Well, all AHS fans – try to contain your disappointment knowing the season finale of AMERICAN HORROR STORY is just around the corner. The most recent shock and cast exit is Sister Mary Eunice, the nice turn naughty nun of Briarcliff!
This week I got a chance to speak with Lily Rabe who did a most excellent job playing the fun loving Sister Mary Eunice!
Thanks for joining us today Lily.
Hello, and thank you so much.
Did you know early on what was going to happen with Sister Mary?
I had some sense, yes, I knew that she probably wouldn’t have a very happy ending, so I did have a sense and then sort of as we went along the specifics of how that was all going to happen became clearer as we went along.
What was it like for you to have to go from good to bad to good?
Yes, I think the death scene, the way Ryan and I really talked about it it’s really sort of an assisted suicide. Her situation really wasn’t survivable in the sense that even if they had done some sort of exorcism or something at that point, we sort of felt that whatever might be left of that girl was so damaged and destroyed and that death sort of became her only way out. Yes, playing that through once the possession happened that was such a wonderful challenge and a sort of dance really to live between with both the lightness and the darkness existing at the same time in that battle and then that losing battle really.
Was there any scene that you weren’t looking forward to?
You know the cremation scene was very, very difficult for me. When I read it, I knew I thought, oh, this is going to be tricky, it’s going to be a little tough, but it was much harder than I had even imagined it would be. But other than that, you know I really like when I read a scene and it scares me. That sort of makes me excited. I was so even though, yes, lip-synching or not really lip synching, singing along with the ear bud or whatever, it was such a thrill and the director sort of gave me the whole room. He just had it set up so that they could shoot the whole room, and I could really have total freedom to do whatever and that’s really so much fun, so for the most part I really like when I read a scene that scares me and makes me sweat a little bit thinking about doing it. That’s usually a good sign to me.
That was cramped quarters, were you anywhere near fire?
No, no, there wasn’t real, the fire wasn’t hot, that was sort of added in. There was a lot of smoke. You know truthfully, I don’t know how those special effects people do it, but it was rather terrifying the situation, but no, I wasn’t worried about getting burned.
I know there are things you still can’t talk about but what was the most difficult part of your role?
Well, you know, I think some of the murders having sort of in those moments where she was just absolutely sort of in her completely taken over by the devil and throwing these actors around and slitting their throats and stabbing them ruthlessly and all of that sort of, you know I’ve been the victim a lot, so I’ve often played the person who’s getting raped or murdered or abused. And so to actually be raping and murdering and abusing people is a whole different kind of challenge and one that it was very difficult at times and sometimes I would sort of go home from work and just kind of stare at the wall for a couple of hours. But I can’t complain, because easily if whatever kind of knocks you out working is the kind of work that I want to be doing because it’s always those challenges that are the most exciting and the things I hope to get to keep doing in my work.
Can you tell us your thoughts on the ending relationship between Sister Mary and Dr. Arden?
I always thought of it as sort of the perfect ending for the two of them. It seemed so fitting and of course we were always talking about, James Cromwell and I were always sitting around talking about Shakespeare like big theater dorks and so we felt like we’d gotten a nice, Ryan had given us a sort of beautiful Shakespearian ending in a horror story Shakespearian ending. But I think it seemed sort of completely sort of the perfect end to the very, very, very bizarre and complicated and dark love story of sorts. I think for him he really had loved her for so long and been so devoted to her; and I can’t speak for Jamie, but I feel like that was just maybe the last straw for him.
So she freed him or he her?
Right, I think in the way that she dies, which is certainly I think I said this earlier to someone, but more of a sort of an assisted suicide, a sort of consensual death with the Monsignor. And I think that she’s certainly trying to free herself and also get this devil that she has become away from everyone else. I think it is sort of her most heroic moment and also sort of her only, really her only choice at that point. But I think that, yeah, there is having taking Dr. Arden away with her is certainly not a bad thing for everybody else who is left alive, although there’s still a whole lot of stuff to work out and a lot of evil left around that’s for sure.
Have you discussed with Ryan about returning for Season Three of AHS? If you can’t say
Yes, well, he certainly succeeded in that this season with everyone so brilliantly and I’m sure he will just of course do that again. I don’t know. I think Ryan’s ideas are usually better than mine, but yes, I don’t know. I don’t know, but certainly something you just want to do something different. That’s the joy of what the setup is.
So – will you be back?
I have no idea. I can’t say a word. I’m so sorry. I know it’s such a boring interview sometimes with us at American Horror Story, so that I just can’t say a word.
How did you approach your character in order to go from nice Sister to naughty Sister?
Yes, you know the truth is the way that I approached it really was to figure out before we started shooting the most important thing to me was to really figure out who Sister Mary Eunice was and not really worry about the possession or the devil because to me so much of what a possession is is specific to the person. So that to play the sort of dark side or underbelly of someone or their sort of shadow taking over it’s really about knowing who that person is before that event has taken place of this dark thing sort of taking over. So it was more about figuring out who she really was through and through.
Did you enjoy working with Joseph Fiennes?
