After delivering more than a decade's worth of amazing performances, I assumed Sarah Paulson had revealed the divine depths of her immense talent reservoir. But American Horror Story: Asylum has not only shattered expectations for small screen storytelling, but forced me to re-calibrate my expectations for Paulson as a performer.
As Lana Winters, the wrongly incarcerated journalist who has endured shock treatment and an even more shocking conversion therapy session, Paulson has delivered one of the most powerful, affecting and empathetic performances of the year. One which is sure to garner her another Emmy nomination.
But as we all learned in the just-aired fifth episode, titled I Am Anne Frank: Part 2, the worst is still to come for Lana as Dr. Thredson was unmasked as the horrific serial killer Bloody Face at an incredibly inopportune moment for Lana. ETonline caught up with Paulson to find out what's next for Lana, Thredson and American Horror Story: Asylum!
ETonline: What did you think when Ryan Murphy told you how Lana would find out about Bloody Face?
Sarah Paulson: I just couldn't really believe it. Before I read the script, he told me, "You're going to fall through a trap door." [laughs] I was like, "Wait, what?!?" He says, "Yeah, through a trap door." That was like the thing he led with and I was like, “Oh, okay."
ETonline: Ryan Murphy Tweeted "Pray For Lana" the other week, and I wasn't quite sure what he meant, but now that it's clear, I'm seriously praying for her!
Paulson: Before he sent me the script, he kept coming up to me on set, would just look at me and go, "Pray for Lana. Oh, pray for Lana" [laughs]. And then I got this script and I was like, Oh yes, please somebody pray for Lana because ... how does she get out of this situation? It's really dire. What is she going to do? And you don't see until episode six how crazy it gets.
ETonline: Lana is chained up in a serial killer's basement. I can't imagine it goes anywhere but downhill from here.
Paulson: That is right. Pray for Lana! Although I can't tell you much, I can tell you that we're about to start filming episode eleven and I'm still here. I can't tell you in what capacity or what it means, but I'm here. Things start to become clearer with episode seven ... although, not really because at the end of the episode you'll be like, "What?!" I mean, is Lana ever going to get a break? My only hope is that Lana comes out on top ... but you know this is American Horror Story and I can't promise that is going to happen.
ETonline: There was a moment in Anne Frank Part 1 where Lana hallucinated an awards ceremony. Do you think being in Briarcliff is actually making her insane, or is she just situationally crazy?
Paulson: I think it's probably geography. When you're around a bunch of crazy people all day and you're fighting to find your sanity and nobody believes you and you're alone all the time, it's enough to make you go crazy. I don't think Lana has lost her sanity, but she may now because she's trapped in a basement and nobody knows where she is. It doesn't look very good for Lana. And that's the beauty of the show: typically you'd watch the character of Lana and think she's going to be the girl we're going to follow and she's going to come out on top. But American Horror Story is a different beast. All the rules are off.
ETonline: You've been asked to act out some truly fear-inducing situations of late, how much of a toll did this role take on you?
Paulson: There have been episodes -- episode six through probably episode nine -- that I've needed to take a minute after. I remember one particular scene in Thredson's Lair -- that's what we call it, the Lair -- where I had to excuse myself, go into a corner and cry a little bit. It was just a very intense, very dark emotional scene. But that's my Sarah brain. My actress brain was like, I can't believe I get to play this stuff! I just feel so grateful that I get to play Lana and just want to do it as truthfully and as honestly as possible given the circumstances.
ETonline: I also feel like Zachary Quinto is about to take it to another level. How insanely good does his performance get this season?
Paulson: Oh my ... incredibly good. It's some of the most fun I've ever had acting, ever. We have to do some very dark stuff together, but we both trust each other so much that we were really able to go there. And when I say "go there," by the end of episode six you'll know what I'm talking about. His work is off the charts incredible -- particularly in episode six and seven. It's the kind of work people haven't seen from him before.
ETonline: Now that we know he's Bloody Face, will we get a backstory?
Paulson: Yes, you are going to learn how he came to be Bloody Face. And because of that you may learn things about him that I'm not saying will make you sympathetic towards him but ... look at what Homeland's done with Brody. I mean, he was the villain but Brody's turned into a person you actually care about and kind of want to not be caught. I think Zach does something similar in that he brings something to the role -- which you'll see in six and seven -- that allows you to begin to understand how he could have become this person.
ETonline: Aside from Bloody Face's backstory, what are you excited for the fans to see now that this big reveal has happened?
Paulson: I'm excited for fans to experience the unexpected -- just when you think you know what's going to happen, the whole thing gets turned on its head. I'm also very excited for you to see how the copycat Bloody Faces are tied into Bloody Face of the past. There's a story there that has yet to be revealed. And that's all I can tell you without Ryan dropping me down a trap door in real life [laughs].
American Horror Story: Asylum airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.