STORY

New 'AHS: Freak Show' details: Who plays who? What's the plot?

For months we’ve gotten little tidbits on the latest season of American Horror Story, like the character names and guest stars. Now, in EW’s Fall TV Preview, readers get to see behind the curtain of Freak Show.

This latest installment of AHS is about a titular group of misfit performers, led by former German cabaret star Elsa Mars (Emmy winner Jessica Lange), who arrive in the small town of Jupiter, Florida.”My character is very manipulative,” says Lange. “She understands what’s needed and she provides it. However the thing I want to be very clear that Elsa really loves these people. She truly cares for them in her own selfish narcissistic way. It’s not just exploitation.” READ FULL STORY

Full 'AHS: Freak Show' teaser: 3 boobs, 2 heads, 1 hairy Kathy Bates

For the last couple of weeks, American Horror Story: Freak Show has been releasing vague teasers. But now, the show has released its first footage of the cast in their various carny roles, including Angela Bassett as a three-breasted wonder, Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins, and Kathy Bates as the bearded lady.

American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres Oct. 8 on FX and features Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Evan Peters, Emma Roberts, Frances Conroy, and Denis O’Hare.

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