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‘American Horror Story’ Star Emma Roberts on Madison’s Comeback and Being Directed by Sarah Paulson

We truly hadn’t seen the last of Emma Roberts’ “American Horror Story” character Madison Montgomery, even after “Coven” ended.

Roberts made her return to the FX anthology series in episode 3 of the current “AHS” story “Apocalypse” as the witches hit the bunker — and faced Cody Fern’s uber-powerful Michael Langdon. The subsequent episode revealed more about what Madison had been doing in the meantime — finding herself stuck in her own personal hell (as a mistreated retail employee) — before Langdon showed up and saved her.

“I was laughing,” Roberts says of the state Madison’s found in. “I was like, ‘Of course Madison is folding towels in her own personal hell.'”

Variety caught up with Roberts to talk about how Madison has changed (or not) since we’ve last seen her, being directed by co-star Sarah Paulson, and seeing a certain famous “Coven” line get meme’d.

Did you ever think that you would get the chance to return to Madison?

It’s funny. You know, Ryan and I have talked about bringing her back on seasons of “Horror Story” in the past. There was a moment on maybe “Hotel,” she was going to come back. But I’m so happy that we waited and did it now, because this season is just so much fun and so special and we really have the whole gang back together. It’s a really, really fun season. So I’m happy we waited, and I’m happy it happened at all because I remember after “Coven” I really missed Madison and I missed “Coven” and everybody else did too. So to get to bring it all back and make it come full circle with a “Murder House” crossover too, is really, really cool.

How does Madison change since we’ve last seen her?

This season is really fun with Madison because she definitely thinks that she’s changed from hell. She’s like, “This is my comeback. This is me being woke.” It’s of course fun to see the ways in which she thinks she’s changed. And she’s definitely not the same Madison. Time and hell definitely changes a person.

Madison is in an interesting place because she was saved by Langdon, but we see her in present day with Cordelia. Should we question where her loyalties lie?

I mean, definitely. I think that — I mean, I would hope that witches stick with the witches, but you just, you don’t know.

And now we have these warlocks, and it kind of turns into a battle of the sexes.

I was really excited about the warlock of it all, especially because the warlocks are played by some of the greatest guys and hilarious actors. But yeah, I love that plot. Because it’s not only warlocks versus witches, but it’s, on a bigger scale, good versus evil. So it’s really interesting where kind of everybody falls on that.

How does she see these new witches like Mallory (Billie Lourd) and Coco (Leslie Grossman)?

She’s not happy about it. She’s barely happy about Queenie and Zoe and she’s known them forever! I don’t think she’s thrilled about new witches.

It feels like Madison and Coco in particular could have some interesting scenes together.

Honestly, I’m praying for my moment with Leslie Grossman, because I die for Leslie Grossman. Literally, there is no one I think is funnier in the world.

What would you say motivates Madison? Does she still want to be Supreme?

Well, Madison can’t. She tried and she didn’t pass the test, so she can’t ever be the Supreme. I think she desperately would want to be Supreme, but she can’t, because once you’ve tried and you can’t, you’re done. That’s it. I think that’s something that she’s still upset about.

Leslie Grossman said there’s something strange about filming in that bunker and not knowing what time of day it is. Have you experienced that?

No, the creepiest and the worst is shooting the exterior of the bunker. Like, in the middle of nowhere and we’re always, when we shot there, it’s dead in the middle of nowhere and they put all this fake fog out there to make it look spookier. So it’s definitely creepy being outside in the middle of the night with this fake bunker in the middle of a field. That’s definitely creepier to me.

A lot of your castmates are playing multiple characters. Are you playing any characters other than Madison this season?

I can confidently say I don’t know. [Laughs] Because we have not finished shooting this season. Anything can happen.

So you have no idea what’s to come? Ryan doesn’t give you a heads up?

Oh my god, no. Definitely not. I mean, during “Coven,” he told all of us individually that we were all the Supreme. So we were all playing it like we were all the Supreme, and then we weren’t. And we were all walking around like, “Ugh, no one knows, but I’m the Supreme.” And then later, we all told each other.

Did you get to work on the episode that Sarah Paulson recently directed?

I feel lucky to say that I was in that episode a lot and I had the most incredible time working with her. I’m like, I’m already giving her books that I want her to direct as movies. I think she is so talented and she just, she makes you want to do a great job and she makes you feel really creative, which I think is hard in TV sometimes. Everything feels rushed, and she really just brought a level of creativity and fun that, you know, isn’t always there. So I was so excited to get to work with her. I was also just so excited for her and proud of her because, I mean, it’s hard. Acting and directing, I don’t know if I could do both. She was acting in the episode, too. I was really impressed.

It sometimes feels like a common thread with female directors in particular — that there’s less pressure and it’s less rushed. Have you experienced that before?

I can speak to working with Sarah, [which] was definitely an incredible experience. Working with Gia Coppola [on “Palo Alto”] was such a special experience. The bond that we had and the shorthand we had. Working with Jennifer Lynch this season on “American Horror Story” has been so much fun. I mean, she’s just incredible. So yeah, I love working with female directors and I hope to work with more incredible women.

Your “I bet you thought you saw the last of me” line was turned into a pretty famous meme. What was it like to get to reprise that line?

I was so scared! Are you kidding me? Here’s the thing: when we said it originally — if you had told me to pick one line out of that season that would become a meme, that would have been, like, 24th on the list. It was just not even on my radar that that was going to become what it would. So what you saw was just so genuine. You know what I mean? It wasn’t trying to be anything. So it was just so funny that people responded to that.

Is there anything that “Horror Story” hasn’t covered yet that you would like to see a season tackle?

It’s so funny that you say that, because the two things that came to mind, they’ve already done. I was like, “Hotel”! “Asylum” and “Hotel.” I mean, this season, “Apocalypse,” was something I always wanted them to do. And they’ve done it in such a clever way. I don’t know! What would you want to see?

I wanted to see the Anti-Christ, but they’re doing that in “Apocalypse”! I don’t know what’s left.

Hmm, I don’t know. You know what season I loved? I loved “Roanoke.” I’d like to see something maybe based on something that’s real, because I think there’s something so interesting in doing something historical, but with a Ryan Murphy spin on it. So maybe something like that.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse” airs Wednesdays on FX. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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