'American Horror Story: Freak Show' Star Angela Bassett on Three-Breasted Women (and Other Outcasts)

American Horror Story Freak Show Angela Basset - P 2014
Michele K. Short/FX

American Horror Story Freak Show Angela Basset - P 2014

The actress also opens up about how the FX anthology series approaches race and her upcoming Whitney Houston biopic

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

It's Angela Bassett's second season on FX's American Horror Story, and in this installment — subtitled Freak Show — she's portraying the three-breasted performer Desiree Dupree. It's a different role than her American Horror Story: Coven character, the sorceress Marie Laveau, in that Desiree is driven by a "deep sense of shame," Bassett says. 

There's an upside for the actress, though. "I get to kiss up on just an array of handsome men," she says. "That’s been fun, to get that opportunity — you know, 'Oh, again!' "

Read more Should 'American Horror Story: Freak Show' Send in the Clowns?

She tells THR what else is new with her AHS character, the series' social relevance and her directing work:

How is your new character different from your role last season?

Desiree is a more sensual character, more sexually up-front. When you've got three breasts, that goes straight to your sexuality. Marie was just strong, take-no-prisoners and vengeful, with her own brand of justice to right what's wrong. But Desiree — the word "desire" is part of her name. I'm hoping to play up a little more of that aspect.

What's the character's storyline like in Freak Show?

She’s a little conflicted, a little confused, but she’s made the best of her life given the circumstances. She was rejected by her mother. Her mother had a great deal of shame concerning Desiree’s existence. So I think there’s a lot of deep-rooted sadness in the things Desiree has had to do just to survive hand-to-mouth. It comes out of a deep sense of shame — she could either fall deeply into it, or it puts a ramrod in your back and forces you to stand straighter and really kick ass. You embrace it, you don’t hide in the shadows, and I think that’s what she does.

Watch more 'American Horror Story': See the Twisted 'Freak Show' Opening Credits

Is race a significant part of this season, like it was in season three?

I don't see any attempt to really underline that the way we did last season. I think that in a world of freaks, there are a lot more issues before we get to the color of one's skin.

They haven't explored it in terms of the script, but it's interesting — [this season] we're all freaks, so anything's acceptable. In the world of 1950, interracial couples were against the law, but within our world of circus and freaks, she and Dell the [white] strongman [played by series newcomer Michael Chiklis] have been able to make their way. They have to accept one another and try to live a human existence.

A Florida woman recently claimed she had surgery to add a third breast — quite a coincidence given that your three-breasted AHS character is about to premiere.

I watched her video and she seemed to have a bit of sense, but there was a bit of confusion and sadness — to say you don't want men to be attracted to you, but then that you want the attention of having a television show. I also thought, "How interesting that this would make a news cycle while here is this character that I'm playing."

How is the Whitney Houston biopic you're directing for Lifetime coming together?

We're working on the music now. The music plays such an integral part in telling the story and eliciting emotion, but I found that because her performances are so beautiful, the music can take over. It's about finding that balance where every element supports and makes the whole larger, but doesn't distract.

American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 8 (FX).

Email: Austin.Siegemund-Broka@THR.com
Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka