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Can you picture "American Horror Story" without Jessica Lange? You may have to, soon enough.
When Yahoo TV spoke with Lange recently about the upcoming third season of FX's horror anthology (subtitled "Coven"), we asked whether she's planning to stay with the show for the long haul, for as many seasons as FX wants. Surprisingly, she isn't. "No, I'll probably do, maybe… if we do another one, I'll do that, but then… yeah. Because I'm kind of coming to the end of acting, anyhow."
We told her that would be a real shame, and we meant it: The Oscar winner has been nothing short of mesmerizing, first as murderous Southern belle Constance in Season 1 (for which she won an Emmy), then as sadistic nun Sister Jude in last season's "Asylum." This time around, in "Coven," she plays a wily witch named Fiona who heads up a secret school for young witches in the heart of New Orleans. (Her co-stars include fellow "Horror Story" veterans Sarah Paulson and Taissa Farmiga, along with newcomers like Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.)
We chatted with Lange about what we can expect from this latest "Horror Story," why she wanted to film this season in New Orleans… and why she doesn't even watch her own TV show.
We know you can't reveal too much about the plot of "Coven." But what are some of the themes that are explored this season?
One of the big themes is the persecution of fringe groups. In this case, there's a theme of misogyny. I've read some history on witchcraft and witches, and it certainly seems to have played a huge part. A lot of times, women who were labeled witches were nothing more than midwives and herbalists and healers. And the idea of internecine warfare… what happens to a group when it begins to come apart at the core.
You said you're learning how the story unfolds as you read each episode. Have you ever been shocked by a twist you've read in a script?
Yeah, I think I have. Sometimes you think, "Wow. Aliens, really? Whoa. I didn't see that coming."
This show can also get very scary at times. Are you a horror-movie fan?
Not at all. I don't watch ["Horror Story"]. But that's not because of the genre. It's more that I just don't watch my work. It's an odd thing. I don't watch it while I'm doing it, and then once it's done, I have no more interest in it. What interests me is the process. So in both cases, I've only seen the first episode of each season, and nothing else.
On "Horror Story," you get to play a new character every season. As an actor, is that part of the appeal? Would you have agreed to star in a TV series where you had to play the same character throughout?
Probably not. I went into the first season with the intention of just doing that season. And I think at the time, no one had determined that each year would be completely different. But that evolved fairly quickly. It's kind of the best of both worlds, because you don't have to sustain a character year after year after year. At the same time, unlike doing a two-hour film, you do have twelve hours to develop this character. It's a good situation for an actor. You have twelve hours to create this character and then put it to bed; you're done with it.
You earned an Emmy nomination for playing "Asylum's" Sister Jude. What did you enjoy most about playing her?
A couple of elements I loved playing, which I hadn't played before… one was playing a drunk. I was very curious about trying to do that, to find the right balance, to find a way of making it real and yet theatrical enough. But not kind of a classic, stereotypical drunk. That part was interesting. And the whole sordid past: the failed life, the loss of one's dreams and identity. And then of course madness, which I love playing. All those things. Some of my favorite themes to play: that thing of being lost, and the loneliness and isolation and hanging on by a thread.
You haven't been shy about your love for New Orleans; you even suggested to the producers that "Coven" be shot there. What made you fall in love with that city?
I just love the elegance and the decadence, side by side. I love the sense of history that exists there. And physically, I find it beautiful. The houses in the French Quarter, or the Garden District. I love the people, and their sense of language. And just the generosity of spirit that exists there, that I think disappears more and more from this country that we live in. It still feels authentic to me. It's a place that, for all its good and all its bad, there's something very real about it. And it just works with this subject matter. There's such a history of the dark arts and witchcraft and voodoo down there. It seems like the perfect location for this story.
Get a sneak peek at "American Horror Story: Coven" right here:
"American Horror Story: Coven" premieres Wednesday, October 9 at 10 p.m. on FX.