The FX series AMERICAN HORROR STORY is in full effect this season with ‘Freakshow’.
This season the circus has come to town and so has many of the original cast members for another adventure in the macabre. This year the tents have stakes in a small town lead by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), a woman who prides herself on giving freaks a good home.
Along with the crew of Jimmy “Lobster Boy” Darling, the dual-headed Better and Dot Tattler, and Ethel “The Bearded Lady” Darling the circus isn’t welcomed by the town. Then the mysterious Desiree Dupree, played by Angela Bassett, strolls in with her man Dell Toledo, played by Michael Chiklis, this couple has a lot of secrets.
It doesn’t stop Elsa from bringing them into the group. But it is Desiree who is such an interesting character to watch. With a third breast and an uncertainty about who she is as a person, Ms. Bassett plays the role beautifully. That shouldn’t be a surprise as this actress has turned in stellar performances for quite some time.
From roles in such films as WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, MALCOLM X, WAITING TO EXHALE and HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK. In 2010 Bassett would take the role of Marie Laveau in the third season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Coven. Fans were thrilled when she agreed to return to AHS: Freakshow.
It was thrilling to be able to talk to her about the role in AHS: Freakshow, her thought process on this year’s character and what it took to get her prosthetics done!
Thanks for talking with us today Angela?
Absolutely, thank you!
Do you think your character is based on a real person?
Well, of that I’m not sure, but I know that there are instances of individuals who have this sort of characteristic. What they’re called is intersex, today. In 1950s, of course, the term was hermaphrodite, but today the terminology is considered passé, especially in that community.
Can you tell us about the make up process?
Well, I went to an FX studio, FX office and about, let’s see; I think it was three women and three men that took to cast a mold of my chest area and then attempt to get the color right, you know, the color, the tone, that sort of thing. Of course, the tone is very difficult and it still takes about 30, 40 minutes to paint it once it’s applied. I go into my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, so that it’s there basically. Then I go over to the special effects trailer where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. I guess I can say that. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. They’ll start with brown. They spray it on. They’ll start with the brown. They’ll go to the red, and yellow, and green. It’s amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You’re like, oh, those are weird, weird colors. Then he’ll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it’s my own and based on that he’ll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on.
What was your first experience like putting it all together?
Well, I was glad it wasn’t on my face. I’m claustrophobic. It’s amazing. You can just a little after about 14 hours of it being on. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicon. It started out fine, but after about hour number 12 and on it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I’m like, what is the point of having three sagging breasts? No, this is not good. They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so, so pleased about because it’s the difference of night and day. Still after about 12 hours that internal heat, you begin to sweat. You begin to itch. You can’t really provide relief because you can’t get to yourself, you know? You’re scratching foam. It’s much lighter. It’s much more bearable. I guess I’ve grown accustomed.
How do you feel about being part of the FX family?
Well, the work environment is really wonderful. I mean, it’s a hectic, fast paced sort of work environment, but the cast, the crew is tireless. They’re dedicated. They’re talented as heck. We put hours and hours in. There’s nothing but support from the network, which it’s evident from being picked up for another season, I believe I heard, after airing of the first show. That’s just indicative of the support that we experience.
And working with Michael Chiklis?
Working with Mike has been a dream come true. Of course, I’ve been a big fan of Chiklis from The Shield days, and The Commish, and on, and on. He’s a lot of fun. He’s like a big kid. He’s so encouraging and supportive of; you know, do the scenes and finish the scenes. He just gives you props like immediately after, which is beautiful. I love working with him, kissing up on him.
The situations you are in are so dark.
You know, that’s what Chiklis says. I go, wait a minute. Based on the type of shows that you’ve done, you consider this real dark and strange? I think he says dark and strange. Yes, it’s a little dark because it’s dealing with, I guess, how so-called normal folk view those who are atypical or different. That can get a little bit dark. I’d like to think that what’s dark are the secrets of men’s hearts; envy.
You are working with a stellar cast ensemble, what is that like for you in this series?
That was one of the prevailing reasons for me joining the cast. I couldn’t believe I’d get an opportunity to work with Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates in a lifetime, especially at the same time. It’s wonderful. In some years, I mean, well, last year most of my scenes were with Kathy and Jessica. This year, mostly Chiklis and now Emma Roberts and the like. We’ll see. We’ll see. Everyone is just an ultimate professional. We have a good time. We have a good time with it. We all have an appreciation for this crazy world and the things that we’re asked to do. It stretches us and grows us. The fact that we get to come back year after year and they fashion some completely new insanity for us to play out is a plus. It’s thrilling.
How have the people of New Orleans reacted to the show and your character?
I love New Orleans and I love New Orleans folk. I was really concerned portraying one of the historical figures of this city who’s so beloved and revered. I so wanted to get it as right as I could. I was really happy with the comments that folk would make that I was the best Marie or they really enjoyed my interpretation of Marie. They were pleased by and large. I didn’t run into anyone who was displeased, so that made me happy. A lot of new eyes came to the series based on it being set here and based on those characters, Marie, Madame LaLaurie, and the like. This year, you do run into, well, someone just drove me to the airport and she said, “Oh, I can’t watch horror things.” You do from time to time run into folk who just think, they imagine just because of the title that it’s a really, really scary show. It can be initially, but there’s something about it that just grabs your imagination and then you can’t wait until the next week, and the next episode. Let’s see, what did they say? Sometimes I do get comments that it’s—what do they say? Demonic. I said, oh, no, no. Let’s not look at it that way. Let’s not look at it that way.
