American Horror Story: Coven no doubt left you with visions of bull-head-wearing slaves and soul-sucking witches dancing in your head. So, before you try nodding off after viewing such nightmarish images, allow us to present you with a cauldron full of spoilery, jaw-dropping twists to come this season, courtesy of scoop-happy executive producer Ryan Murphy.
QUESTION | The premiere feels a bit lighter than anything seen in Horror Story seasons past. Was that intentional?
Last year was so dark and grim and hard, but I loved it. But this year was designed to be scary, make no doubt, but more fun. I heard a lot last year, ‘I love it but it’s hard to sit through.’ So I wanted this year to be easier to sit through. A little more light in tone.
QUESTION | What’s the dynamic between Jessica and Kathy’s characters moving forward?
Jessica plays this great Supreme witch who also happens to be the world’s biggest liberal. She brings Kathy’s Madame LaLaurie back to the house, and the arc for her is a little bit about [how] even though she’s the most powerful woman in the world, she’s still fighting aging and struggling with that. She doesn’t want to die and wants to live forever. So, she realizes that Madame LaLaurie has been given something to make her live forever, so she’s trying to get to that — she’s holding Kathy Bates’ [character] ransom. [Laughs]
Interestingly enough, she starts to find out about the horrors of that character, who’s a real woman who actually did all the things we showed you… and worse. So, she makes Madame LaLaurie be Queenie’s (Gabourey Sidibe) personal slave as payback. Through that relationship, she has an entire season of guilt and remorse and finally learning about the gravity of what she did.
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It’s a meditation on race relations in this country. There’s a very strong arc about the Salem witches and the Voodoo witches and can’t we all get along to fight our common enemy. It really is an allegory for any minority group in this country. Her stuff with Kathy, in the second episode she has an entire scene where she taunts her with a chicken leg, which is quite funny… I just spent the weekend with [Kathy], and she said it’s her favorite part she’s ever played. She loves the comedy and the costuming.
QUESTION | Will we see Angela Bassett in the present day, as well?
Yes, in the second episode Fiona finds out that Marie Laveau — who is also a real person — has put this spell on Kathy’s character. It turns out Marie Laveau runs a hair salon called Cornrow City where she’s gone undercover… And [Jessica says to her], ‘I want the eternal life stuff.’ And Marie says, ‘You give me back Madame LaLaurie. I know you dug her up’… So, that begins the war. Those two are also quite amazing, Angela and Jessica.
QUESTION | How were each of the girls’ powers decided upon?
We thought a lot about it, and we researched a lot about the Salem witches — some of these powers, actually, the girls back then [were] prescribed to have had. The ability to f–k someone to death actually was a real [one], I think. I love the Nan power, the ability to read minds… I always love the clairvoyance thing that Emma Roberts’ [character] has. But we researched all that Salem stuff. We have a lot of Salem flashbacks throughout the year, where the girls learn about their ancestors. And more people come into the show, other witches to that house, and they also have very specific powers. And the great mystery is which of these people you have met is the Supreme? And who is going to take Fiona’s throne? …We really don’t find out until Episode 12 who that is.
QUESTION | Does that mean Jessica’s character will become a threat to students?
Oh, she kills one of them in Episode 3 — she’s not giving it up! [Laughs] Fiona thinks she’s found out who the Supreme is, and that person gets killed. She’s not giving up that throne, no way.
QUESTION | Talk a little about Evan’s involvement this season and how he comes back into play.
Evan’s story kicks off in Episode 2… I’ve always been very obsessed with anything Mary Shelley. So, that’s another thing that we deal with: the Frankenstein. In Episode 2, the big girl story is that Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe and Emma Roberts’ Madison go to the morgue, because Zoe is obviously in love with Evan’s character Kyle. They find out that the boys are badly, badly mangled and decapitated, so Madison decides to build the perfect boyfriend. She takes Kyle’s head and other parts that she desires and creates this thing and they use a spell — and that’s his arc; that’s his season. He’s brought back… or not. And she falls in love with him and [wants to] rehabilitate him, but of course she can’t be with him because she’ll kill him again.
