If you watched last night’s premiere of American Horror Story, you no doubt noticed Alexandra Breckenridge. She doesn’t have all that many scenes, but she makes maximum use of every second of her screen time, donning a French maid outfit that she looks poured into, while relentlessly, and maliciously, seducing Dylan McDermott’s character.
But for all the dark and lascivious behavior her character displays, Breckenridge was sunny and friendly when I talked to her recently about her role in the much-anticipated series, the latest from producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. As one personality of the “Moira” character, she is seen in her young sexpot form by McDermott’s character, while everyone else sees her in the much more matronly shell of Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under).
Breckenridge explains that while her Moira pretty much stays in one mode, she does have a reason for her actions, and that American Horror Story fans won’t have to worry about getting strung along to find out what they are:
Moira is a very sexy role, at least in the first few episodes. Is that constant through the season, or do we see more sides of her?
AB: It is pretty constant. (Laughs) There is an episode where we find out what happened to Moira. There’s a little bit of history there. But beyond that, my character is pretty much the same throughout the season. She has one very distinct intention, and that is mainly to seduce.
How is that for you to play?
AB: It’s really fun, actually, because I’ve never really played a character that’s so overtly sexual before. But occasionally I’ll feel a little silly, you know, because who acts like that? Sometimes they’ll need shots of me licking my fingers or playing with my chest. It’s just silent on set and everybody’s just watching me do it, it’s a little awkward. But it’s fun. I’m having a great time.
There seems to be a sneering quality to Moira as well. She doesn’t seem at all happy about being seductive. Is that something you brought to it, or is that part of the character?
AB: It has to do with what happened to her character, and that attitude comes from a disgust. She’s also a little vengeful. Yeah, I think that’s all I can tell you, actually. I can’t get too deep into it, but yeah that’s where that comes from. (Note: Moira’s background is revealed in Episode 3)
This show has so many secrets and twists. Did you go in knowing a lot of them beforehand, or do you just find out episode to episode?
AB: I’ve been discovering things episode to episode. But in the pilot I had the feeling that something bad had happened to this character, just from what I was getting on the page. So luckily that became true in later episodes. That’s the thing with television, you can’t really know everything that’s going to happen to your character from the beginning of the show because things change so drastically throughout a season.
I remember I was doing Dirt a few years ago, and in the second season somehow somebody says something about my father hitting me. Which is a huge character point! But it had never been discussed until then, so that kind of thing happens all the time and you just have to roll with the punches.
I can see in that situation why you would have liked to have known that ahead of time, but is it also fun to not know certain aspects about your character?
AB: It is, but it’s also a little difficult because you do want to have that history layered into your character development in every scene that you do because it makes it more colorful. Not having that information can definitely be detrimental to a performance sometimes. But in this case it hasn’t been.
It’s a strange situation, because even when you’re not onscreen, your character is. Does that mean you need to pay special attention to how Frances plays the character, even when you’re not in the scene, if for nothing else than to get her mannerisms?
AB: No. Even our mannerisms are completely different, because we are playing two totally different sides of the same character, with totally different intentions. Everything about us is different. We don’t discuss any of that. I don’t feel that we need to, because I don’t think that it’s necessary to the way that either of us is playing our parts. But we do have to do scenes where we both have to do the same scene, obviously. In those instances, we just stand in the same spot, use the same arm to do a gesture so they can cut back and forth, but that’s as far as it goes.
This is the kind of show where people probably will develop wild theories as to what’s going on. Are you ready for all the speculating?
AB: They won’t have to do much of that, because everything gets explained pretty quickly. I like that better than sitting around wondering what’s happening. Like, when you were watching Lost for six or seven years saying, “Are they dead? I don’t understand!” There were all of these theories going around. That doesn’t really happen on our show.
I guess it’s in keeping with a Ryan Murphy show. On Nip/Tuck and Glee, they sort of burn through storylines as opposed to dragging them out.
AB: Yeah, I appreciate it, and it makes it more colorful that way. It’s kind of like True Blood. They have all these different characters and all these different plot lines, which occasionally can be overwhelming, but when I’ve been reading the scripts to this show, I love reading them. These are the best scripts of any show I’ve worked on yet. So he just has a brilliant way of piecing such elaborate storylines and really explaining it well and making it interesting. I’m very lucky. It’s such a pleasure to read a good script.
Have you had any scenes with Rubber Man?
AB: Oh, no, I have not. I’m dying to actually know what his deal is. They’ve not told me. I have my theories on it, of course, but it’s not actually explained to us yet.
Despite all the weird creepy stuff that happens on the show, what’s the vibe like on set?
AB: It’s kind of the same as any other set. When you’re working on a drama, I find that the sets aren’t as jokey as maybe if you’re working on a comedy, because people are getting into character and that sort of thing. When you’re working on a comedy, everybody is sort of making jokes all the time and goofing off. That would be the only difference, really. It’s a great set. Everybody is obviously amazing at what they do.
With your recent stint on True Blood, and now this, are you finding a new home in the horror genre?
AB: I did some bad B movies earlier on in my career, but I’ve always loved it. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a fan of horror. I’ve read … Stephen King books, and I love all those classic horror movies like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby. I’m thrilled to be able to work on a TV show that’s in the horror genre.
Ryan Murphy has shared some of the movies that influenced him in wanting to make this show. Is that something he communicates with the actors, or do you guys just go by what’s on the page?
AB: Unfortunately I don’t get to see him very often. He’s doing Glee and American Horror Story, which are both huge productions for television. The schedules on both these shows are massive, so I can imagine he’s a very busy guy, so I don’t see him all that often on set. But you can see the influences from the films he mentioned on the show, for sure.
You’ve been on a lot of shows in the past few years, and while it must be disheartening whenever a show doesn’t make it, has there been a bright side in that you’ve gotten to play a bunch of different characters?
AB: It’s wonderful. I’ve been really lucky in the past couple years where I’ve been able to play such different characters. That’s always what I wanted to do when I started acting. One of my earliest role models was Gary Oldman. He’s an extreme character actor, and not that I’ll ever be as good as he is, but it’s been wonderful. That’s the thing about television, things can be really short-lived. It’s kind of fun to be able to bounce around and play so many different people. I mean, there are so many actors here, and it’s not easy to get work. So, thank you, universe!
Photo: Credit: Robert Zuckerman