From co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the FX series American Horror Story uses a unique and compelling approach to television, with a different setting, different characters and a rotating cast of actors for each season. For Season 3, American Horror Story: Coven tells the secret history of witches and witchcraft in America, with a cast of talented actresses that includes Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Patti LuPone, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Lily Rabe, Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe and now even Stevie Nicks.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, highly acclaimed actress Kathy Bates (who plays Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a high society Creole socialite from the 1830s that had a taste for the gruesome torture of her slaves) talked about how she came to be a part of American Horror Story, how happy she is with the results, developing this version of the real-life woman, how the costumes helped her find her performance, why she was such a cruel person, how much fun it’s been to work with such talented women, and that she’d love to return for another season. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
KATHY BATES: Yeah. I really enjoyed her work on Season 1, and I enjoyed the writing. I just thought, “I’d really like to be involved with this show, in some way.” I just didn’t know how. And then, we just got together for a drink and I mentioned it to her. And then, she mentioned it to Ryan [Murphy] and he had a great idea. Then, I met with him and he pitched it to me last January. I was so excited about the character and about what he was doing with the show that I said yes, immediately.
After the experience that you had with Harry’s Law, were you hesitant at all about doing TV again, or was this experience just clearly so different from that one that there was no issue?
BATES: I think the latter. There wasn’t any issue. The bottom line is that I’m an actor, so when somebody pitches me a great part, it’s a no-brainer. You never know what it’s gonna be like, in terms of the actual experience. You can be really excited about a part that can turn out shitty, you can have a bad time, there’s a bad egg or two or three, in the bunch, or the producers are weird, or something like that. But happily, this has turned out to be a really good experience. It’s a relief, after having gone through what I did with the network. Ryan is an exciting person to work for. He’s a genius. And Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who does a lot of our directing, is an abso-fucking-lutely brilliant guy. He’s studied with some of the greats, and worked with some of the greats, on his way up. He’s a very serious artist. His work on Episodes 301 and 303 just verifies that. So, it’s been loads of fun, but hard work. Each episode is really, really ambitious, but it’s been great. I’m so happy with the results, and I’m so happy that everyone has responded the way they have. On Wednesday nights, I tune in to the Twitter feeds to see what everybody is saying. It’s fun to do that.
BATES: No! After having seen the first two seasons, I knew they were really pushing the limits. I’m just hoping they don’t ask me to do something really horrific. Although, I must say, we did shoot something pretty horrific. It’s been interesting, to say the least. I also think the show has a lot to say about women’s roles and women in society. It throws that patriarchal view of women in your face. That idea of woman as witch, and woman as mysterious and powerful, is one of the underlying messages of the show. That’s what I like about what Ryan does. There’s a reason why it’s called “American” Horror Story. I like that, a lot.
When you’re playing a character that’s rooted in history, how much research did you decide to do into who she really was, and how much did you want to stay away from that and just develop her as a character that you’re playing?
BATES: Well, I did a lot of research, and then learned quickly that they were doing their own spin on this character. For example, I had a big discussion with Ryan because she was French, so she would have been educated in Paris and her family came from there. Her patriarch, way back when, came from Ireland, but then he served in the Army for Louis XIV. And then, he had children who were all French. Her grandfathers came, who were in the French Navy. She would have been considered Creole. Any first-born children of settlers like that would be called Creole. We think of the Creole as a whole different ethnic group, but classically, they would have been Creole. She would have spoken Parisian French. So, I really fought with Ryan. I wanted her to be authentically French, but he just said, “No! No French!” So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do a Delta accent with a little bit of New Orleans thrown in,” and he was happy with that. And it was probably right. There’s so much going on, it would have been crazy to have all these different accents flying everywhere.
BATES: A lot. When you first saw her in the maid outfit, I wanted her to be gripping the handlebar of that tray when she comes out ‘cause she’s really pissed off, but I don’t know if that read, at all. She was trying to make the best of it, but she was still a racist, in her heart. She didn’t want to serve a black woman because she considered that anathema. I wanted to do even more with that, but it’s not the Madame LaLaurie show. You can’t get everything in there, so you do what you can.
This is a woman who can be particularly vile and nasty, especially in the way she speaks to people that she sees as beneath her. As an actor, do you find that type of stuff fun and just part of the character, or is it difficult to do that and be so convincing at it?
BATES: Listen, I think we’ve all got that stuff inside of us. There are certain people, even within our own families, that we look down on and feel better than and superior to, so it’s not hard to imagine that. We have strong likes and dislikes about everything, so it’s easy to plug those things in. The main thing that daunted me, at the beginning, was, “What makes this woman so evil?” I tried all kinds of ways to understand. I know part of it is that her husband was a philanderer. In those days, he could have gone and married the woman of color, and then had recognized children by her, who would have then been part of the estate and would have inherited everything. She also had a relative that was shot by a couple of slaves and killed. Also, with the turn of the century, from the 1790s into 1807, there was a slave uprising in Haiti, which wasn’t very far. That was the uprising that created the country of Haiti. So, the white citizens of New Orleans numbered about a thousand, and there were three thousand slaves. They were outnumbered, and they slept with guns and knives under their pillow because they were very afraid. So, they probably came down pretty hard on their own slaves, in order to instill fear in them. That was part of it with her, to my understanding. And then, I also talked to some detectives, from all over Europe, at a film festival that I got to go to in the spring. I said, “So, what is it? Why does somebody do these horrible things?” And they said, “Some people are just that way.” At some point, I think she probably got off on the power. For our show, we’re doing crazy shit anyway, so you don’t have to make sense of it.
BATES: She was one of the actors that I was really hoping I got a chance to work with. I think she’s beautiful, and I just love her presence. She’s so natural. She’s so real. There isn’t a dishonest bone in her body. She’s always just real. And she’s so much fun to play with. Happily, I got to do a lot of fun things with her.
How much fun is it to share screen time with actresses like Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett?
BATES: For me, it means you’ve gotta bring it, especially with those two. They’re both theater-trained. You’ve just gotta bring you’re A-game. Everybody wants to step up to the plate and hit a home run.
Now that you’ve gotten to experience American Horror Story, would you be willing to return for future seasons, if Ryan Murphy came up with another equally as delicious story and character?
BATES: Absolutely! I would look forward to it. I’m enjoying it tremendously. I have faith that Ryan will come up with something equally as wonderful for next season. I know that he’s said this is his favorite season yet, for this show. I would love to come back. We’ll see what happens.
American Horror Story: Coven airs on Wednesday nights on FX.