Who’s the baddest witch in town? For the first time, American Horror Story visited Comic-Con on Saturday evening with an all-star panel featuring cast members and creators from American Horror Story Coven. Onstage were Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Emma Roberts, as well as new cast member Michael Chiklis and executive producer Tim Minear.
Tim Stack moderated a riotous panel from which I enjoyed a front row seat. Highlights:
Paulsen and Lange are very close after doing Glass Menagerie on Broadway. Paulsen said, “There’s an unspoken respect” between the two.
Where did “knotty pine” come from? Minear said it came from Ryan (Murphy), but he remembers Lange looking at the set and saying calmly, “This is not knotty pine.”
They didn’t know in advance that Cordelia would be the Supreme, but the story led them to it and then, Minear said, they realized they had known it was her all along. Paulsen didn’t want to be the Supreme because she didn’t want to have to burn Myrtle at the stake. At some point, Paulsen said, they all overheard writers and thought they were going to be the Supreme.
About Murphy, Peters said, “He’s very good. He’s a visionary. He literally just thinks of all these things and we have to figure out what he wants.” Bates, “That’s the damned truth!”
“I must say he unnerves me a little bit. It’s like the man behind the the curtain has come out from behind the curtain.” (Bates is working with Murphy as a director now.) The first night she couldn’t sleep for hours, then she slept for thirty. “I think he scares the shit out of me.”
(During the previous comments, Bates ranged literally from tears to uncontrolled laughter. I don’t think I’ve experienced a more surreal moment at Comic-Con. The audience went into an uproar.)
Is it hard in the writers room to keep topping themselves. Minear joked, “No. We’re professionals, we’re paid to make up this shit.”
Paulsen’s dream is to play someone with black teeth and a peg leg.
What is the tone of Freakshow? Minear said, “I can tell you this, which is not much. It is the best season so far, I really mean that. I just watched dailies and it looked like a scene from Zodiac done in sherbet.” Huh? “It’s Douglas Sirk meets Zodiac.”
In Freakshow, Paulsen plays Siamese twins called Dot and Bette. She said, “No person has played someone with two heads that hasn’t been two actors. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” At any point, there are 22 people working on any scene with her. And she has to switch between characters instantly. “I feel like Sybil. I should call Sally Field and get some tips.”
The cast announced the names of the characters they are going to play in Freakshow:
Paulsen: Bette and Dot Tattler
Bates: Apple Darling
Chiklis: Wendell Del Toledo
Bassett: Desiree Dupree
Peters: Jimmy Darling
Paulsen said about ideas for future seasons, it all depends on what Jessica (Lange) wants to do. She wanted to go to New Orleans, so they blame her for all the sweating they did while there. So where is she (Lange) tonight? Bates said she’s finishing a movie with Shirley Maclaine.
What’s it like working on the set? Bates misunderstood the question (I think), but answered, “They’re lovely people. Very normal. I just ran into one at LAX.” Turning to Paulsen, “Remember Betsy the boom operator? They’re really hard-working people and they don’t get paid enough, goddammit. I mean, we could be dancing around in our underwear in the streets and without them, you wouldn’t see it.”
About working in New Orleans, Bassett said “Other than being as hot as hell and colder than you would imagine, it was wonderful.” Bates added, “I had a great drink they call the Magnolia at my favorite restaurant. And I’m just crushed that this year it’s not there. I’m going to have to do something about that.” (Point of clarification: it’s the drink that’s no longer there, not the restaurant.)
Stack said he heard they had a witch on set. Roberts clarified, “There was a Latin teacher. We had a Latin teacher.”
About working in television, Paulsen said, “For me the greatest security you can find in the acting world is a TV series that runs for a long time. The only problem with it for me is that you’re playing the same character. In some ways, I think that can be an opportunity to delve deeper and deeper into someone. I have only been on shows that have been cancelled… so I’m not speaking from experience.”
She continued, “I like the idea of every year getting to start fresh and play something different and to be terrified and not sure that I’m going to pull it off. I think that’s really exciting, to not come into my trailer and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to put on that suit and cross examine the witness’.”
Minear said Freakshow takes place in the 50s in Jupiter, Florida.
Do the actors bring any ideas to the show? Paulsen said, “Other than Jessica, I don’t think we do. I mean, I’ve never gone up to Ryan and said, ‘Here’s something I’d like to do’.” Bates interrupted, “It’s too terrifying!”
Did Bates or Bassett watch previous seasons of American Horror Story before they joined the cast in the third season? Bates said she did because she knows Jessica (they’ve been friends for a while) and she got very excited and watched the first season. “And if I can be honest about it, I wasn’t as crazy about Asylum.” Paulsen then removed the microphone from Bates.
Getting it back, Bates continued to say, “After I already told Jessica what a great show I thought it was and how I wanted a part, then I thought ‘uh-oh’.” Laughter. She then emphasized, “I was thrilled… thrilled to be invited for season three.”
Basset did not watch American Horror Story beforehand, but she “did see billboards go by with the rubber man and I was intrigued. I thought that was a beautiful piece of art. But I’m not really a lover of horror. I like comedies, romances, things like that.”
When she got called in and met with Ryan and Brad (Falchuk), she decided she’d better brush up and watch all two seasons in one weekend. “I had a friend over and I only watched them at noon. Back to back to back at noon in the daylight with the lights on.”
Bassett’s comments concluded the panel. I must say that of all the panels I’ve intended over the course of four Comic-Con’s now, this was hands down my favorite. The energy was electric, the cast was hilarious, the audience was entertained and informed. I know people were lined up who did not get admitted to the relatively small Room 6DE. But after this, I have no doubt the American Horror Story panel will be one of next year’s must-attend events and will likely be held in a larger venue.