'AHS: Freak Show' Exclusive: Ryan Murphy on the latest episode
[SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LATEST EPISODE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW!!!]
The second episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show got even wilder with the arrival of strongman Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and hermaphrodite wife Desiree (Angela Bassett) as well as some truly bizarre bonding between Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) and Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock). EW talked to co-creator Ryan Murphy about the episode as well as fan theories for season 5 (Will it be set in space?).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on the record ratings. Are you psyched?!
RYAN MURPHY: Well I was very surprised because I’m always very surprised that American Horror Story continues to grow like it does. I feel like from where we started four years ago to now has been an amazing ride. I think it’s a very unusual show. I don’t think it’s a show for everybody, and it’s not designed to be for everybody. But the fact that it has gone somewhat mainstream is a happy delight. When you hear numbers like that you’re just so happy because people got to see the work. More people saw the work of those amazing actors. Sarah Paulson and I were texting with glee and Jessica Lange was incredibly happy, although I don’t even think Jessica owns a computer at this point. She literally said “What are ratings?” [Laughs]
People had a real reaction to Twisty. He was trending. There are clown groups upset. Are you surprised by that?
I’m not surprised because I saw it as soon as we saw John in makeup on the set. The first thing we shot with John was where he stabs the boy at the lake so I knew it was kind of good. But some of the crew had such a visceral reaction, and some of them left during the shooting of it because they were too disturbed. So I was like, I think we’ve tapped into a phobia that is pretty powerful.
The thing I am surprised about is how Dandy is also becoming quite popular. That I did not expect. But Finn is so brilliant in that part I guess that’s a fringe benefit. But I’m always happy to see Dandy trending.
Let’s talk about the Motts. Is Gloria delusional? Is she drugged?
Well she’s not drugged, and I don’t think she’s delusional. What we establish in a couple episodes is they don’t make Glorias anymore. That is a person who is from an incredible amount of money and was probably wildly protected and an absent mother and is really sort of overcompensating. In the next couple of episodes, we will establish there is a family secret going on that perhaps will explain why she is so indulgent. She’s based on that sort of Doris Duke/Gloria Guinness/Babe Paley gal that I’ve always been interested in. She’s that. And I feel like Dandy is a metaphor of the audience who is just bored bored bored by everything and wants more and more and more carnage. He’s been interesting to write. He’s not just a spoiled rich kid—I think he’s sort of a metaphor for American culture.
Patti Labelle’s character finds animal parts. So many serial killers start that way. Are you setting up that Dandy is going to be a killer?
Well I think studies have shown that almost 90 people of people with murderous impulses begin experimenting on animals. So yeah that’s part of it. I love the scene where Dandy goes to the freak show and I sort of think that if the freak show would have accepted him and he would have had an outlet I don’t think he would become what he’s going to become. So I think that Evan’s character is partially responsible for what’s going to happen in a weird way.
It looks like Dandy goes full clown next week.
Yes. Well he finally meets somebody who to him is the equivalent of a movie star and in his twisted, warped mind represents somebody who lives by his own rules. I think Dandy is a rebel and I think he looks at the clown as a rebel. The clown has his own schedule. He’s got that tricked out bus. I think Dandy thinks that clown is a rock star.
We meet Dell and Desiree for the first time. Michael Chiklis is one of the newest AHS actors. Why did you wanna work with him?
I’ve known Michael for years. I knew him from back in the day when Nip/Tuck first started and The Shield was on the air and we would be at events. I think he’s a fascinating actor. He’s a rare actor who can do comedy and drama, which I love. One of the tropes of a freak show is a strong man and I really wanted to show Michael in a role…as this role progresses you’ve never seen him do anything like this ever. It’s the opposite of what he’s done. To be honest, it’s so out there I didn’t know if he would go for it because it’s a little scary for a guy who’s played what he’s played, like these sort of anti-heroes. But he was drop-jawed when I told him the arc and he said yes because he wanted to challenge himself as do all those actors. They want to do the opposite of what they’ve done. As we move forward, I think people will be blown away by his performance because it’s really emotional and vulnerable and about the time.
His taste in women seems to veer more on the masculine side given Ethel’s beard and Desiree’s extra appendage. Is that going to be part of his arc—his sexuality?
Yes, I hadn’t thought about it in that way. He does sort of have a fetish for that kind of stuff, which we do write to and explore.
And Jimmy still has no idea that Dell is his father?
Will that be figured out sooner rather than later?
I think that’s building. That’s something we haven’t decided if we want to go at yet.
So Desiree is fascinating. I knew there were three boobs but I didn’t know she’d have a penis. Did Angela have any reservations about such a wild role?
