A packed Dolby Theater in Hollywood welcomed the cast of American Horror Story: Freak Show to PaleyFest Sunday night. The audience was treated to a fan program which included a screening of “Edward Mondrake, Pt. 1” (the Halloween episode), followed by a panel with Executive Producer Tim Minear, Jessica Lange (Elsa), Evan Peters (Jimmy), Kathy Bates (Ethel), Michael Chiklis (Dell), Sarah Paulson (Bette/Dot), Denis O’Hare (Stanley), and Finn Wittrock (Dandy). Two new cast members for the upcoming fifth season, Hotel, were also announced, which was one of the many highlights of the night. Here are some of the fun facts we learned about AHS.
Casting news ramped up Sunday night, following the already-announced addition of Lady Gaga to season five. The evening’s moderator, Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly, unveiled two of AHS‘s newest cast members, Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart) and Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock). Bomer, who took the stage to deafening applause, appeared in season four as Andy, the male prostitute, murdered by Dandy in the episode “Pink Cupcakes.” Bomer had little to say about his upcoming Hotel character opposite Lady Gaga, but he did tease, “I can’t confirm or deny that there may be a romantic relationship.” Jackson, who told the audience that AHS is his absolute favorite show, worked with writer-producer Ryan Murphy on Glee when he played Dustin Goolsby, the coach of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline.
This has happened before, but four-season alum Lange said that she will no longer be on AHS. “We’ve had a great run here,” Lange explained over cries from the audience. “I have absolutely loved doing these four characters that I’ve had the opportunity to play, and in all madness, I love the writers and the actors and Ryan [Murphy] and the whole insanity of it.” Lange started to say something about working with Murphy. “You know, Ryan and I are going to do…” when Paulson whispered, “Fire!” — which was apparently some kind of code the two had worked out before the panel started to make sure that Lange wouldn’t reveal too much about Murphy’s plans. We thought you weren’t supposed to say ‘Fire’ in a theater, Ms. Paulson!
When Paulson tweeted the first glimpse of her season four characters, Dot and Bette, people might have thought there was something familiar about them. That’s because the Tattler sisters share a common trait with the real-life Hensel sisters, featured in their own reality show in 2012 on TLC. “I watched a lot of Brittney and Abby Hensel, who are the only known dicephalic parapagus twins living today… Certainly, in the beginning, I watched it everyday before I’d go to work just to remind myself of the way that they walk. We actually built certain things to wear underneath my clothing to remind me that, when I wasn’t wearing the other head, I had something in another area on my body that I wasn’t used to having.” Not just a technical challenge for Paulson, the double character would confuse Lange, who would often forget which head she was addressing. Paulson would have to point to the correct side when Lange was speaking to her.
Freak Show was shot in Louisiana, where they have great food — so long as you’re not the main dish! In episode three of Freak Show, as Dale and Ethel’s characters shared an intensely emotional scene, there was a third player offscreen. Chiklis explained why he wasn’t looking at Bates the whole time. “There was something in the water and it was making its way toward us,” Chiklis said. “And we realized that it was not just an alligator, it was a really large alligator.” Bates added, “The bank was really gentle so it was like a runway for that thing, and then later on, the grip started feeding him hot dogs!” The alligator apparently got a taste for craft services and visited the area that afternoon, looking for some more nosh.
The anachronistic song choices this season were water-cooler fodder — especially Lange’s rendition of Lana del Rey’s “Gods and Monsters” (which Lange had been unfamiliar with up until that point). The connection between the music and the show ran a bit deeper than merely wanting to pick cool music; the artists who made those songs was a contributing factor as well. “Thematically, the choices of the songs were because those performers who made those songs famous were considered ‘freaks,'” Minear explained. All the music numbers, including from Kathy Bates cut from the show, will appear on the DVD and hopefully a soundtrack. Other songs included Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” “Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”
For one especially bizarre sex scene in Freak Show (and that’s saying a lot), O’Hare had to sign a nudity rider, which is an extra contract for an actor agreeing to do a sex or nudity scene. Playing opposite Michael Chiklis in “Tupperware Party Massacre,” O’Hare never actually shows anything, but the faces and noises he makes are enough. “We did one take,” he said. “With Ryan, you don’t negotiate. You open the page and say ‘I have to do this now.'” Lange interjected, “Or you can just refuse,” which led to an eruption of laughter from the audience.
Lange explained, at the risk of dating herself (she’s 65, by the way), that she had suggested the freak show theme to Murphy based on her own experiences going to the carnival as a kid. “I always loved the idea of a carnival and traveling troupe,” Lange said. “I remember going to dusty small-town carnivals as a child and seeing these exhibitions of freak shows. There were no live freaks, but weird things and I was always fascinated by it… it wasn’t exactly what I had suggested, but…” and then Paulson called ‘Fire’ so who knows what Lange would have said next?