Angela Bassett is enjoying her second year as part of the excellent ensemble cast of American Horror Story, and is unleashing her inner freak in this year’s installment, American Horror Story: Freak Show. The acclaimed actress is playing Desiree Dupree – an intersex individual with a heart of gold and a man with a dark heart. FX provided us some time to speak with Angela about her wild role in a recent conference call with journalists. So join the carnival and read the highlights below:
Is your character based on any person in real life?
Well, of that I’m not sure, but I know that there are instances of individuals who have this sort of characteristic. What they’re called is intersex, today. In 1950s, of course, the term was hermaphrodite, but today the terminology is considered passé, especially in that community.
Well, I went to an FX studio, and I think it was three women and three men that it took to cast a mold of my chest area and then attempt to get the color right, you know, the color, the tone, that sort of thing. Of course, the tone is very difficult and it still takes about 30, 40 minutes to paint it once it’s applied.
How do they apply the third breast?
Well, I go into my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, then I go over to the special effects trailer where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. They spray it on. They’ll start with the brown, they’ll go to the red, and yellow, and green.
It’s amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You’re like, oh, those are weird, weird colors. Then he’ll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it’s my own and based on that he’ll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on. That’s it. It takes maybe from start to finish about an hour, just enough time to check out a Netflix episode of Orange is the New Black or something.
How is working with Michael Chiklis and the overall work enviroment on AHS: Freakshow?
The work environment is really wonderful. I mean, it’s a hectic, fast paced sort of work environment, but the cast, the crew are tireless. They’re dedicated. They’re talented as heck. We put hours and hours in. There’s nothing but support from the network, which it’s evident from being picked up for another season, I believe I heard, after airing of the first show. That’s just indicative of the support that we experience.
Working with Mike has been a dream come true. Of course, I’ve been a big fan of Chiklis from The Shield days, and The Commish, and on, and on. He’s a lot of fun. He’s like a big kid. He’s so encouraging and supportive of; you know, do the scenes and finish the scenes. He just gives you props like immediately after, which is beautiful. I love working with him, kissing up on him.
Was it the excellent ensemble cast that first drew you to the project?
That was one of the prevailing reasons for me joining the cast. I couldn’t believe I’d get an opportunity to work with Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates in a lifetime, especially at the same time. It’s wonderful. Last year most of my scenes were with Kathy and Jessica. This year, mostly Chiklis and now Emma Roberts and the like. Everyone is just an ultimate professional. We have a good time with it. We all have an appreciation for this crazy world and the things that we’re asked to do. It stretches us and grows us. The fact that we get to come back year after year and they fashion some completely new insanity for us to play out is a plus. It’s thrilling.
Do you consider the show extremely dark?
You know, that’s what Chiklis says. I go, wait a minute. Based on the type of shows that you’ve done, you consider this real dark and strange? I think he says dark and strange. Yes, it’s a little dark because it’s dealing with, I guess, how so-called normal folk view those who are atypical or different. That can get a little bit dark. I’d like to think that what’s dark are the secrets of men’s hearts.
How was your experience working in New Orleans and bringing one of its legendary figures in Marie Laveau to life last season in AHS: Coven?
Oh, yes. I love New Orleans and I love New Orleans folk. I was really concerned portraying one of the historical figures of this city who’s so beloved and revered. I so wanted to get it as right as I could. I was really happy with the comments that folk would make that I was the best Marie or they really enjoyed my interpretation of Marie. They were pleased by and large. I didn’t run into anyone who was displeased, so that made me happy.
A lot of new eyes came to the series based on it being set here and based on those characters, Marie, Madame LaLaurie, and the like. This year, you do run into, well, someone just drove me to the airport and she said, “Oh, I can’t watch horror things.” You do from time to time run into folk who just think, they imagine just because of the title that it’s a really, really scary show. It can be initially, but there’s something about it that just grabs your imagination and then you can’t wait until the next week, and the next episode. Let’s see, what did they say? Sometimes I do get comments that it’s—what do they say? Demonic. I said, oh, no, no. Let’s not look at it that way.
Can you tease anything about the possible friendship between Desiree and Ethel in AHS: Freak Show? Will they team up against Dell?
That’s the thing. We really don’t know what’s coming in the subsequent episodes and the subsequent scripts. That’s the aspect of this that makes it a little bit frustrating or difficult for us. I guess we don’t have input, but we might have influence. We’ve played it as good, good friends. It remains to be seen. Maybe they’ll see that in the writer’s room and it’ll take them down a different road then they had anticipated. That can, and does happen, and has happened in the past. We’ll see. I’d like to be friends with Ethel. We were such archenemies last year for all eternity as it turned out.
Did you know what the part was when you signed up for this season? What was your reaction when you found out?
I didn’t have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the, you know, the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, “Now, how am I going to know who I am?”
Then you read the stage direction, “African American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling.” You’re like, oh, my gosh. You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You’re thinking, “What does that mean?” Oh, my gosh. If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year?
No. I wasn’t scared like that. I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.
What’s it been like trying on new characters both seasons with the cast? Is there a learning curve?
As an actor you’re used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing your research, working on that. I think what I found most challenging about television and shedding one character and having to come up with another is that there’s this lag time before I get to actually see what the characters are looking like, or sounding like, or how they’re coming across. We start filming in July and maybe, the first episode’s in October. As an actor who wonders if you’re getting it right because you don’t have the immediate reaction of the audience just yet; that’s the little caveat. I can’t say it’s a real crazy frustration. If there were something that you had to call that, that would be it for me.
Has anything on the show really freaked you out?
Oh, freaked me out? I think, well, when he [the clown] took that mask off, and I saw where he had put a gun in his mouth, and shot half his face off, you know? The way the little people treated him, which spurred him on to do that. I didn’t like that. That sort of freaked me out, just how people treat one another. He was innocent in his mind, so taking advantage of that. Pushing him to that point. That was a lot for me. That made me very sad. I guess not freak out, but really, really sad.
Since the material can be pretty dark, is there anyone behind the scenes that lightens the mood?
Let’s see, well, Sarah Paulson can make me laugh really easy, so can Gabby [Sidibe] when she’s around. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to spend any time with her this year. But, Sarah is pretty funny to me. Michael is light-hearted. Emma is pretty crazy, especially last night, it was she and I till midnight outdoors in the cold. She’s pretty funny.
Ryan Murphy says that the seasons are all connected. Any idea how Desiree or Marie will both fit into the larger picture?
Not one, nor have I considered it. The only connection I was able to make was Pepper from Season 2 to Season 4. No, I haven’t thought about that. That gives me something to think about. Sounds like a great college term paper to me.
American Horror Story: Freak Show airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET, exclusively on FX.