There is an intense friendship develop between Desiree and Ethel, is Dell in more trouble?
That’s the thing. We really don’t know what’s coming in the subsequent episodes and the subsequent scripts. That’s the aspect of this that makes it a little bit frustrating or difficult for us. I guess we don’t have input, but we might have influence. We’ve played it as good, good friends. It remains to be seen. Maybe they’ll see that in the writer’s room and it’ll take them down a different road then they had anticipated. That can, and does happen, and has happened in the past. We’ll see. I’d like to be friends with Ethel. We were such archenemies last year for all eternity as it turned out.
In last years AHS your role was pretty intense. Did you know anything about your character for the new season before you jumped in?
I didn’t have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the, you know, the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, “Now, how am I going to know who I am?”
Then you read the stage direction, “African American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling.” You’re like, oh, my gosh. You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You’re thinking, “What does that mean?” Oh, my gosh. If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year? I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.
The cast this year is literally a troupe of performers, are you feeling less like the new kid as a returning cast member?
Absolutely. I feel like it is a traveling troupe of performers. That’s true. This year I feel more a part of the family. You know, having been here before, having established those relationships, not the brand new girl. We’ve got some other new faces. I feel like I’ve been around the block at least one time with them. I feel more comfortable. I was excited. I’m still excited, but I feel more a part of the family this year, most definitely.
Do you wonder if it’s in our human nature to want to peer into the world of freak shows?
Our human nature? I think I would tend to agree. There might be a little of that, where there’s a little enjoyment in the misfortune of others. Not to their ultimate detriment, but a little bit of enjoyment for them doing worse off or getting into trouble; the whole thing about like, watching a car crash or something, when we slow down, and rubberneck, and look. I think it might be. There is, I think, one freak show out in LA, out in Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or something. I haven’t visited there, but I’ve seen some footage of that. I think they may even have a reality show themselves. It’s more like a tattoo thing and a sword swallowing thing.
Do you feel a challenge in playing one character last season and a new character this season?
As an actor you’re used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing your research, working on that. I think what I found most challenging about television and shedding one character and having to come up with another is that there’s this lag time before I get to actually see what the characters are looking like, or sounding like, or how they’re coming across. We start filming in July and maybe, the first episode’s in October. As an actor who wonders if you’re getting it right because you don’t have the immediate reaction of the audience just yet; that’s the little caveat. I can’t say it’s a real crazy frustration. If there were something that you had to call that, that would be it for me.
You must be thrilled with the response so far this season.
Yes, absolutely. Definitely.
Do you think with the sexual revelation of Desiree that her behavior will change?
No. I don’t think it’ll change how I approach or how she acts. I think she’s comfortable. I think she’s comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she’s just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she’s always been reaching for what she calls normalcy, to have a family, a real family, and children of her own. I don’t think it’s going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. No, I don’t. They might write her so differently, so I’m open. I’m open, but I don’t anticipate it’ll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she’s treated, how she’s treated by others.
I’m sure she will expect Dell to treat her differently.
Well, she’s walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment. I guess honesty. Honesty for one, but that’s just not a desire of her as a freak, it’s just desire for her as a human being.
Your scene with Evan Peters is pretty intense but well done; do you find those scenes awkward?
Well, it’s not too awkward. He’s a cute a little boy, who’s engaged. No, it wasn’t too awkward. I mean, you’re playing characters. He’s quite a professional. I think the most awkward part of it was he was so emotional, and just tears, and things coming out of one’s nostrils. I think that was the most awkward part, but sexually, it wasn’t.
Do you think your character sees good in Dell or a monster?
I think she did find someone, you know, that there was a time when he was kind, and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they’ve been together where he’s crossed the line with her in his speak, and his speech, and the things that he says. He’s begged for forgiveness. It’s that same old thing sometimes it happens, when people are abusive physically. I think there’s been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but always never crossing the line, and completely crossing the line, or she’s weighing if I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?
I think there has come a point in last week’s episode where he crossed the line of no return. She thought she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There’s something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can’t go back. You can’t make yourself go back.
Has the show managed to freak you out in any way this season?
Oh, freaked me out? I think, well, when he took that mask off, and I saw where he had put a gun in his mouth, and shot half his face off, you know? The way the little people treated him, which spurred him on to do that. I didn’t like that. That sort of freaked me out, just how people treat one another. He was innocent in his mind, so taking advantage of that. Pushing him to that point. That was a lot for me. That made me very sad. I guess not freak out, but really, really sad.
Creator Ryan Murphy has stated that all the season are connected, any ideas about that?
Not one, nor have I considered it. The only connection I was able to make was Pepper from Season 2 to Season 4. No, I haven’t thought about that. That gives me something to think about. Have you? Sounds like a great college term paper to me.
Having scripts that are so intense and shooting hours long, are there moments of comic relief?
Let’s see, well, Sarah Paulson can make me laugh really easy, so can Gabby when she’s around. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to spend any time with her this year. But, Sarah is pretty funny to me. Michael is light-hearted. Emma is pretty crazy, especially last night, it was she and I till midnight outdoors in the cold. She’s pretty funny. I’m always the serious one.
Her character is also quiet serious and anyone tuning in to AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Freakshow knows exactly what I’m talking about. AMERICAN HORROR STORY airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. so cuddle up and see what every one is talking about!