Yahoo! TV Q&A: Lily Rabe on 'American Horror Story' and playing possessed
In a way, Lily Rabe got two roles on this season of "American Horror Story": The somewhat simple, easily cowed Sister Mary Eunice of the year's opening episodes and the more authoritative (and evil) Sister Mary Eunice inhabited by Satan. The daughter of playwright David Rabe and the late Jill Clayburgh ("Dirty Sexy Money"), Rabe played restless spirit Nora Montgomery on the first season of "AHS," and has also appeared on "Medium," "The Good Wife," and all the "Law & Order"s.
Rabe spoke with Yahoo! TV this week about the two Mary Eunices, her trust in Ryan Murphy, and her role in "The First" as America's sweetheart, Mary Pickford.
Did you have any trouble adjusting or upshifting to your role this season as Sister Mary Eunice from your role last season?
No -- it was a thrill; it was an absolute thrill. I loved my role last year and I love my role this year.
Other actors on the show have said that [creator] Ryan Murphy briefed them pretty well on how their characters' arcs would be laid out -- was that true for you as well this year?
Yes. Yes, it was.
So you knew that there would be this "transformation," shall we say?
I did, yes. I knew that that was gonna happen, and I knew that, you know, the outcome was gonna be what it was.
Did you have any input into how that was going to go?
Along the way there's always a tremendous amount of collaboration, and I think as the writers are writing and as Ryan is editing the show and watching the show -- you know, some of it is sort of, there are sort of landmarks that need to be there, and then there's also this kind of process that's going on, and I think that certain relationships take over for each of the characters and things like that, but there's definitely a feeling of collaboration. But it's also, you know, Ryan is so brilliant at sort of creating everyone's arc for the season.
Right. We take it that you had not played possessed before? (Laughs)
No, that was new for me. (Laughs)
We liked in your performance how you varied the percentages of Mary Eunice and the devil that the audience was seeing at any given time. Was that something that you were directed on, or something that you came to?
That was really something that was very important. It wasn't really a direction thing. It was more about, that was very important to me, when Ryan and I started talking about Mary Eunice and who she was before the possession, that was sort of the most important thing, to figure out who that girl was, and what her history was, and why she was the way she was. You know, she sort of has a, as Ryan said, a slight dropped-on-her-head quality.
She's been, you know, she's been stunted in some way, she's been suppressed in some way, and so to me so much of that possession was -- it was not like this other thing is taking her over and she's becoming what that thing is. She's sort of becoming -- all of these things that already exist in her are being brought to the surface and brought out, so I think that's what was so interesting to me about playing the possessed Mary Eunice, is that it wasn't one or the other. You're sort of living in, as you say, varying degrees, like on the scale of where she is, but it's not black and white; it's sort of living right in the middle between that lightness and that darkness, and fighting that fight, really at every moment.
We thought that was very successful, and also kind of a change -- usually it's a pretty straightforward portrayal of just snarling evil, but this was different.
Right, no -- because I think she is alive in there, and I think the trick is, the power gets the best of her and the evil, that dark side does get the best of her -- but I also think that there's a lot of it that she's enjoying, because she's set free by it. She's getting to have all these experiences, in her life, she's set free, she's not under the thumb of [Sister] Jude and of her own kind of repression. So it's not all bad; I think there's a part of Mary Eunice that's leaning right into that, and that is having this kind of exciting, very -- and then of course it goes way too far and becomes painful enough for her to really want to, you know, end her life, because there's so little of her left by the end.