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'American Horror Story': Sarah Paulson talks Jessica Lange, snake sex

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.

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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.

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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.

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But what about the powers the youngin’s have? I mean, lady parts causing aneurysms when active? That’s no joke!

Lady parts causing aneurysms is a real bummer, isn’t it? A real bummer. That’s a lot of activity that won’t be happening.  But, yeah, everyone of them has a power that I would like to have.

 Wait. Even the lady parts one?

Except the lady parts one! No, that one I’m like, “you can keep that Taissa [Farmiga]!” I would not mourn the loss of that power. Lucky, Cordelia doesn’t have the power to kill people with her vagina. I can let Taissa have that one.  It’s pretty crazy, but I guess it’s kind of exciting? Maybe?

Kinky, for sure. And we saw in Wednesday’s episode Cordelia and her struggles to have a baby.  And we meet her husband — and, at first, I wondered if he knew about her powers, but we soon learn he does. Are we going to learn more about this couple?

Oh, yes.  You are going to learn very much more about this couple. And that promises to be a very interesting part of the story, and that will be revealed around Episode 5.  

OK, cause right now I’m wondering if he’s a good guy.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to root for him.

Well, it is “American Horror Story.”  Anything is possible. But he is my husband and we love each other very much. We’ll see where it goes. It will make itself known sooner rather than later.

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You guys certainly provide some steam. There’s an epic love scene between Cordelia and her hubby.

I haven’t seen it. How is it? I heard it’s pretty good.

Uh, I definitely had to minimize the screen because I was watching at work! But, I mean, there are snakes involved. SNAKES.

Sure are.  Sure. Are.

Yeah. So, what goes through Sarah Paulson’s mind when she reads that in a script? Are you like, “What the hell is going on in Ryan’s mind?”

 No, I never question that. I always think, thank god for Ryan Murphy for being such a genius and giving me great stuff to do. I never think he’s lost his marbles. Not yet.  But I do think, “Wow, it must be nice to sit in the writers room and come up with the idea of snakes going up Cordelia’s crotch.” It’s all good and well to read it, but to be the one to write it out must be nice. So much of it was so descriptive.  There was like two pages of description for the scene. I was like, “Uh huh, sure man! Go ahead!” And then I thought, “Oh, god, what am I going to have to do with this freaking snake.”

Was it CGI? Please tell me it was CGI.

No. No. No, Yvonne. Those were real snakes.

Nooooo! All up in your goods??

Yes, honey. Yes. And I have to say, I was totally terrified about it. And then I fell in love with them. I just kept thinking, “I need a pet snake. Give me a snake. I need to own a snake. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without a snake. Someone, please, please, please, give me a snake.”  They are incredible creatures.

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Something that can truly be realized only while they’re curled around your bare body. How many were there?

What I hope they do is whatever editing they did — because they always do — I really hope for the DVDs of this season, that they’ll put how many snakes there actually were when they were shooting. Josh and I had to drink a little bit of tequila because I was so nervous beforehand. And then once we were there, I was like, “This is the greatest day of my life. I want a snake. Give me a snake!”

Did you feel like you were Britney Spears?

Oh my god, Yvonne! I full on did! I totally did. I felt like a bad ass rock star about to sing “Slave 4 U.”  I was like, “I can do this too, Brit.” And I would have never felt that way if it weren’t for the show. Truly. The thing about “American Horror Story” is it constantly tests your limits of comfort. But it actually proves to you what you’re made of.  I never ever would have know that I could have withstood anything last season, and I certainly didn’t think I was a person who was capable of being naked with snakes crawling all over my body.  We even did extra close up shots of the snakes and I made them put it on my body.

But, really, how do you top a scene like that? What else can this show possible do to top that? I’m actually kind of terrified to think about it. Is there an upcoming scene that you’re excited for people to finally see?

Yes, I finally have a scene with Angela Bassett in Episode 3.  That was a scene I was really excited to even read.

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Do they band together?

I don’t know … I don’t know, girl.

You know! How about next season? Jessica keeps saying it will be her last.  Have you thought about how much longer you’d want to do it? Do you take it season by season?

Look, I’m really serious, if you see me at 90 still on “American Horror Story,” it would have been a good life.  I’d be hard pressed to imagine doing another show — I mean, think about it. You get to play one character for 13 episodes and the next year you don’t have to come back and wear the same … tired old clothes that you’re so sick of. Instead, you get to inhabit another character, another skin. There’s just no other place where that happens in serialized television. So, to me, it’s like, why would I ever want to go anywhere? As long as Ryan wants me around, I will be here. And even if he doesn’t want me around, I’m still going to want to be here! As far as Jessica, I’m like, “Yeah, we’ll see!” I mean, it’s hard to walk away from the things Ryan brings. From an acting standpoint, she may say that because we’re in the middle of this and it can be hard and tiring and thrilling and exhilarating, but we’ll see. I don’t buy it. But maybe it’s cause I don’t ever want her to leave.

You should take a cue from Cordelia and say, “Listen, ... , you’re staying!”

I’ll be like, “listen ... I’m staying and you’re staying. Don’t mess with me! I have snake friends.”


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