In the wicked world of witchery this season on “American Horror Story,” it appears Sarah Paulson is the good witch of the Bayou.
The third volume of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck’s anthology horror series has the 38-year-old actress taking up the role of Cordelia Foxx, the headmistress of a school for young witches with the intent of giving them the tools to keep their powers in check. She is also the estranged daughter of Supreme witch Fiona, played by “AHS” first lady Jessica Lange — mommy dearest at its finest.
It’s all a somewhat calm antidote — at least for now — to the deranged experiences Paulson faced playing Lana Winters, the reporter-turned-forced-mental patient, while at Briarcliff Manor, the creepy mental institution that lighted up last season’s horrors.
That’s not to say the new edition of the FX drama, which premiered last week to 5.5 million viewers (the most-watched telecast for the series), isn’t without its moments for the starlet -- from the flared, high-waisted trousers to her ever so endearing greeting to her mama witch. And in Wednesday’s episode, she gets frisky with the aid of a few serpents— putting the show’s promotional image to shame.
Show Tracker talked to Paulson, who can be seen in the Oscar buzzy historical drama “12 Years a Slave” when it hits theaters on Friday, about — among other things — name-calling with Jessica Lange, getting naked with snakes and a witch power she’d rather not have.
Uh, right away in the first episode you call Ms. Jessica Lange, the great dame of "American Horror Story," the b-word.
She tried to kill my cat! She was literally going to poison him without a thought.
But, seriously, was that an intimidating thing? I mean, it’s Jessica Lange. You say it with such force too!
Nooo. Because the truth of the matter is. I’ve known Jessica since 2005 and have acted with her since then. She is absolutely my acting idol. But I think because I’ve done this with her now, I’m beyond the point of being afraid of her. I’m always in awe. But the fear has kind of subsided. So I’m able to call her a ... with great confidence because I know she can take it. There’s nothing I can throw at her ever that could make her feel destabilized, so knowing that you can kind of let it fly.
Well, let’s talk about getting into the character of Cordelia. First, considering how last season played out, was it just a relief to be in nice clothes?
Uh, heck yeah, it is. It’s extremely fun to be glamorous. But I’m glamorous in a completely opposite way that Jessica is. It’s very buttoned up.
Her pant selection is truly spectacular.
I know! Everybody loves her pants. I love those pants too, except for the fact that I’ve been wearing them for enough time — we’re shooting an episode right now where everything kind of changes for Cordelia, so my clothes are going to change as well. But whatever it is, it won’t put me back into a mental institution garb. That’s not going to happen. Although I have to say in its defense, it was awfully roomy and comfortable and you could eat whatever you want and nothing would show. I do miss that part of it. The pants from this season are tight around the waist and I’m like, “oh …, I guess no bagels for breakfast!” And when you’re shooting in New Orleans it makes it hard to eat healthy stuff at times.
Does it help to be in New Orleans with a season like this? Does it help set the mood? The first two seasons were shot out here.
Oh gosh, yes. The city adds so much to the story — so much of the story is informed by the setting. And it’s easier to do that in a real place than out on a back lot out in Paramount. I do miss the convenience of being home. At the same time, I have a beautiful house that I’m living in. I decided to have an authentic New Orleans experience and just really do it up. So I can complain about being here.
Now let’s talk about the witch powers we see on “American Horror Story.” There are some really neat ones … and some disturbing ones. We haven’t really seen Cordelia get into hers just yet. We know she’s dabbles with the potions, but --
I love how everyone online was saying I was smoking weed in the first episode because I breathed in that beaker just before Jessica walks in. I was just drawing the herbs out, I wasn’t actually getting high! People were like, “Damn, girl! Getting stoned!” Some people were calling me Walter White. They were like, “oh ... Cordelia has a meth lab!” I thought it was so funny. We will see her powers, but her powers shift. Cordelia truly does undergo a real change in this season. Lana obviously had an enormous evolution from beginning to end. This is a different kind of evolution. This evolution is a little bit more of a slower burn, but when it changes, it’s really something.