Billie Lourd’s “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” character Mallory appeared at first glance just to be the weary assistant of spoiled socialite Coco (Leslie Grossman). But as episodes went on and the story flashed back in time to the events pre-end of the world, she was revealed to be so much more: the next rightful Supreme of the New Orleans coven. In fact, she may be the only being powerful enough to stand up to, and take down, Antichrist Michael Langdon (Cody Fern).
“She realized she had the power back in the Outpost when she did the interview with Michael and he unleashed a little bit of her rage and then her powers come out. So our powers come out when we get emotional and when we get passionate, and that’s why the witches are so amazing — because that’s how women are,” Lourd tells Variety.
Lourd didn’t know how far Mallory would come over the course of the 10-episode season of “Apocalypse” when she first signed on. After working with Ryan Murphy on the previous season, “Cult,” she trusted his vision enough to take on a character whose main early purpose was just to deliver green juice to Coco. But then, she says, Murphy came up to her one day and just casually said, “You know you’re the f—ing Supreme,” and that changed everything.
Here, Lourd talks with Variety about developing Mallory’s confidence and powers throughout the season, what it felt like to film in a pivotal penultimate episode scene submerged in water and learning the end of the world was truly started by man, not beast.
What was intriguing enough to make you sign on when you thought she was just an assistant?
Because I know Ryan and I always know something is in store beyond what you know. So, I was like, “She can’t just be an assistant — there’s no way.” And the way he looked at me when he pitched it to me, I knew there was something more to her. Just like Winter from last year.
Are there things you ask of Ryan in the initial conversation, not knowing where he’s going to take you?
No, I kind of just put my trust in his hands mostly. But once I figure out the character, obviously I try and make it my own in any way that I can. But he has given me such incredible characters to play and I’ve been so lucky, I just let go and let Ryan.
She does seem like a totally transformed character internally, as well. Do attribute her confidence to her powers?
I think it’s all from Cordelia. Mallory’s whole goal is to be like Cordelia and to please Cordelia because she idolizes her. So I think she’s gained this confidence through watching how powerful and how strong Cordelia is.
And yet for Mallory to fully succeed, it appears Cordelia would have to fall. Is that the main conflict for her going into the finale?
Absolutely. That’s the hardest thing for her to grapple with because she loves Cordelia more than anybody; Cordelia’s so important to her; Cordelia’s like basically her mother — Cordelia’s not her mother…but that kind of figure. It’s very hard for her to grapple with — it’s Cordelia or the world.
Where does her relationship with Coco stand? Will it be explained how the more powerful one ended up being in the service position?
Mallory and Coco have a totally different relationship than the green juice delivery, sassy, rude, horrible [boss]/assistant relationship. You get to see how it all evolved, and it’s so beautiful and sweet because I love Leslie Grossman so much — she’s one of my favorite people — so it was so beautiful to see a different side of Mallory and Coco, and it’s really, really rewarding. … And you get to see both — how they got to the bunker and then what happens after the bunker and a true sense of what their relationship is like and how it ended up with delivering green juice and spitting in her face.
How connected are Mallory and Michael, given that he is what brought out her powers in the bunker?
These witches are powerful on their own. I love Cody, but I think Mallory is something powerful on her own without Michael. Michael wants to end the world, Mallory wants to save the world, and in order to do that she has to fully go against Michael because Michael hasn’t really shown us anything [like] he’s going to help us in our quest.
Yet Michael wants to end the world because of things Mutt and Jeff said, not entirely some innate, supernatural drive. Is there a way to appeal to his humanity?
There’s absolutely a theme of humanity with Michael, but the witches haven’t really seen it. Cordelia’s seen it a little bit, but Mallory just sees him as this evil guy who has come into the Outpost and tried to kill everybody. So Mallory doesn’t really trust him.
Can we talk about that scene from “Fire and Reign” where Mallory is submerged in the tub so her spirit can travel back in time?
I’ve been wanting to talk about this! When I saw a bath scene on the page I was like, “Oh great, I love a bath. … This is going to be a great time.” Cut to: I’m in the bath for [about] seven straight hours while they turn around. The stages are freezing — the stages are 57-degrees — so you don’t want to get out once you’re in. I didn’t know arms could prune [but] arms can prune! So that piece was hilarious and a little bit trying at times, but it was honestly fun. We were all playing music and people were trying to bring me food and entertain me while I was in the bath, but honestly, if there’s a bath scene, question it; don’t be as excited as I was.
Was that the most challenging part of the episode for you?
It was really emotionally challenging, all of it, because in every scene I’ve done, someone’s life is on the line. And the actress who played the Russian Girl, Emilia [Ares], was so, so talented and so sweet, and that part is really difficult because you’re really seeing that you’re failing at saving someone’s life. It was amazing to see that Mallory could even get there and have the ability to maybe do it, but it was so heart-wrenching that she wasn’t able to do that I think it’s going to drive her even harder next time.
Obviously with “American Horror Story,” there’s never going to be a traditional happy ending, but will Mallory find some peace by the end of the season?
Absolutely. The finale is so beautiful. I read it and actually cried, and it ties a beautiful little bow on the season. And it really is for the fans — I think the fans are going to be so happy because it answers all of the questions and is just so satisfying.
“American Horror Story: Apocalypse” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.