It finally happened!
Fans have been wanting and waiting for years for Connie Britton to return to the American Horror Story franchise and, in Wednesday night’s epic “Return to Murder House,” the actress reprised her role as Vivien Harmon.
Seven years later, Vivien is still haunting the house with her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott), and daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), but she and her hubby have hit a rough patch in the spirit world. It’s the usual story: He doted on her devil spawn more than she thought he should. But they appeared to make peace by the end.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this happen? Did Ryan just call you? This has been years in the making!
CONNIE BRITTON: I know! It was so very kind of unglamorous and matter of fact after all these years. [Laughs] It was very unceremonious. I heard they were doing this crossover and I was like, “Oh! This is it! This is the moment! We’ve been waiting for this moment!” I actually texted him and was like, “When are we doing this?” And he was very slow to respond which is kind of unlike him. Finally, it just kind of came. Here’s the deal: Ryan is so incredibly busy now so there was not much pomp and circumstance but it was really fun to be able to get to go do it.
Were you actually shooting in the house? Or a set?
Yes! We were in the house! Everything about it was just awesome. But starting with going back to that house. We shot the pilot in that house but then they built the set over at Paramount so we actually didn’t really go back to the house after that. It really had been a very long time to be back in the actual house. It felt very exciting and also kind of spooky. What was even cooler was walking back into the house seven years later and it was all the same people! I’m talking about the crew, like a lot of the same crew which is very much what happens in the Ryan world. He’s extremely loyal. So, it was really fun to see so many familiar faces. Then, of course, Sarah Paulson directing was just a dream. I was so blown away by her as a director. I was just proud. I was beaming the whole time.
How was it reuniting with Dylan? Had you seen each other since AHS?
We have. We’ve seen each other a few times but not a ton. Every time I’ve seen him I’m always like, “Oh my gosh! Come here! Come here!” It was just fun. We were just grinning from ear to ear the whole time. I just adore him and we have so much fun together and he makes me laugh like crazy. It was really, really fun to be back in there together.
You haven’t played this role in seven years. Was it hard to summon her again?
For me, it always starts with the costume fitting, oddly. I got back together with Lou Eyrich, who was our costume designer. She is the genius of geniuses and she of course is still doing it. The angel that she is, she came over to the set of Dirty John and I think we were in Chatsworth, California that day. But I had such limited time to do American Horror Story. She came over and we actually did a fitting in my trailer. Of course, she nailed it and remembered what we did that first season. It’s funny because as soon as you step into the clothes, that’s always a big push forward. Really what I had to do was figure out what happened in the last seven years. Dylan and I were like, “Wait, didn’t we kind of end up as happy ghosts?” Not the way this episode is written so what happened?
What I inferred is that Ben’s relationship with Michael drove you two apart?
I think so. God bless Sarah. It was really up to her to bring us up to speed and that’s what we really came to, that Ben was more enabling of him and I, as mother, knew early on that he was the devil child. But it was interesting too because in that American Horror Story way, a lot of the things I was saying, like I was talking about this evil in the house, was an interesting interchangeable idea of, am I talking about this devil child or am I talking about the evil in the house? So, going back to the Dylan/Ben relationship, in Vivien’s mind, he was the one who first brought the evil into the house with his affairs. So that was always the idea that he had kind of brought the evil in. But I think that was the secret behind it and so we’re living in the house as unhappy, grumpy ghosts. [Laughs]
You had huge chunks of dialogue. How was that?
I had worked the night before on Dirty John till like 1 in the morning and then I had like a 7 a.m. call or something crazy like that. I had just gotten the script the day before or maybe that day. I hadn’t had any time with it at all. A lot of the chunks of dialogue were written as voiceover and, if it’s voiceover, guess what? You don’t have to memorize it because nobody’s seeing what you’re doing. Sarah had gotten a message to me saying, “We’re going to shoot all of it.” So luckily, we shot that part later in the day. We ended up shooting the side with Emma and Billy and their reactions first so I could ramp up to it. I sat there during our lunch break and learned that whole monologue. Sometimes I feel like I can’t remember what I did last night for dinner but I was like, “Oh man! She’s still got it! Done and done!” I have always believed if the writing is good and you’re telling a story that makes sense, it’s always easier to learn as an actor. So, I think that was the case.
I love the idea that Vivien has access to, like, a Dry Bar and hair care products in the afterlife.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. She’s gonna live her best afterlife!
Did this return make you want to come back for another season of AHS?
It did. I mean, I love it over there and I love those guys. The only thing is, and I’ve always said this to Ryan: I’m way too scared. I can’t watch that show. I have not seen any subsequent seasons and I barely could watch my own season. I don’t actually think I’ve watched the entirety of my season. That would be my only hesitation.
You’re shooting the Bravo series Dirty John right now. Tell me a little about this show.
It’s based on a series of articles that first appeared in the L.A. Times written by Chris Goffard, who’s a great journalist and then he created the podcast. What I think is so interesting and has appealed to so many people about the podcast is the characters, the people involved in this story, and it’s really three generations of women and this mysterious, horrible guy that represents everything that is terrible. But it really is very straightforward storytelling from these unusual and interesting characters that makes it so appealing.
But, of course, it’s also a story about a con man and how easy it is to be conned. My interest in it has been the idea of the woman I play, Deborah, who is really conned by him and the things in her life as a woman that bring her to that. To me, it’s a really interesting exploration in being a woman and the things that we believe about ourselves and the culture and what she’s been taught to believe about herself and who she’s supposed to be. That was really the appeal, was really exploring how some of the ways we think about ourselves as women are the reason we allow men to behave the way they behave sometimes. It’s a really tricky, complex scenario. It’s been a fun exploration for sure.