Set in 1964, the FX drama series American Horror Story: Asylum takes viewers into Briarcliff, a haven for the criminally insane, ruled with an iron fist by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a nun with a troubled past. Inside this locked down facility, danger lurks around every corner, whether it’s a doctor who loves to torture, flesh eating creatures in the forest, alien experimentation or the serial killer Bloody Face, and no one is safe.
During both an exclusive phone interview and a conference call, actress Lizzie Brocheré, who plays the Lizzie Borden-like character Grace, spoke to Collider about auditioning on tape from Paris with one of Angelina Jolie’s scenes from Girl, Interrupted, how relieved she was to be able to use her own accent on the show, how creepy the asylum set is, what it’s been like to work with co-star Evan Peters, how much she respects Jessica Lange, what she does to overcome the intensity of a day’s work, and that she would love to return for Season 3. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
LIZZIE BROCHERÉ: It kind of happened accidentally, although these things never really happen accidentally. I didn’t audition a lot, but I had a manager in L.A. I was living in Paris, so it felt a bit far to audition on tape. It felt a bit unreal. I have a foreign accent and it just didn’t feel right. But, this audition was a lot of fun. I wanted to do it because it was American Horror Story. I’d seen the first season and was a big fan. And the part seemed so crazy. The breakdown was amazing. They talked about Angelina Jolie’s character in Girl, Interrupted and one of the audition scenes was one of Lisa’s scenes in Girl, Interrupted. I loved that scene! So, the process of the audition, in itself, was already fun, which is why I did it. I had no idea that, two weeks later, I would be flying to L.A. to meet Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. I was excited!
Did you find it a relief that you could use your own accent and not have to worry about doing another accent?
BROCHERÉ: Yes, I did. That was a relief. When I came, they told me, “Oh, they’re going to dub you over,” and I was like, “Shit!” I was only speaking in English to people, for the two weeks before I took the flight, and I listened to NPR, and I just practiced and practiced. I arrived at the meeting, after having worked so hard on my American accent, and then Ryan said, “Where is your French accent?”
Has it been challenging to be on a show that’s so secretive that you don’t even know much about what’s going on, or has that been fun?
BROCHERÉ: I don’t know what’s happening, at all. What I like about this and what I respect a lot with the secrecy is that, if you want to get scared by things, you need to be surprised. Come on, it’s a scary show! If I tell you anything, you won’t be scared anymore and you’ll miss the whole point. It seems very right, for this project. At the beginning, when I started shooting, I only had the scripts for the first four episodes, which is a lot now, I realize. The luxury of having those first four episodes was that I knew Grace’s backstory before we started shooting. Now, I only get the script days before we shoot. It was good because we got to settle down in our characters and get to know them, having four scripts, and now we’re getting surprised, ourselves, by what’s happening. That’s great for me.
When it comes to horror, do you get more scared by psychological horror or blood and gore?
BROCHERÉ: In the long term, I get a lot more freaked out by psychological horror, for sure. It sticks with you. But at the same time, in the short time, the things that actually make you scream are more visual and effects. Those effects are just amazing. Even being on set, they’re so realistic. There have been some horrible, realistic effects and make-up, working on this show.
Is the asylum set creepy?
BROCHERÉ: I did get the creeps because the story was so dark with all these flashbacks that we shot. For example, when I hide in the closet for the fake flashback, we still did it for real. I dove back, thinking that I’m saved, and then there was this foot with blood dripping on my shoulder, right next to me. That was so realistic. It was crazy! I couldn’t open the closets at my place after that, for a week.
How much does that environment help you get into a scene?
BROCHERÉ: It makes the scene. There’s no question about where you are. I remember the first scene I did was something in the solitary. When you’re in that hallway with all the solitary cell doors, there’s no question of where you are. It’s such a designed asylum. You can feel the whole weight of the metaphor that it represents.
What’s it like to shoot the big group scenes in the common room at the asylum? Are they as chaotic as they seem, or are they more choreographed?
BROCHERÉ: It’s a lot more choreographed than it seems, especially that first scene. What I love about the show is that, a lot of times in the scenes, they use an objective point of view, which makes it so much more [frenetic]. I love the shots when they make us look into the lens and be crazy. It’s great, as a viewer. I think it works really well. You really get to identify with what it’s like to enter the asylum and live in it, and I love that.
How do you get into character to play Grace?
BROCHERÉ: There are so many different ways that I get into character, but I think what I worked on the most was the backstory. When we started shooting, we already had the first four scripts, so I had the backstory of Grace in the fourth episode. Since she was based on this American character, Lizzie Borden, I read a lot about Lizzie Borden. I discovered a source book with her inquest testimony, and I loved reading that out loud. I thought she was so smart and strangely fascinating. I don’t know if it helped my acting, but it was necessary for me to know a bit more of that character, who was a very important American figure. I had no clue who she was. This is going to sound weird, but I also did a lot of stretching, yoga and dancing. I wanted her to always be moving in a very smooth, very sexy way. Apart from that big backstory, Grace is somewhere in me, with her sarcasm, her way of seeing life and that liveliness she has. She has all of these lines that are so true. I don’t know. She was just someone that I felt like I knew. It wasn’t that hard to tap into her, apart from the killing of her dad and all of that.
