“Are you out of your mind?” Kathy Bates asked an audience member who asked about the “nontraditional” casting at a For Your Consideration panel Thursday night. “It’s perfect casting for this show!”
“I’d set your TiVos if I were you,” exec producer Tim Minear teased.
Bates and Minear, along with cast members Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Finn Wittrock, Denis O’Hare and John Carroll Lynch, gathered at Paramount Studios in front of Emmy voters for the FYC “Freak Show” screening and panel, going over everything from the aforementioned pop star joining the show to their biggest challenges in the unique series.
When asked about what it’s like to tackle a new character in every season (“Freak Show’s” Elsa was her favorite, she revealed), Lange, who is leaving the show after four seasons, praised the system.
“I thought it was the greatest,” she said. “I mean, I love that whole idea of a repertoire theater, you know, a company. It was exciting because you come and you’d be playing with the same actors, actors that you really love and have deep respect for, and you know their rhythm and you know how you work together and everything, but you’re both in different skins. I mean, I thought that was one of the best conceits of our show.”
“Every actor has to be so brave,” she went on. “There’s never a moment where you can be timid with your character or the subject matter. So you know right off the bat that the actors you’re working with, from experience and the way you’ve worked together over the seasons, that there’s never going to be any hesitation on their part either.”
Bates echoed her praise, calling it an honor to work with actors who know how to handle the challenge. O’Hare, who starred in “Murder House,” “Coven” and “Freak Show,” also pointed out the narrative that such a format lays out.
“It also set up a weird sort of multiseasonal theme,” he said. “For instance, Taissa [Farmiga] and Evan [Peters] were lovers in more than one season. People took the same kind of role. I always tended to be subordinate to Jessica’s characters somehow. I was either a henchman, a servant — in love with her somehow. But it’s a crazy thing that you can get an echo of a past season because of those sort of relationship themes. That’s a really complicated thing that’s only possible to do in this kind of form.”
With the series’ unusual format, though, the cast also faces unusual challenges. One audience member pointed out that they may not know where their characters will end up a few episodes from now, forcing the actors to create their own backstory.
The cast members chalked up their success to several different factors, but Lynch pointed out an important one: trust.
“There’s another level of trust,” he said. “You jump in and go, ‘Okay, I’m just going to trust that you’re going to take me to a place that’s going to make all of this make sense.’ You really have to really trust them.”
Lynch noted that television overall is a collaborative process, and that actors have to be willing to accept writers will always be a little bit ahead — but, as Lange pointed out, “Not always ahead of you!”
As for Bates, she focused on living in the current scene and letting the writing guide her that way. She brought up a memorable scene in “Coven,” in which she and Gabourey Sidibe’s characters, who were once enemies, headed to a fast food restaurant late at night.
“It’s living in the moment,” she said. “You have to make each moment, each scene, real. When I read that Gabby and I were going to go to the hamburger joint in the middle of the night, I was just absolutely thrilled. I thought that would be so much fun. But I never would have dreamed in a million years that our characters would be doing that. But that’s part of the fun of it, I guess.”
The panel was followed by a “Freak Show”-themed after-party, complete with contortionists, fire breathers and carnival food. “American Horror Story” returns to FX with “Hotel” in October.