FX’s psycho-sexual thriller, American Horror Story, from executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who moved from Boston to Los Angeles as a means of reconciling personal anguish and getting a fresh start. But, they quickly discover that their new home comes with its own kind of baggage, as numerous heinous and terrifying acts have occurred there, and the property itself seems to have a strange effect on its residents.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Alexandra Breckenridge talked about sharing the role of the Harmon’s housekeeper with Frances Conroy (all the women see Conroy, while all the men see her morph into Breckenridge), what a treat it is for her to be working on the show when she’s such a fan of horror movies, how the maid uniform helps her with the physicality and style of the character, and being terrified to work with the iconic Jessica Lange. She also talked about her role on True Blood this past season, doing voice-over work for Family Guy, and what she loves about photography, as an artistic expression. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE: I’ve been doing television for what seems like a really long time, but I just got the audition for it and I really liked the part because it’s something that I haven’t played before. It’s so creepy and eerily sexual, so I was really excited. I really, really wanted it. I read for it literally just one time, and that was it. I got really lucky with this part.
When you read the pilot, was it easy to see the mood and feel that they were looking to go for with this, or did that come more from talking to them about their vision for it?
BRECKENRIDGE: When you’re reading something, your imagination goes and you see it in your mind. Sometimes my instincts with that are right, and sometimes they’re wrong, but in this case, they were right. I think I visualized it in my mind and created the character in the way that they visualized the show.
BRECKENRIDGE: It’s so hard to describe. To me, it takes the best parts of my favorite classic horror movies and spreads them out over a season of television. It’s really high-quality television, comparable to HBO, in my opinion. It’s scary and it’s really twisted.
What do you think Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk bring to the horror genre that makes this show uniquely theirs?
BRECKENRIDGE: I just think they’re such complicated, creative people. They’re so intelligent. Their writing, their character development and their plotlines are so elaborate and so shocking. They know that what shocks and terrifies them is going to shock and terrify other people. Just the way that they weave all of those elements together is completely unique to anything that’s been on television.
How much were you told about this character and what her history is, when you signed on, and how much have you been learning about it as you go?
BRECKENRIDGE: I knew nothing. It was a very small scene that I auditioned for. They’ve been telling me character points, as I’ve been shooting the show. I did have some ideas about the history of the character that I can’t elaborate on, but I did have my own ideas and most of them were pretty much what they had in mind for the character.
BRECKENRIDGE: Luckily, with this show and the way that they write, you get answers to questions pretty quickly. You’re not going to be sitting around wondering what’s going on for six years, like with Lost or something. It explains things quickly enough, which I appreciate, as a viewer. I like to know what’s going on.
What’s it been like to share this role with Frances Conroy? Do you spend any time working on the character together?
BRECKENRIDGE: The thing is that we’re playing very different parts of the same character. Both of our intentions are completely different, so we don’t do a lot of character work together because it’s just extremely different. My intention is totally different from Frances’ intention.
Do you watch any of her mannerisms, at all?
BRECKENRIDGE: It’s only about the physicality. It’s not even mannerisms. Mannerisms are also very, very different for each of us because my side of the character has a totally different rhythm from Frances’. It’s really just about, “Stand here and tilt your head this way,” and that kind of stuff.
BRECKENRIDGE: Yeah, it does. When you put on a little, short skirt and garters and patent leather heels, you’re like, “Oh, I feel like I should be shaking my ass in front of people.” I remember going to set one time to do rehearsal in my Uggs, and it was next to impossible to get into character. Clothes help with the physicality and they help get you into character, especially that style. Who wears that, except for on Halloween? And, the way that they designed that costume is like hyper-reality. It’s more a man’s fantasy, so to speak.
What’s it been like to work with Dylan McDermott and do some of the more intense scenes that you have with him?
BRECKENRIDGE: It’s great! He’s really sweet and very easy to work with, and he’s hot, too. It’s not that hard to try to seduce a hot man. It’s very helpful.
BRECKENRIDGE: I love horror movies! I’ve loved horror movies since I was about eight years old, not that an 8-year-old should be watching The Shining, but I was allowed to, for some reason. Ever since then, I’ve loved good horror movies. I don’t watch things like Jeepers Creepers or Final Destination 53 ½. I really like more of the psychological thrillers, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining and Don’t Look Now. Most of the first part of Insidious was actually pretty good. I love horror movies, so it’s a real treat to be able to work on a television show of that genre, and have it actually be really, really good.
Especially with the type of subject matter and content that this show has, has it been nice to see how supportive FX has been and how behind the show they are?
BRECKENRIDGE: How could they not be? It’s just so freakin’ good, and all of the actors are so good. Connie Britton, Dylan [McDermott], Jessica [Lange], Frances [Conroy] and Denis [O’Hare] just blow my mind, every time I go to set. I had to do a scene with Jessica Lange, and I didn’t do much, but just the two lines that I said to her, I was terrified. I adore her, and I just think the world of her, but I was really intimidated.
BRECKENRIDGE: That was wonderful. I would have loved to have had a larger part on that show, but I was lucky enough to have any part on that show. It was a lot of fun. Actually, that character was great to play because I was playing two different people. Everybody goes crazy for that show, and they have a huge cult following, so it’s fun. You feel like you’re a part of something iconic.
What do you enjoy about doing voice-over work? Is it freeing for you to only have the use of your voice to bring a character to life?
BRECKENRIDGE: It’s all the same to me. Yes, I’m not being filmed, but I’m still doing the motions when I’m saying the lines. I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun and it’s very easy and I don’t have to look nice. I don’t do any other shows, but I get the kind of humor in Family Guy, so it makes it easier for me to do the show. I read the scripts and I instantly get it. I instantly hear the tone and the rhythm in my head, ‘cause it’s Family Guy and they have a specific rhythm. I couldn’t play that many characters, in one show.
What do you love about photography, as an artistic expression? Does it allow you to explore other aspects of art that you don’t get to explore with acting?
BRECKENRIDGE: Oh, definitely! I’m completely in control of creating my photographs, and I’m not always in complete control of creating a character. It’s more of a way to express myself than acting is, by far.