Oh, I had such a wonderful time with Joseph. He’s such a wonderful guy and so generous and so much fun to act with and we ended up, we didn’t have so much to do together at the beginning of the season, but we ended up having so much to do in those last few episodes; and I had a great time with him, I think he’s so special.
Was there a lot of practice for the final stunt?
Well, they let me do the whole thing. I was on wires and I actually got—my stunt double was someone I had worked with before and they all sort of they talked to me a couple weeks before shooting it and asked me what I thought; and I said let me do as much of it as I possibly can and they let me do the whole thing, the throw and the fall and all of it, so that was a lot of fun. I really like that kind of thing.
Were there high points for you this season?
Oh gosh, well, everything else, everything else was the high point. It was one high point after another. I think I could never pick, but I had so much fun really my relationship with Jessica, I would say, with Sister Jude, I thought that all of the scenes were really an incredible thrill to play and to figure out and especially the ones where Eunice sort of comes out of, is sort of reached by Jessica for a moment and there are flashes of her still being inside there. Because the truth is in all of it, I felt her there even when she was very sort of being completely overpowered and so those moments of release were really special to get to do and I have to say I also had a lot of fun. The murders were I don’t know if fun is the right word, but the murders were, it’s sort of a wild thrill to play to do things that are so—I’ve never, I’ve never had the opportunity to do such horrible, horrible things to people.
Did you study about possession at all?
I did, yes, in part of sort of researching before and during that was definitely something that I did. I was very interested in learning about and there’s so much information out there and stuff like that.
The way Ryan (the creator and writer of AHS) presented the show to you, is there anything that particularly attracted your attention?
Yes, it’s incredibly appealing because it sort of, it’s this wonderful opportunity to work with the same group of people, the same actors, the same crew, the same creators, I’m just saying creator or the same writers and creators and to be able to sort of have this home that you get to come back to, but then be playing a different character is really I have to say it’s kind of for me it’s just an actor’s dream come true; and that you can, there are people who go away for a season and come back, do a few episodes, do the full season. There’s so many ways for it to exist and it’s really a thrilling sort of company to be a part of and that is how Ryan thinks of it as sort of a like using the model of the rep theatre company. I think he’s such a genius to be doing that.
What was your experience working with the amazing Jessica Lange?
I had an amazing time. She’s an incredible actress. She’s got an unbelievably, an amazing work ethic. She’s generous. She’s present. She’s everything you could want in a team partner and also she’s a really great woman. She’s a lot of fun and I felt very close to her very quickly, very comfortable with her and safe and that’s always, especially when you’re doing difficult things, feeling safe with someone is what I have with Ryan and that’s what I have with some of the cast. And to have it with Jessica, especially with kind of what we had to go through together and put each other through was invaluable.
Tell us about your process in getting the role and preparation for becoming Sister Mary?
Yes, a bit, I hope I’m not repeating myself, but the sort of most of the preparation before once Ryan, you know, I said yes to him before I knew who I was playing. He called me and I was doing a play in New York and he said can you come back this year and move out to LA for five months and I said yes. And then he said all right I’ll call you soon and tell you about her and then learning about Sister Mary Eunice and of course, learning about the institution and what her role there was and her relationship with Sister Jude and sort of learning about her history, which I know the audience doesn’t see it until sort of maybe halfway in. But knowing that something, she’s had a sort of stunted something has been stunted stopped in her, so she hasn’t really totally developed into a woman. I think that so figuring out who that sort of innocent soul was, that pure girl and why she is the way she is, all that stuff was lots of time to sit in my apartment and worry and prepare and do all of those things.
Was there room for collaboration?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure how to answer that question. I think a lot of it was collaborative in the sense that yes, sometimes there’s a certain amount of freedom and so that there were things that I think would happen because the writers are writing the show as it’s not like the entire season is written. I do think the writers and Ryan were sort of; it was definitely a collaboration in a certain sense.
There were moments that one could say you were having fun. Did you ever thing things went to far?
Yes, I think with the show, you know if you’re going to do the show, you just sort of, you just kind of jump off the ledge and you don’t expect you’re going to have any parachute or anything opening. You just have to jump and know that that’s a part of the thrill of it and there will be somewhere soft to land, you’re not going to, and you’re not going to at the end of the day and because you’re in such good hands. But I think part of the thrill of being on that show is sort of just diving in completely, so no, I never, things would scare me or make me really nervous, but nothing ever felt like this is too far or this is something I don’t want to do. I never had that feeling about any of it.
Sister Mary Eunice went down several different roads this season, was there ever one that was a favorite for you?
You know my storyline with Jessica was perhaps the most powerful to me because I think it’s sort of the most tragic in a way because it’s actually the one that involved the most love, even though there was a sort of, even though Jessica’s Jude is very cruel to Eunice in the beginning. I always believed that that cruelty was coming out of a place of love and a place of sort of seeing Mary Eunice as seeing her potential and knowing that she wasn’t living it. And so in a way that that whole where we started and where we ended up, that to me is probably the one that was the most sort of powerful; but I have to say all of, you know, my relationship with James and with everyone, everyone I got to sort of work with. I even had a great side plot with Spivey. Mark Conseulos is so amazing and it was such an abundance of amazing actors that you get a chance to work with while you’re doing the show.