BROCHERÉ: It’s been great! I was so impressed by what he did with Tate (in Season 1), that I was really excited to be working with him. It was really hard to play the character that was drawn to him, without thinking about Tate. It’s not like everyone is friends outside of work, or that we all see each other outside of work. You don’t really want to connect too much with everybody else to keep it special. Our characters are in a mental institution, so they can’t trust anybody. Even if you have allies, you don’t want to get too comfortable with them. It’s been a pleasure seeing him on set.
How has it been to share scenes with Jessica Lange?
BROCHERÉ: I’m sure every young actress in France, and anywhere in the world, has seen Frances. I have so much respect for her, as an actress. She was so amazing in the first season, as well. I wouldn’t say it was fun [to work with her] because her part isn’t really fun. People keep asking if I’m having fun on the show, and no, I’m not having fun, but it’s really been a lesson. The scene in the common room, in the first episode, she just gave me a look, but seeing her do that, for just a few seconds, and feeling it, you’re not asking yourself any questions. You’re Grace, you’re in the common room, and she’s Sister Jude.
What was it like to shoot the murder scenes?
BROCHERÉ: That was so fun. The whole crew was so happy to change my look, and they were really excited about doing some flashbacks and knowing a little bit more about Grace. I don’t have the same haircut, at all. They really wanted to show Grace, as she was before the asylum, and everyone was really excited about that. The actual murder scenes had a lot of blood and a lot of different axes. I think we had six different axes that are still in the props office, on the walls. There was one that was a rubber axe, and then there was another one that was a real axe. You should never mix up one with the other. Then, there was also a half-cut axe, so that you can pretend it’s in the body. You only have a part of it sticking out of the body. We had so many different axes that it was funny. When Grace killed her stepmom, we had these effects guys that were behind her body, putting blood on her face, each time that I hit her. There were so many people in that closet, but it was fun.
BROCHERÉ: I’m an actress and I know I’m doing it for this. It helped with what I was playing. I would hate to wear restraints, if I was off set. Maybe not. I don’t know. But, it helped in those scenes because I actually had something to fight against and to help me believe in the situation even more. I’m not going to say that I loved being restrained, but I’m not going to complain about it.
You’ve had to do some nudity on the show. Is that hard for you, or is common in the French cinema, so it’s not a big deal?
BROCHERÉ: It’s not common in the French cinema, but I have done a lot in the French cinema. I couldn’t say I don’t feel comfortable doing it, but American nudity is not the same as French nudity. You can’t show nipples. You can’t show frontal nudity. It’s mainly butts showing, apparently.
On a day-to-day basis, how do you overcome the intensity of shooting, and then go back to your normal life?
BROCHERÉ: Well, apart from that one episode, I was pretty much okay. The crew is so much fun. They’re totally disconnected from the cast, and that helped me so much. Otherwise, in my day-to-day, I do a bit of yoga, I go biking, I read, I watch shows, I go to music concerts. I’ve taken a lot of road trips since I’ve been here. I’ve been to Joshua Tree. I’ve been camping on the Channel Islands. Each time that I have two or three days off, I’m off somewhere in California.
Obviously, the way this show is set up, no matter what happens to your character this season, you could come back as an entirely different character next season. Would you be interested in returning?
BROCHERÉ: I would love to come back with a different character. And I’ve been working on other accents. I’m sure I can never play American, but I’m giving it all I can to work on different accents and hoping that I’ll get a part in the next season. I feel like they know the cast more, after one season, so when they write you in the next season, even though it’s a very different character, it’s something that’s for you. So, if I get written in again, of course I’ll go.
With one of your parents being a casting director, did you learn any lessons from them about the entertainment business that has helped you in your career and really prepared you for working in Hollywood?
BROCHERÉ: No, it didn’t prepare me for working in Hollywood because the French industry and Hollywood are a whole different business, but I did learn things, of course. I’m not sure I actually had lessons, with my mom sitting me down and telling me, “This is how this was happening,” and blah, blah, blah. But, I grew up around actors, a lot of whom were struggling actors. That’s always been a part of the reality of this job. A lot of times, when I didn’t have work, I’d work with my mom, so I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been talking to producers about casting that I’ve worked with. It was always interesting to hear their answers and feedback about why they didn’t choose a brilliant actor that I thought was amazing in the scene. It makes you a little more realistic about the whole game, that’s for sure.
Do you want to continue working, here in the States?
BROCHERÉ: You know, I’ll work wherever people want me to work. I’m happy to work in the States because there are so many different and interesting projects. I’ll go wherever people want me to work. That’s why I’m here, and I’m enjoying it a lot. That’s what I’m looking for. But, we’ll see where it goes.
American Horror Story: Asylum airs on Wednesday nights on FX.