Of all of the parts of FX’s “American Horror Story” that are difficult to explain, I’d have the most trouble summing up how Alexandra Breckenridge and Frances Conroy come to be playing the same character, complete with matching red hair and matching maid costumes.
The red hair has created an instantly new persona for Breckenridge, who admits that she’s recently had a string of “bubbly” roles on shows like “The Ex List” and “Life Unexpected” (plus a brief turn on “True Blood” this summer). On “American Horror Story,” she’s sultry, dangerous and mysterious, but definitely not bubbly.
In August, at a Television Critics Association press tour party in Pacific Palisades, I caught up with Breckenridge on the beach at sunset to talk about her deliriously wacky new series, her deliriously different new look and why she prefers originals over remakes.
Click through for the full transcript…
HitFix: I’m going to start with a strange question that I’ve honestly never thought to ask somebody before: How does your new hair restrict or change what you can or can’t wear on red carpets?
Alexandra Breckenridge: [Laughs.] I can’t wear a lot of things because of the hair, because it’ll clash.
HitFix: It seems like it would cause unexpected problems like that.
AB: It does! When I first had the hair done for the show, I looked through my wardrobe and I realized that I would instantly look like a Silver Lake hipster if I wore any of my clothes, so it’s definitely restricted some outfits.
HitFix: Does the color have a name?
AB: It looks almost “cherry” to me. I feel like I have a cherry on my head.
HitFix: What was your first reaction when you saw yourself with the new look?
AB: It was really shocking, but I’ve grown to really like it now. I get hit on so much it’s not normal. I didn’t realize so many men liked redheads.
HitFix: So, um, you’re saying you didn’t get hit on before?
AB: Well, I did! But in comparison… People I’ve known for years have been texting me, all of a sudden out of nowhere, just randomly paying more attention to me than normal. And men seem more aggressive. It seems to be working well for me.
HitFix: How much does making that drastic a change help you as an actress when you’re getting into a character this extreme?
AB: The hair definitely makes it easier to become my character on the show, because it’s more vamp-y, vamp-esque, vamp-like, whatever the word would be. But I think in terms of other potential jobs, it’ll be more restrictive. Blonde’s definitely a more neutral color, a more normal color, but this is very specific.
HitFix: And then you also have the maid’s outfit to work with, so it’s a very externally-driven character.
AB: It is. Once I have my hair done and I put on the outfit, I just become the character. It’s hard to even be myself.
HitFix: You get a script as far out-there as this one, what’s your first reaction to reading it?
AB: That it’s amazing and I’m so lucky to be a part of it. So lucky…
HitFix: And yet you’ve got this character… I couldn’t describe her to my readers. How do you look at a character like that on the page and say “I know how I’d want to play her”?
AB: It’s really like with anything I approach as an actor. I get something off the page instinctively. That’s what I go with. What I got off the page was very specific to me and I instantly knew how I wanted to play the part.
HitFix: Can you say what it was you got off the page in that moment?
AB: It’s hard to describe in words. When I read something, I get a physical feeling, I get a rhythm of the character. Every person has their own rhythm in terms of how they walk and talk and express themselves. I just felt that this was very specific. She’s sorta like a snake to me. She’s very animalistic. She’s sexually driven, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
HitFix: Did you get the chance or did you have the desire to work with Frances Conroy to synchronize your performances, since you’re kinda playing the same character?
AB: Well, I think it is the same person, but we’re very different. Obviously. She’s playing this character as an older woman and I’m playing the character as how she was when she was younger. People develop in different ways over time and we really didn’t try to match any of our physicalities. In certain scenes where we have to stand in the same place and deliver the same lines, I would just see her movements and try to match where she was standing, but I was always doing my own thing.
HitFix: Are you a fan of horror films, the horror genre?
AB: Yes! I am. A lot.
HitFix: Gimme some favorites…
AB: “The Shining.” “Rosemary’s Baby.” “Amityville Horror.” I actually feel like this show is an amalgamation of all of my favorite horror films and that makes it really exciting for me to be working on.
HitFix: Original “Amityville Horror” or the remake?
AB: Oh, original. Original. Original all the way across the board with pretty much anything that’s every been made. “Planet of the Apes.” “Star Wars.” “The Shining”? The remake they did for TV, I was just like, “Why are you doing that? What’s the point of that? Why?”
HitFix: You’ve seen the pilot, right? [She nods.] What did you think when you actually watched it play out?
AB: It played exactly as I envisioned it when I read it, which is great.
HitFix: Even given how much of it is crafted with editing and with Ryan Murphy’s particular flourishes?
AB: It is. I think the only scene that I imagined differently was the kids in the basement where the infantata attacks the high school girl. I didn’t think it was going to be so… so strobe-y. That was probably the only part of the pilot where I was like, “Oh! Interesting.”
HitFix: I know effects like that often get people a little headache-y. Did you have any problems?
AB: No… In actuality, if I had a strobe on me, I’d have a hard time walking, but not when I’m watching on television.
HitFix: And you’re in a bit of a horror mode right now, with this getting ready to premiere and your character on “True Blood.” Is that just one of those things that happens in a career, where genres snowball like that?
AB: I think so. I’d gotten “True Blood” last year and then luckily, my CW pilot [“Cooper and Stone”] didn’t get picked up and then a week later, I got this. I went from “True Blood” to playing a cop on a CW show. Imagine that…
HitFix: Well, with the hair it’s a little difficult.
AB: Even at the time, I was like, “I’m not a cop.”
HitFix: CW pilot aside, you’ve been in a cable mode after a run of network work. Had you been looking for a way to show that harder edge?
AB: I’m always looking for a chance to play somebody who’s completely opposite of me, just because I find it more interesting. I’ve played a lot of bubbly girls. This is an extremely different role. I’ve never played someone so sexual before.
HitFix: Your “True Blood” character wasn’t *un*sexual…
AB: She was for a second, but then she’s undercover in the witches’ coven and she’s sorta this country bumpkin. That was really great, because I got to play complete polar opposite people in that, as well. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this. Hopefully I’m doing a good job. I have no idea.
“American Horror Story” premieres on Wednesday, October 5 at 10 p.m. on FX.