No. I mean is it a penis? She says it’s a ding-a-ling but what does that mean to somebody. You gotta keep watching for that one. But freak shows have a history of loving that archetype. But her story is very emotional, and Angela really killed that stuff coming up. I mean that’s the fun of the show. This season particularly all of these characters we explore their backstories and their pain and what its like to be called freaks and in some cases perhaps that wasn’t necessary. We write to that.
I didn’t realize Paulson could sing. How did she handle that?
Well when I told her she had to sing, she was very nervous and she said, “I’m not a singer.” And it’s the same thing Jessica said and I said, “You’re a great actress. You can act it. I don’t expect you to sound like Fiona Apple.” She went for it. We did a great demo. Her part continues to amaze me. There’s a body language when you’re performing and she has all of that worked out in advance. It’s fun to see a person with two heads harmonize. And I loved what the song was about. I think Sarah continues to astound in that role and the stuff she has coming up is crazy good.
So what is in store for the twins? At the end of the episode, Elsa gives Bette a knife to seemingly kill her sister. What can you say about what’s next?
Well the irony is Elsa brings them to the show not expecting them to have any sort of allure or star power. All she wants to do is market their oddity. When she sees the number and sees that they actually have talent, I think she’s wildly intimidated because she wants to be the number one bitch on the lot. So I think she’s regretting her decision as we go further along on that. Jessica’s whole arc this season is the obsession with fame and stardom. Also, it’s interesting to write and research which we’ve done a lot, if you thought the catty culture existed now with the media turning women against each other, back then it was astounding. Those three, being Sarah’s two head and Jessica’s one, are going to be fighting for that single spotlight as we go on. But Dot never liked Elsa to begin with so it makes sense to me that she’s also trying to screw her over in a weird way.
It looked like they undergo surgery in the previews for next week’s episode. Is that a flashback or present day?
Well I won’t give that away. But that was one thing in 1952 that was a real national obsession: there were these twins, the Brodie twins, I believe they were from Chicago. They captured the imagination of the American public. So that was in the water. For the first time it seemed that conjoined twins could be separated. So that’s an interesting dilemma for the season: what do you do if you’re a conjoined twin and one twin wants surgery and the other doesn’t. The surgery back then basically said we have to sacrifice one in order for the other one to live. I love the twins and I love writing for them. I think they’re about everybody’s shadow self. There’s a part of you that you don’t like, that you want to get rid of, that you want to discard, that’s not who you want to be. But then by doing so, you’re not really authentic. You’re not really who you are. I certainly related to that idea. I struggled a lot with that in my youth. So that’s to me what we’re really writing about and I think Sarah loves that as well.
Speaking of surgery, we saw Twisty’s mouth or lack thereof. Is he just completely missing his lower jaw?
Well we’re starting our great Halloween episode part one is next week and part two is the week after. Part two we show you the complete origin story of Twisty: where he started from, how he became who he is, why is he doing what he’s doing. All of that is explained. He has an entire 15 minute act by himself where we take you back 40 years in the life of that character.
And Wes Bentley shows up next week too?
Yes my great friend Wes Bentley who I love is so amazing in this part of Edward Mordrake.
Is he a ghost? What can you actually say about him?
Well in American Horror Story what we like to do is tackle horror myths and Edward Mordrake is an amazing myth. There are some people who say its real and there are photos online that purport to be autopsy photos and there are other people who say it’s not. It’s exploring the story of the Victorian era madman who reportedly was born with another face on the back of his head that would whisper and force the good part of him to do horrible, evil things. There was a period based on our research that involved a freak show so that’s part of the myth.
And Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare show up next week as Maggie and Stanley, respectively. What can you say about them?
They’re con artists. At the time in American culture, there was a whole fascination with freak ephemera and medical oddities and one could get a huge amount of money for that. That’s all I’ll say about their story. They’re both introduced and Emma is amazing and Denis is always great. Denis really loves his part because he plays a guy with a 13-inch penis and that’s all I’m going to say about that. So Denis has never been happier!
I was going to say you had him as a severely burned man in season one and a mute, doll-loving butler in the third so he needs a quirk this year.
Well he’s a con man with a freakish gift of his own.
Will we see this thing?
Oh I’ll never tell. I will say that we did push the broadcast standards with that. But I was happy to give America that gift. [Laughs]
People are already thinking they’ve figured out season 5’s plot. Have you noticed if anyone has gotten it right?
I’ve been looking and nobody has gotten it right.
A lot of people are thinking it’s space-related due to Elsa’s song last week.
No. We’re not doing space. Because space is not in America. It’s American Horror Story not Intergalactic Horror Story. But I thought the clues about people thinking it was space were clever. I always love it when people come up with these theories but it is 100 percent not space. It is land-bound and it takes place in the United States.
An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.