Franka Potente: Within the Madness of ‘AHS: Asylum’ Anything is Possible

"American Horror Story: Asylum": Franka Potente as Kassie -- (CR: Byron Cohen/FX)

Since this season’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” is set in 1964 — almost 20 years after the end of World War II, it is possible to accept the idea that the woman in the Church-run haven for the criminally insane who claimed to be Anne Frank (Franka Potente) in last week’s episode, actually could be Anne Frank.

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The evidence that she presented in the “I Am Anne Frank, Part 1” episode was very convincing, especially her belief that Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), whom she allegedly recognized from her stay at Auschwitz, was a Nazi doctor in the camp. So much so, that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) actually acts on the information and the doctor has to scramble to clean up his lab.

So is she or isn’t she Anne Frank? In a recent conference call Potente spoke about her guest-star role and she told us, “The cool thing is, I think, the actors don’t even know. I knew the outcome of my character, and obviously, Anne Frank is proven historically, even though there’s a tiny question mark, maybe a little window, she did not survive the concentration camp. But I love the idea and this is what movies and movie magic are about — that what if. What if she was still around? “

When the second part airs on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 10/9c on FX, much more will be revealed about Anne and how she came to the Asylum, we get a closer look at one of Dr. Arden’s experiments, and we find out a shocking truth about Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto).

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But first, here is more of the interview with Potente:

At what point did you find out that you would be Anne Frank?
Honestly, I think I got the script maybe a week before [shooting], and that’s when I really found out how it would come about and what was going on with her. I totally appreciated that because if you watch a show like this … with guests that come in and have extreme characters that stir things up, you don’t want to know. With the Internet and everything, stuff gets out so easily that they have to be secretive about their scripts.

Can you share what it’s like being on the set of “American Horror Story: Asylum?”
The set is pretty eerie, which is great for an actor because we basically we need to step on and the mood is already created. We say our lines and that’s that. That’s definitely half the magic. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw it, I was like, “If you’re a Catholic, it’s kind of intimidating and dark and strict and regal, very impressive.”

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Do you think the characters are unjustly put into the asylum, or is there justification?
Well, that’s the fun of it of course. It’s kind of the Hitchcock moment of: Is it possible? Then you feed the audience some seemingly plausible reasons, and within all that madness, anything is possible and this is what I think is great.

Can you talk a little bit about working with James Cromwell and with Jessica Lange?
James Cromwell is awesome. He’s very hardworking. He always knew his lines and he always made sure the other person is okay. He thinks about the scenes a lot, what makes sense, how to shoot them and all these things. He’s very involved in that, and he’s very personal. He loves to talk about theater and books he’s read.

[Jessica] is amazing. She is very, very focused. [She’s] different, more quiet from my experience. I did see her joke around with people, but overall, she seemed very focused. After my first day of shooting, I was very nervous. I had a lot of lines and I felt like she was very protective of me. When there was noise and people weren’t focused, she would ask them to be quiet on my behalf because she could feel that I was nervous. I thought that was really sweet and really nice of her and I really enjoyed working with her. I really felt like she was good with eye contact and stuff like that. She’s not like letting you hang there.

Can you talk about that final fight scene with James Cromwell in last week’s episode? Did you get beat up because it looked as if you hit the ground hard?
When you watch the show, the way it’s edited — so fast — I don’t know, it’s probably a minute and a half. It probably took us like six, seven hours [to shoot that scene] and both James and I go to the floor a lot. I remember the next day, I was like, “Please, tell me you have bruises today,” and James was like, “Yes, totally.” So, it’s crazy because we were sweating. It was awesome, but it was a lot of work, and you do have to plan these things.

Did you do any personal research on people who were admitted into asylums or try to take in some kind of extra study on the asylum-type atmosphere?
Actually, many years ago, for a German film that I did with Tom Tykwer, “The Princess and the Warrior,” I actually worked at an insane asylum for two weeks. I have very vivid memories of that awkward time. On the other hand, this is set in the ’60s, so I think it’s very, very different.

So, I’ve spent quite some time that was very intense many years back in an institution like that. But on the other hand, it’s always nice to have a fresh take on it. This is at the end of the day, a normal person that, of course, thinks she’s not insane. But that’s the one thing especially that I truly remember about insanity is that nobody who is insane runs around thinking, “Oh my, God, I’m really insane.” So, you have to play into that as normal as possible. Everyone else is insane but the insane person.

“American Horror Story: Asylum” airs Thursday nights at 10/9c on FX.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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