Both you and James Cromwell do a lot of theatre. Did that make things more comfortable on the set to talk about your work?
Yes, we both love to talk about acting; we love to talk about theatre. We love to talk about—he’s a great storyteller, too, so I always loved when we had days on set together. I think it’s such a sort of specific and bizarre special tone that kind of love story and it’s a very strange thing to call it, but that is sort of how I felt about it even though it isn’t necessarily mutual or sort of straightforward. But it was definitely, I loved working with him and sort of it was great with the directors and with Ryan and the writers and James to sort of figure out what was happening with them. And there was so much heartache between them in different ways. I mean they didn’t want the same thing, but I think that that sort of, but her loss of purity, what that purity meant to him and of course to her. I mean I think as she sort of having a first time experiences of what it is to feel powerful or sexual or free in a certain way. And then of course that gets totally out of control, but what is a person losing when that stuff kind of happens or what are you gaining and asking all those questions that were really fun to get to do that with someone like James.
Was there anything this season that threw you?
Well, there was a lot of, you know you know a certain amount of course in terms of like points of things that are going to happen to you; but there was a lot of mystery and a lot of sort of you have to be constantly taking a tremendous leap of faith and just sort of staying present in the moment of whatever the scene is, because you don’t know exactly you know where that turn is going to end up or what the next episode is going to bring. You know you have these sorts of landmark things that you know about, but within the sort of nuance of the storylines. There was a certain amount of mystery. I didn’t watch the show while it was airing because it was too hard to be shooting episode three or I mean the episode seven and watching episode three or however it worked out. My brain was getting really scrambled, but I had to wait till the season had wrapped because there is in the same way that the audience is being surprised, you know we were definitely getting our handful of surprises, too, that’s for sure.
Did you learn anything about yourself, personally, after playing this character?
Oh, oh, yes, well, that always happens when you have a great job, you do have to confront constantly always parts of yourself that you may or may not want to know about or have anything to do with or spend any time with, so yes, that definitely happened. I will say one thing. I didn’t quite know just how much I was going to love singing and dancing in front of a camera. I knew I would like it a lot, but I didn’t know that I would think it was like the most fun I’ve ever had. And I also loved I mean I knew I liked stunts, too, but I really, really like doing them, so I sure would love a job where I was on wires all the time. I know some actors don’t like them, but I don’t know. I think it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The set atmosphere must be intense as well?
Right, it is sort of a dark, I know, you know it is a dark world to live in, but I think the thing that made it so, still so kind of wonderful and a place that I was excited to drive to work every morning and that was because of the people and the crew. It was a very close group of actors and the writers are very, it’s an amazing group of writers. I think Ryan has a way of when he’s at the helm he’s one of those people who just creates a great work environment. I think it’s so much about that person. The leader really has to set the tone for something and make everyone feel safe and he does that in such an incredible way and so everyone, although we were maybe working crazy hours and shooting crazy things, it was always a really nice place to go to work. And for me you know it was the first time I’d ever been, I’ve never done a show as a regular before and it reminded me a bit of doing a play in the sense that you go to the theatre every day and you have your dressing room. And you have the crew and the actors and so I loved that feeling of actually kind of having this family every day that was sort of new for me and very special.
Were there any shenanigans to break up the tension?
Oh well, I mean you know Sara Paulson is one of my best friends and has been for years. We already have a bit of laughing problem together, so I would say that that happened a lot. There was often a lot of that and Zach was learning the banjo and I was learning the guitar, so there were also little musical breaks, although he’s much better at the banjo than I am at the guitar at this point.
The role of Sister Mary Eunice is pretty heavy, were there some hard moments?
Yes, but it sort of came with the territory in the sense that I think if you’re going to be; I feel that with all the great jobs or all the really, really great parts, you’re usually going to sort of dark and scary or painful places and that’s just part of it. Although it could be difficult in some way, it sort of comes with, it’s part of the job description I feel, so it’s nothing I would ever sort of want to say was a negative, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel great. It’s sort of to me it’s still part of the job description of getting to play a wonderful role and having to go through things like that. So I’m always very grateful for that even if it means I’m going to go have to kind of collapse in my bed for a little while or whatever or whatever it means.
Do you have favorite horror shows?
Oh, my favorite, I think it’s Don’t Look Now and The Shining is also one—I’ve never really watched a television show, a horror television show with any kind of consistency, but I do love to be scared and I love there are some of those movies that it’s amazing to me how you watch them over and over and they’re still so terrifying every time.
Thanks for talking with us today Lily and its pretty obvious this season was not only intense but in-your-face. Fans of AMERICAN HORROR STORY are equally as thrilled that there will be a Season Three and can not wait to see what characters are created, who will return once again and how weirded out we are all going to get!
Season finale of AMERICAN HORROR STORY Wednesday on FX!
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