11:30pm PT by Danielle Turchiano
'American Horror Story's' Angela Bassett: Desiree Is Fighting for the Disenfranchised
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the "Orphans" episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show.]
After Angela Bassett battled literal and figurative demons as Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau during American Horror Story: Coven, the actress has spent the better part of Freak Show taking on a more physical and sexual role as Desiree Dupree. Bassett's three-breasted woman rolled into Jupiter, Fla., on the arm of the strongman Dell (Michael Chiklis), and while Desiree is just as strong a woman as Marie, she has a very different approach to doing things to match her different outlook on life, love and the cast of characters that surround her.
During Wednesday's midseason finale finale, "Orphans," Emma Roberts' Maggie called Desiree the "toughest woman [she] knows." But though Desiree "knows bullshit" when she hears it and isn't afraid to call it out, she is not without her more sensitive side, too. Recently having learned she is a hermaphrodite and can actually have surgery to "correct" the things about her body that made her fit in with the freak show crowd, Desiree has been on a tear for a relationship and more traditional 1950s definition of womanhood. Will her quest be derailed by what she has learned about some of her fellow freaks?
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Bassett to discuss what's ahead for her character in the final few episodes of the season now that some of the freak show's biggest secrets have been revealed.
The audience, and Desiree, learned more about the truth behind what makes her the three-breasted woman a few episodes back. Were those details part of the character pitch at the start of the season, or did you also learn about them later?
I didn't know about the twist at all until I got the script for the week. All [showrunner] Ryan [Murphy] told me was that he had something great planned for me … and that was enough for me because the writers are magnificent and the things they give us to do are always exciting. Without a doubt at some point, when I read their scripts, I'm going to [scream] or laugh or clutch the pearls or something!
When such a truth is revealed about a character, does that change your approach to portrayal?
I wouldn't say it changed a great deal. Desiree is that woman who wanted a normal life … like everyone else does, really. And she imagined those things for herself [either way].
Her chances of that happy homemaker life are much greater with Angus (Malcolm Jamal Warner) than Dell (Michael Chiklis), though.
[Dell and Desiree have] been together for years, and she hoped to the very end that they'd be able to have a real family. [But then] she found out what his truth is. But I think there's a part in Desiree that's a childlike hope that hasn't died off in her. At the beginning of any love affair, I think you hope for the best and you imagine the best, and you leave that door open. So it's a door that's open, but we'll have to see if they walk through it.
Earlier in the season you mentioned Desiree was driven by a "deep sense of shame." What is driving her now, especially after all she has learned about Stanley (Denis O'Hare) and Maggie?
She's found people who care for her, who have accepted her, who see her for who she is and don't put anything else on it. We all are special, all are different, all are unique and that's where she's found herself. And when she finds that person who fights for her and fights for the underdog, I think she's found that side of herself [too]. She stands up to Dell when it goes a bit too far and when her back's up against the wall. That's what's happening, in terms of life-and-death issues and life and death realities. Her back is against the wall, and she's coming out fighting for those who have loved her and fought for her and protected her. She's fighting for the weakest of the disenfranchised.
Maggie called Desiree "the toughest woman" she knows and later teamed with her in a way to show her the truth about what Stanley is doing. Where does Desiree — and that relationship — go from here?
I think someone in Desiree's situation —someone who is on the outside looking in — is always very aware of the situation. Everyone bears watching. You want to be accepting of everyone's good nature, but because she's lived on the opposite side of the tracks, or the outside, you really are aware and you watch and you take note of folks' ill natures. Maggie seems perfect, so I think she bears watching. All she has are her words, and she can make her mouth say anything. You still have to watch and see, and I think that's the standing she has with her.
Desiree also got to exhibit her maternal side when it came to Pepper (Naomi Grossman). Will that instinct play out with other characters?
That maternal desire has always been a part of her and been very real for Desiree, and it's the hope that burns in her, so I think there's always an opportunity to express that. And I think she's hoping that it will manifest itself in some real, lasting way.
Where have you felt the strongest personal connection to Desiree?
These individuals come from various backgrounds and places and origins and are so different from one another and yet so the same in that they want to love, and they want to take care of each other, and they want to be validated, and they just want to be seen — they just want the opportunity to be seen. So I think I felt the strongest about that in what will be the last episode — the final episode.
Now that she knows so many secrets, can Desiree possibly survive the season?
Well, you never know where the greatest harm is, do you? You never know! The darkness of a man's heart — you never know what's lurking around the corner or who's the darkest, really. But I think she has a great chance at survival. She's been at it a long time — well, they all have; they've all had to fight their entire lives, but I think she has a good chance, good instincts. I hope she will! They killed me last season, and I'd like a little bit of love this season!
American Horror Story: Freak Show returns to FX in January.