Evan loves that part because, for the first six episodes, he doesn’t speak. We had to do a lot with body language and mime. I made him watch Bride of Frankenstein several times. [Laughs] It’s a great part because he’s such a great physical actor. And it’s very different than what he played last year, which I think [the cast all] really loves.
QUESTION | Was it always the plan to pair up Evan and Taissa again?
I love that relationship, and I loved them together; I thought they had really good chemistry. To me, that’s in the tradition of movie stars who work really well together, [so they’ll] make four or five movies together… I thought that I wanted to write something for them, a love story. But I wanted it to be different. It’s shocking to me how much Taissa has grown up. She finished Season 1 and then she went off to make [The Bling Ring] and there was really no part for her [in Asylum], so after Jessica and Sarah [Paulson], she’s the one I called in. She liked it; she loves working with Evan, and Evan loves working with her. It’s odd that Evan’s girlfriend [Roberts] is also on the show, but I’ve made that work. [Laughs] I like doing that because there’s a shorthand and they’re comfortable. I think the fans like that that love story is reincarnated in some weird way in that myth of the show.
QUESTION | Does Coven has its own version of Bloody Face or Rubber Man?
[The] arch-villains of the season are probably The Minotaur, from the cold open of the premiere, and The Ax Man. Those are the two mythological creatures of this season.
QUESTION | Sarah’s character Cordelia seems to be repressing her powers. Will her arc involve embracing her inner witch?
I was always fascinated by the dynamic of the show Bewitched. And then I thought, ‘Well, what would happen if Samantha listened to Endora and want completely bats–t dark crazy?… What would have happened [if she’d said], ‘I don’t want to be normal, I don’t want to be suburban, I want to be dark’? [Laughs] So, Sarah starts off very prim and proper, and then there’s something that happens to her character around Episode 5 that forces her to realize, ‘OK, my mother may be right.’ And that’s also a great dynamic to play — an off mother-daughter who really don’t like each other.
Where Sarah starts and where Sarah ends up is completely the opposite of where she’s playing in that first episode. It was hard for her to play that, very buttoned up and prim. She likes to vibrate and do stuff that’s a little more out there… But she gets to, soon enough. [Laughs]
QUESTION | Is Frances Conroy’s character secretly based on infamous Vogue creative director Grace Coddington?
[Laughs] Did you get that I copied Grace’s hair? She’s got Grace Coddington’s hair and then she’s got [fashion columnist] Diana Vreeland’s voice. [Laughs]… She’s amazing, I love that character. [Her character Myrtle] is truly [Fiona’s] nemesis. There’s an entire episode where we show her and [Fiona] when they were 18 at the school and why they became bitter rivals. Fiona was very deadly, even as an 18-year-old. That was fun because we got to cast an [teenage] Jessica Lange.
Myrtle’s really, really funny and very specifically stylish and odd. They mention The Council in this first episode, so those people come back and are quite flamboyant. It turns out one of them is a male witch — played by Leslie Jordan, who I love — who’s modeled on Truman Capote. It turns out if Jessica Lange is your friend, you can have a bestseller time and time again and again. It’s fun in that way. We find out real-life people who we say are witches — it’s very fun and peculiar and pop-culturey.
QUESTION | Does the snake image in the promotional poster manifest itself at all this season?
Yes, there is a three-way. [Laughs] … That is a clue that I don’t want to say too much about.
QUESTION | Can fans expect the usual hints about Horror Story‘s next chapter in either the penultimate episode or finale of this season?
Right now we’re writing Episode 9 or 10, so I will definitely get that in. I always thought it would be cool — and I think I might do it this year — to have the finale end then I announce what next year’s show is by using some sort of visual thing. I think I’m going to try that this year because people would really love it… I think the last image of this season will be, “This is what you’re getting next year,” and we’ll announce the title.