It was a spellbinding panel of talent when FX presented the latest “AHS” installment, “American Horror Story: Coven.” Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, and executive producer Tim Minear took the stage, being careful not to give away too much — though that doesn’t mean we didn’t get a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect in season three.
Bassett and Bates were asked how important it was to have Jessica Lange involved. They agreed it was important, but gave credit to the rest of the cast as well. “It was a tremendous influence for me… the work of all the actors in addition, it was just an actor’s dream,” Bassett said.
“Same here,” Bates said. “And seeing Sarah [Paulson]’s work, especially last season, you get like a little kid. You just want to play, too.”
Then, it was on to the more serious question — who were these women playing? The cast all looked to Minear, who said, “They can tell you, but they can’t tell you.”
“I can say my character’s name? I can? A little bit? I can?” Paulson asked, before revealing she would play Cordelia, the daughter of Jessica Lange’s character. “There you go. Isn’t that a nugget? That’s a nugget, boy.”
Still, Minear quickly shut down other questioners begging for spoilers. “We’re trying to keep some things close to the vest. If you’re heard something online, it’s probably not true. We’re trying to keep the surprises on screen, and I’m trying to keep my job.”
But there was more to be revealed. “I play Marie Laveau [a famous real-life woman knows as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1800s],” Bassett said. “It’s interesting being in New Orleans, because there is so much respect for who she was… she was very influential, so my character is based loosely on her.”
Minear continued, “Some of them are witches, but not all. This is just some of the cast. If we could have gotten George Cukor to direct, we might have done that. FX is seen as such a boys’ network, but this is going to be the most friendly place for women on television… until we start the thing we do.”
Lange added, “The subtitle is ‘Coven,’ and some of us play witches… I do play a witch. We move back and forth in time. It encompasses a lot of different stories. I’ve shot two days so far, so I don’t know who the character is yet. It comes in little dribs and drabs. For me, I never would have imagined I like this process because of my background in film and theater, [when] you know the entire character and the story, so it’s been a huge adjustment to work this way not knowing what the journey is… but in some way, it’s kind of wonderful. It allows you to work… on the fly. You have to be brave… and not be cautious. You have 12 episodes to create this character, and you don’t always know what the episode is going to present for you.”
She added that she enjoyed the extreme shifts of character last season. “It was an opportunity to play all the things I like… the big sweeps of emotion. And I love madness, I do. I love playing that. In the last season I was given this juicy piece of possibility… When I was getting the shock treatment, I remembered, oh, I’ve done those scenes before… I got to sing, dance, go mad. Spank people.
As to “Coven,” Minnear said that, though he found last season “hilarious,” this season may be more upbeat. “I would say the fun quotient was higher. Last year wasn’t a lot of fun. This year is a drama but there’s a lot of humor… we’re embracing a velocity and fun this year. It might be a little more welcoming to an audience.”
Not as light will be the themes of the season. “I think some of the bigger themes this year are oppression of minorities of all kinds, and within that minority groups going after each other and doing the work of the lager culture. There is a strong feminist theme, but themes of race and oppression, and a strong theme of family and mothers and daughters along with laughs and scares. “
Bates also mentioned one thing shooting in New Orleans brings to the equation: “Humidity.” On a less humorous note, she weighed in on how she felt about the demise of her last series, “Harry’s Law.” “I think they treated us like shit… and I think they’re getting what they deserve.”
Though one question was about whether Zach Quinto was joining the cast, Minear said, “The stories are often very organc. We have orange cones… and sometimes we’ll swerve and go someplace different entirely.”
Though there weren’t a lot of hints, it seems there’s one it seems we can expect next season — great performances. “It’s delightful to be among such a glorious group of actors. I’m gonna go on the record and say we’re gonna knock your socks off,” Bates said.