Set in Florida in 1952, “Freak Show” follows Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) and her troupe of “monsters,” including Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins Bette and Dot, Emma Roberts as a con artist, Kathy Bates as bearded lady Ethel Darling, Angela Bassett as three-breasted Desiree Dupree, and Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, a man with lobster-like hands.
John Carroll Lynch (“The Americans”) also joins the cast this season, playing Twisty the Clown, the series’ central villain.
“I think we had to go straight at it,” Murphy said, noting that it seemed “weird” to put on a show about a circus and carnival without a clown. Answers to what made the character so terrifying will be found in episode four, he teased. “We’ll explain why he’s doing what he’s doing,” said Murphy, “and I think our take on it is very unusual and interesting.”
Matt Bomer (“The Normal Heart”) will appear in the fifth episode, as a “very strange, odd” character who has had something “dastardly and horrifying” happen to him. “It may be one of the most disturbing things I think we’ve ever done,” said Murphy of a seven-page scene Bomer has with Michael Chiklis, who plays the carnival’s strongman.
Murphy also said that “Freak Show” will feel more realistic, and not just because once a character dies on “Freak Show” they’re dead for good, as opposed to “Coven,” which allowed some characters to be brought back to life.
To prep the story, Murphy and his team conducted extensive research into the history of carnival performers of the 1920s and ’30s, learning how the evolution of entertainment took its toll.
“I feel that we’re very true to what happened to a lot of these carnival people,” he said. “TV became the new freak show and a lot of [carnival performers] were put in asylums, some were killed by mobs, some became alcoholics and died in the gutter. What happened to this group of people is an American horror story. I hope people take away a respect for what this group of people went through, which I found to be very moving.”
Among the guest cast for “Freak Show” are several special ability performers, including the world’s smallest woman, Jyoti Amge as Ma Petite; Erika Ervin, standing at 6’8”, as Amazon Eve; and Rose Siggins as Legless Suzi. All shared their stories with the “American Horror Story” team before filming began.
“I was instantly interested in them,” said Murphy. “They’re all optimistic and really upbeat and when you hear the stories of survival and triumph, it makes you feel like a real shithead that you have any bad days.”
“Freak Show” will also feature another Halloween two-parter, Murphy said, with Wes Bentley (“The Hunger Games”) playing Edward Mordrake, a character based on the myth of a man with a second face that would make him do horrible things. The arc for the episodes is based on the legend of Mordrake, and how carnival performers would refrain from work on Halloween because they believed their music would summon the villain to take one of them to hell. “We took that myth and ran with it,” said Murphy, adding that Lange will sing Lana Del Rey in that episode.
Murphy also noted that he is hard at work planning the next season of “American Horror Story,” and has even sprinkled hints at the story and its setting throughout the opening episodes of “Freak Show.” “If people are really clever, they’re going to figure that out,” he said.
“I’ve already reached out to three actors who I’ve loved forever,” he added, “so I can hopefully suck them in.” Though Murphy wouldn’t name his dream cast, one potential player is “a real television legend” who approached him on a red carpet expressing his interest.
“American Horror Story: Freak Show” premieres at 10 p.m. tonight on FX.