Last season’s Supreme, Sarah Paulson, has double duty in his go-round of American Horror Story playing conjoined twins Bette and Dot — two characters, Paulson tells us, that have proved to be her most challenging role to date. American Horror Story: Freak Show debuts on FX Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 10pm ET/PT.
“What I’ve already got to do in the first three episodes, there’s just nowhere else I would have done any of it — any of it — ever!” Paulson tells us. “We all know that I don’t have two heads, so how we are achieving this is very unique and complicated and a combination process. We’re not doing any one thing. There are many, many elements that go into making this work. There are up to 22 people working on every single shot that I am in. It’s very, very labor intensive, both for me physically and for the people working on it, and one that I don’t think has ever been done before in this way.”
Bette and Dot are fused together at the spine, which means they have two separate brains, two separate wants and desires, but for everything else they share the same body. As for favorites, Bette is currently the frontrunner.
“So far Bette is my favorite to play — so far — but I love playing them both. She’s the one I feel closest to,” Paulson says. But that was only after shooting three episodes. “By the time we get to the end it may be Dott that’s my favorite and that’s the incredible thing about the show, in the beginning we really don’t know where we are going and how we’re going to get there and this go-around I’m playing two people, so I really don’t know which way it’s going to go.”
Paulson first learned of creator Ryan Murphy’s vision for Freak Show while shooting last season’s Coven.
“We were at dinner one night at the very beginning of shooting Coven and Jessica [Lange, pictured left] says to Ryan, ‘It would be so amazing if we could do a freak show.’ Jessica is a very accomplished photographer and very interested in a lot of images from that time and had sort of brought this concept to Ryan, and Ryan — of course — just took the concept and ran with it as only Ryan Murphy can and created this world that’s just out of this world. He and Jessica have a very collaborative way of working together, she kind of spearheaded the idea, but nothing to do with the story that was all Ryan. It was just the idea of the template of a freak show.”
As for how Paulson got double duty it was all about the challenge. “I think Ryan likes to come up with complicated things for me to do because he knows that’s what I like to do the most. The more challenged I am by something, the more excited I am by it. The more terrified I am by it — and I don’t mean scared like things that go bump in the night, but I mean from an acting standpoint — the things that are scary to me, he knows that I like to tackle. I think he thought ‘this should be the most challenging thing she could ever do, so this is what I’m going to do.’ So he said, ‘this is what I want for you to do next year. I want you to play twins and I want them to be conjoined.’ And at that point I didn’t know if it meant if we had four legs or what part of the body we shared. I didn’t know until much later on that we were going to have one body and two heads, which basically means they share everything but their two heads.”
Murphy takes us back to 1952 amid the dying world of the American carny experience in his newest installment of the Emmy-winning anthology series. AHS: Freak Show is set in the quiet town of Jupiter, Fla., where a dark entity — coinciding with the arrival of a traveling freak show —threatens the lives of the townspeople as well as the freaks. Jessica Lange returns to her leading role as a German expat who manages the freak show. The rest of the cast is made up of many series regulars including Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Denis O’Hare and Gabourey Sidibe, as well as newbies Michael Chiklis (The Shield), Finn Wittrock (All My Children) and Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games). Another character announced is John Carroll Lynch playing a twisted clown that producers described as one of their scariest creations so far (hard to imagine someone worse than Bloody Face).
In addition, Murphy has also filled his set with the real deal, including the world’s smallest woman, Jyoti Amge, age 20.
“She’s got the most incredible laugh, and everything makes her laugh,” Paulson says. “She’s giggling nonstop. We’ve had to stop takes sometimes because she can’t stop giggling, and of course it just makes everyone else giggle and that’s been really great fun. She’s an incredible light to have around.
“There’s nothing more extraordinary than being on the set when everyone is there, both the actors on the show that are made up to play different kinds of people with special abilities — that’s really what we are — but then we are surrounded by people who are actually part of this world and have spent their lives being part of this world. And those are the days on set I enjoy the most.”
While cast and crew always have a gag order surrounding storylines for AHS, Paulson did elaborate a bit on how she would sum up this go-round. “I think the thing about this season is that it feels entirely new, it feels like something we’ve never done before and that is so exciting,” Paulson says. “It’s everything — it’s modern, it’s not modern, it’s funny, it’s dark, it’s dreamlike. I can’t even, there’s just so many ways in which I can describe it and it all would be applicable. It’s probably a little bit of everything that’s come before it, in all three seasons, but it also stands alone. It’s its own thing and it’s almost indescribable and that’s very exciting. I think what we’re doing is very unique and special.”
American Horror Story: Freak Show airs on FX Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT beginning Oct. 8