The third incarnation of American Horror Story is in the beginning stages of filming in New Orleans, and the four scripts written so far have been shrouded in secrecy, quite literally. American Horror Story: Coven follows the witches of Salem as they head South and end up interacting with the voodoo practicers of the French Quarter. Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson are returning, as well as Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Lily Rabe and Denis O’Hare, but some new additions to the cast have fans of the show more excited than ever. Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett have joined the show to play characters based on real life women Delphine LaLaurie and Marie Laveau, respectively.
Jessica, Sarah, Kathy and Angela joined producer Tim Minear for a panel on the show during TCA last week and shared what they could about Coven, as they are still very much in the dark themselves.
Kathy and Angela both said that Jessica Lange’s work on the series inspired them to become part of it.
“Tremendous influence for me,” Anglea said. “I’m a big fan of her work. She’s incredible, watching the, you know, the first two seasons. But the work of all the actors, you know, in addition, it was just just an actor’s dream.”
“Same here,” said Kathy. “And, you know, seeing Sarah’s work, especially last season, you know, you just kind of get like a little kid. You just want to play too.”
Kathy said that she went out for a drink with Jessica after seeing the first season and told her “You’ve got to get me on that show.”
“And I went in, and I sat down, and I met with [creator] Ryan [Murphy],” Kathy said, ”And I must say when he pitched this show to me, this little kid that lives inside all of us, I think, just started jumping up and down and running around and saying, ‘I want to do it. I can do it like this. And what about if I say…’”
Kathy Bates has played several iconic roles in her career, including the obsessed fan Annie Wilkes in Misery and Evelyn Couch, the housewife with a renewed sense of purpose in Fried Green Tomatoes.While on stage for Coven she lamented that her last series Harry’s Law was cancelled too soon by NBC. (“I think they treated us like shit.They kicked us to the curb. I think they disrespected us. I think they disrespected our 7 to 11 million viewers every week. And I think they’re getting what they deserve. Thank you.”) But she is thrilled to be part of Coven and even has some family history in New Orleans.
“My great great grandfather came from Dublin to New Orleans in the 1830s,” Kathy said. “And he became personal physician to Andrew Jackson. And I read in the book on LaLaurie that his plantation was next door to theirs. So I was very curious to know whether my grandfather ever met her, because I think he would have been there just before, you know, she left. So I thought that was interesting.”
Kathy’s character of Delphine LaLaurie is an infamous figure for having been a torturer and murderer during the 1800s. The mansion in which she lived and where was said to have done many of her devious deeds is still standing on Royal Street and is said to be haunted by the slaves who were killed by their master. Suffice to say Kathy will be playing a little bit more of her Misery character than any of her nicer roles.
Angela’s character is less reviled and more respected, and the actress said she’s read two books about the voodoo practitioner to prepare for the part.
“It’s been interesting being in New Orleans, because there’s such a regard and respect for who she was,” Angela said. “There was you know, there was a woman in the 1800s, 1801 she lived to about 80 years old who was a very influential person in the city. So my character is sort of based loosely on her. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Jessica Lange’s Fiona is a fictional character and Delphine’s best friend that will reportedly “turn on her” later in the season. Fiona is a witch, but her daughter, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) is not, at least not at the series start. But she did admit that her character’s name could have something to do with Shakespeare’s King Lear, which would not bode too well for Cordelia, as the character of the same name ends up dead in the play. Nonetheless, she’s thrilled to be working with a revolving cast of talented actors, as she’s now been a part of all three incarnations of AHS.
“I mean, as much as it would be great to be on a show for seven years, that would be, you know, running for a long time, obviously, and successful and all of that, to me, there’s something, I think, sort of scary about playing the same character for seven years,” Sarah said during the panel. “And you get really spoiled doing this because, every year, you get to come back and play an entirely other person with the same group of people that and with, I think, probably some of the greatest actors anyone could ever dream of working with all assembled in one cast.”
Producer Tim Minear said that of the major themes of Coven is “oppression,” which works in many different ways.
“I think some of the bigger themes this year are oppression of minorities of all kinds and, within that idea, the idea of minority groups sort of going after each other and doing the work of the larger culture for the larger culture,” he said. “So while there is a very strong feminist theme that runs throughout Coven this year, there’s also themes of race and themes of oppression. And there is a very strong theme of family and, specifically, mothers and daughters. Those are some of the things we’ll be exploring this year, along with laughs and scares and a few tears.”
When asked after the panel, Tim said that any kind of queerness that is sometimes literal on the show might be metaphorical this time around.
“You talk about oppressed minorities, and so there is definitely kind of a queer sensibility to the whole thing,” he said. “I’m just saying, you have all these great divas on one show, some gay porn is less gay than that.”
So far, there are no lesbian witches. “I don’t think we have that yet,” Tim said. “I’m not saying we won’t.”
A big difference on this year’s season will be the overall tone. While witches can be as creepy as insane asylum patients, rubbersuit men or evil nuns, Tim said there will be some more lightness and fun than in the show’s past seasons. He likens it to both Baby Jane and The Women.
“There’s a kind of dark humor in both seasons 1 and 2 but I think there is a little bit more kind of—I’m looking for the proper adjective. Baby Jane is a funny movie, but it is a drama and it’s quite scary. But the people who made that movie knew what they were doing,” he said. “They embraced that sort of in your face—I don’t want to say the camp of it because we’re really trying not to be camp.”
“But I would say this year it’s a little more—it’s definitely more open,” he continued. “Obviously it’s not set in a dingy place. It’s set in a very bright, very white, very large Greek revival mansion in New Orleans. There are young girls, there are pretty boys, and then there are these women who all have attitudes in the grand tradition—when I mentioned George Cukor, I sort of wasn’t kidding. When you think of [his movie] The Women, that’s a very funny movie and those women are with the jungle red nail polish. Think jungle red nail polish. There will be humor.”
The central story will bring in all of the divas, though, in a showdown of sorts. Ultimately Coven will also do what AHS does best: scare us by mirroring social issues and themes we deal with even today. It’s good vs. evil, acceptance vs. shunning, and the idea that women are strong, powerful people.
“The Crucible, for instance, is the ultimate metaphor for oppression of women but what you have here is oppressed minority that fled from one place to the other and started oppressing the minority that was there before them,” Tim said. “So you have the voodoos on one side of town and then the witches of Salem descent on the other side of town. And they’re all sort of being hunted by something and sometimes they’re hunting each other.”
American Horror Story: Coven will premiere on FX in October.