Past Haunts Bewitching New Season of ‘American Horror Story’

Kathy Bates stars in the new season of "American Horror Story," subtitled "Coven" (Photo:FX)

There is a house in New Orleans that pretends to be a quality school for girls, but it’s actually a training ground for up-and-coming witches when Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Coven debuts Wednesday (Oct. 9) on FX.

More than 300 years have passed since the Salem witch trials, during which the smart witches relocated to New Orleans. But now, they are facing extinction. Mysterious attacks on their kind have been escalating, so young girls are being sent to a special school to learn how to protect themselves.

The action begins when virginal Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) tries to make love to her boyfriend and he dies of an alleged brain aneurysm. Zoe’s parents realize that their daughter is following in her grandmother’s footsteps and has inherited the witch gene, so they pack her off to the Big Easy.

While Zoe is at the school, the long-absent Supreme (Jessica Lange), sweeps back into town, determined to protect the Coven and also to try to find a youth-restoring treatment for herself.

“American Horror Story: Coven” stars Lange as the Supreme witch Fiona Goode, Kathy Bates as Madame Delphine LaLaurie, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau, Sarah Paulson as Fiona’s daughter Cordelia Foxx, and Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe and Farmiga play witches-in-training at the school run by Paulson’s character.

Watch producer Ryan Murphy discuss “American Horror Story” and the history of horror:
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Following a screening of the season premiere, Murphy answered burning questions on the third incarnation of “American Horror Story.” Here is what he revealed:

Q: Was Jessica Lange always going to play the Supreme?

Murphy: That is what I pitched her. For the most part, everybody has one-year deals, so people who are on the show really want to be on the show, which is always refreshing. Every year, I gather Sarah and Jessica and I say, “This is what I am thinking about. This is what I am interested in. This is who I think you will play,” so there is always the option of, “I want to come back,” or “I don’t.”

Jessica liked that idea and I think that she loved that she got to wear heels and makeup this season after last year. This is something that is different for her. She is such a great dramatic actress, she hasn’t had a lot of occasion to do comedic stuff. This part definitely has that. Her stuff with Kathy Bates, in particular, is funny, so she was excited to do that.

Can you tease where that relationship between Kathy and Jessica goes in Episode 2?

It’s a really great part because Jessica plays this Supreme witch, who happens to be the world’s biggest liberal. So she brings Kathy Bates back to the house. Even though Jessica is the most powerful woman in the world, she is still struggling with aging. She doesn’t’ want to die. She wants to live forever. She figures out that Kathy Bates has been given something that will let her live forever. So she is trying to get to that, so she is holding Kathy Bates for ransom.

She starts to find out about the horrors of that character [Madame Delphine LaLaurie], who was a real woman who actually did everything we show you and worse. So she makes Kathy Bates be Gabourey Sidibe’s personal slave as payback. Through that relationship, Kathy Bates has an entire season of guilt and remorse, finally learning about the gravity of what she did. It is also a meditation on race relations in this country. It is really an allegory for any minority group in our country.

We see Kathy Bates’ character in present day, so will we see Angela Bassett in present day, too?

In the second episode, Jessica finds out about Marie Laveau, who was also a real person, who put the spell on Kathy Bates. It turns out that Marie Laveau runs a hair salon called Corn Row City, where she has gone undercover. Jessica says, “I want the eternal life stuff.” And Marie says, “Well, you give me back Kathy Bates. I know you dug her up.” That begins the war.

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Who is going to be your big bad this season?

There are two big arch villains for the season: the Minotaur and the Axeman. Those are the two mythological creatures of the season.

What can you say about Sarah Paulson’s character. It seems as if she is suppressing her gifts. Will her arc this season be embracing her inner witch?

Yeah. I was always fascinated with the dynamic of the show “Bewitched.” I always wondered what would happen if Samantha listened to Endora and went batshit, dark, and crazy. So she does start very prim and proper and then there is something that happens to her character about Episode 5 that makes her think, “My mother may be right.” Where Sarah starts and where she ends up is the complete opposite of where she is in that first episode.

What is Evan Peters’ role this year?

Evan’s story kicks off in Episode 2. I also really like that because I am obsessed with anything Mary Shelley, so that’s another thing we deal with: Frankenstein. So, in Episode 2, the big girls’ story is that Emma Roberts and Taissa go to the morgue, because Taissa is in love with the Evan character. They find out that he and the other boys have been badly mangled and decapitated. So Taissa decides to build the perfect boyfriend. She takes Evan’s head and other parts that she desires and creates this thing. They use a spell and that is his arc. He is brought back to life … or not. Of course, she can never be with him intimately or she will kill him.

How did you decide on each girl’s powers?

We thought a lot about it. We researched a lot about the Salem witches and some of these powers the girls back then were described to have had. I love the ability to read minds. We have a lot of Salem flashbacks, too, so these girls, who are students, can learn about their ancestors. More witches are coming into the house with different powers.

Of course, the great mystery of the season is which of these people that you have met is the next Supreme? Who is going to take Jessica Lange’s throne? So the show also has a great thriller aspect to it this year. But you don’t find that out until Episode 12. Jessica kills one of the girls in Episode 3. She is not giving it up.

If Marie Laveau is still alive and Jessica seems to be able to suck life out of people, how long do these witches really live?

Even in the case of Marie Laveau, she has a plot in a cemetery in New Orleans, where people go and write crosses. In the mythology, she never died. She put another body in that casket. The idea for the series is that Marie Laveau has perfected the idea of eternal life, which many people say she did, and many people believe she still walks among the people of New Orleans.

The Salem witches are not immortal. They have not found that ingredient of everlasting life. Clearly, that is the only thing keeping Jessica Lange from living forever and taking everybody over. That is a big plot point.

But it is an interesting thing, because we don’t just do it as you drink a potion and you’re good. [We deal with] the idea of feminine power and sexual power in our culture, and the idea that women of a certain age are sadly pushed aside for younger women. A lot of that is from several conversations that I have had with Jessica. She has been around a long time and sees how the business treats women. There is a lot of stuff that goes into that story that makes it, I think, adult, and makes it interesting for her as an actor.

“American Horror Story: Coven” premieres on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 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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