Michael Chiklis as Dell Toledo, Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW | ©2014 FX/Michele K. Short

Michael Chiklis as Dell Toledo, Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW | ©2014 FX/Michele K. Short

Angela Bassett joined AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN last season as the historically real Marie Laveau, who in the show was a powerful and immortal practitioner of magic. This season, Bassett is back as Desiree Dupree, a member of a traveling carnival in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW, Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY was created to be an anthology, with a single story running over thirteen episodes each season, by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. The cast has become a kind of television repertory company, with some actors, including leading lady Jessica Lange (who has won two Emmys so far for her work in the series), Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy and Denis O’Hare, playing a different role each season.

Bassett, who was nominated for a Supporting Actress Emmy for her performance as Marie and Oscar-nominated for her performance as Tina Turner in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, last was a series regular on the final season of E.R. Renee Dupree is a very different kind of character for the New York-born actress, as the carnival performer is “intersex,” with both male and female physical attributes, although Renee identifies as a woman. The character has been involved, albeit not always happily, with the carnival’s strongman Dell, played by Michael Chiklis.

Bassett does a conference call sponsored by FX to discuss AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW. Here are some of the highlights.

On playing an intersex character …
ANGELA BASSETT:
I know that there are instances of individuals who have this sort of characteristic. What they’re called is intersex today. In the 1950s, of course, the term was “hermaphrodite,” but today the terminology is considered passé, especially in that community.

On finding out who she’d be playing in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW …
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 hot off the press script. I sat down to read it 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 forties, 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?” I wasn’t scared. 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.

On the makeup process for Desiree …
I went to an FX office, 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, the [skin] tone, that sort of thing. Of course, the tone is very difficult and it still takes about thirty, forty minutes to paint once it’s applied.

I go in to 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 blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. They’ll start with brown. They spray it on. 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 some more painting and carry on. 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.

On her reaction to the prosthetics …
Well, I was glad it wasn’t on my face. I’m claustrophobic. It’s amazing. You can [feel it] just a little after about fourteen hours of it being on. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicon. It started out fine, but after about hour number twelve and on, it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I’m like, “What is the point of having three sagging breasts? No this is not good.” They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so, so pleased about, because it’s the difference of night and day. Still, after about twelve hours of that internal heat, you begin to sweat. You begin to itch. You can’t really provide relief, because you can’t get to yourself, you know? You’re scratching foam. It’s much lighter. It’s much more bearable. I guess I’ve grown accustomed.

On being part of the AMERICAN HORROR STORY ensemble cast …
[The ensemble] 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 [who joined the cast at the same time as Bassett and is also in Season 4] in a lifetime, epecially 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. We’ll see. 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 the fashion some completely new insanity for us to play out is a plus. It’s thrilling.

On acting opposite Michael Chiklis …
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 encourage and supportive – you do the scenes and finish the scenes. He just gives you props immediately after, which is beautiful. I love working with him, kissing up on him.

On how Desiree feels about her own sexuality …
I think she’s comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she’s just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she’s always been reaching for what she calls “normalcy,” to have a real family and children of her own. I don’t think it’s going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. They might write her so differently, so I’m open, but I don’t anticipate it’ll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she’s treated, how she’s treated by others.

On developments on Desiree’s relationship with Dell …
Well, she’s walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment – I guess honesty. Honesty for one, but that’s just not a desire of her as a “freak,” it’s just a desire for her as a human being. I think she did find someone, that there was a time when he was kind and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they’ve been together where he’s crossed the line with her in his speech and the things that he says. He’s begged for forgiveness. It’s that same old thing – sometimes it happens when people are abusive physically. I think there’s been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but never completely crossing the line, or she’s weighing, “If I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?”

I think there has come a point in last week’s episode where he crossed the line of no return. She though she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There’s something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can’t make yourself go back.

On whether or not AMERICAN HORROR STORY constitutes dark subject matter …
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’s what’s dark are the secrets of men’s hearts – envy.

On the reaction of locals in New Orleans, where the series is shot …
Oh, yes. I love New Orleans and I love New Orleans folk. I was really concerned portraying [Marie], 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 folks would make that I was the best Marie or they really enjoyed my interpretation of Marie. 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, 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 imagine 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. 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.”

On working for FX Network
The work environment is really wonderful. I mean, it’s a hectic-fast-paced 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 is evident from being picked up for another season [AMERICAN HORROR STORY has already been renewed for next year] after airing the first show. That’s just indicative of the support we receive.

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Article Interview with AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW star Angela Bassett

 

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