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Freak Show, set in Florida circa 1952, centers on a “troupe of curiosities” that arrives at the same time that a dark entity emerges, threatening the lives of townsfolk and freaks alike. It focuses on the performers and their desperate journey of survival amid the dying world of the American carny experience.
Jessica Lange returns to the FX anthology series, this time starring as as Elsa Mars, a German expat managing one of the last remaining freak shows in the country. Emma Roberts is set as con artist Maggie; Sarah Paulson is conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler; Kathy Bates is the bearded lady, Effil Darling; Angela Bassett is the three-breasted Desiree Dupree; and Evan Peters is Jimmy Darling, a man with lobster-like hands. The cast also includes Fargo‘s John Carroll Lynch as the central villain, Twisty the Clown; Michael Chiklis as strong man Wendell Del Toredo; and The Normal Heart‘s Finn Wittrock as Frances Conroy’s entitled son; and the world’s smallest living woman, Jyoti Amge.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Murphy during a conference call to get the scoop on what to expect from the new and horrifying season.
1. Freak Show‘s theme explained. Murphy joked that he hopes “people are scared shitless” by the carnival-themed season. Getting serious, he hopes that people learn about the discrimination and prejudice that freak show performers suffered through. “It’s a metaphor for the type of outsiders that are mistreated,” he said. It’s a frequent theme that Murphy has explored before with shows like Glee and Popular. Freak Show, he said, will be true to the story of what happened to many carnival performers. “They were the biggest movie star people in the 1920s and ’30s and then TV became the new freak show and a lot of people were put in asylums, some were killed by mobs, some became alcoholics and died in the gutter. … What happened to this group of people is an American horror story. I hope people take away a respect for what this group of people went through, which I found to be very moving.”
2. The death rate will likely be the same. While every season of the FX anthology is a complete reset, Murphy said the Freak Show body count is “similar” to Murder House, Asylum and Coven. “That’s a consistent thing from season to season that doesn’t alter,” he said, adding that the scares for Freak Show will be done in a different way.
3. It’s more realistic. When someone on Freak Show is dead, that’s the end of the road. It’s a change from Coven, when the benefit of witchcraft allowed some of the show’s characters to come back to life. It’s one of the main differences this season that also features a show (Lange’s titular freak show) within the show. That said, Murphy said he feels like the show can go 10 or 15 years — and without him. “One of the great joys of doing this show is because you can pause when it ends and step back, and me as an artist to be able to step into different things, this show can go 10 years, 15 years,” he noted. “It’s never ending in many ways. I may not always be doing it, but someone could come in and do 13 episodes and make it their own. That was the idea from the beginning.”
4. Lange’s future with the series isn’t so cut and dry. While his Emmy-winning leading lady has said that Freak Show is likely to be her last installment of American Horror Story, the prolific producer has high hopes that he can sweet talk her into returning — in some capacity. “Before I was met with a quick “no” and now I’m hearing, ‘Let’s keep talking,'” Murphy said. Ultimately, it’s going to be about the character that Murphy conceives for the actress, whom he said came up with the idea to do Freak Show.
5. Expect a fifth season of AHS. Murphy told reporters he already knows what season five of the anthology will be. “There are clues in the first few episodes about next year’s series, where that’s going to be set and who somebody is going to be playing,” Murphy teased. As for the cast, expect Paulson to return. “I’m working on next year’s anthology series, and I’ve already reached out to three actors I’ve loved forever,” he added, noting one “real TV legend” approached Murphy on a red carpet and asked if he could be a part of it.
6. Clues in the opening credits. As he has done in the past, there are clues to what to expect in the title sequence of Freak Show. And that includes the woman who has a leg where her private parts should be. “That creature is fascinating and could appear,” he said.
7. The Killer Clown’s back story will be explained. The central villain of Freak Show is John Carroll Lynch’s horrifying clown, Twisty. Murphy said it would be “weird” to do a show set at a circus and carnival and not feature a clown, admitting that he’s aware of the society’s fear of clowns. “I’m much more afraid of Bloody Face (from Asylum) and Rubber Man (from Murder House),” he said, noting that her personally finds home invaders, people wearing masked and anyone cloaked in darkness horrifying. As for what made Twisty so horrifying, look to episode four for answers. “There’s a big story that explains the clown and what he’s doing that’s based on an urban myth we uncovered,” he said. “Our take is very unusual.”
8. There may be a role for Neil Patrick Harris. The former How I Met Your Mother star expressed hope for a guest gig on the FX anthology, and Murphy is working on something for the multi-talented actor. “He’s game; he had very specific ideas about what he wanted to do and I have specific ideas. We’re working on melding those,” Murphy said, noting that if it does happen, it would be later in the season to accommodate Harris’ busy schedule. “I’d love to see him and Jessica Lange go at it in a really fun way and Neil seems intrigued by that notion. We’re inching forward.”
9. Matt Bomer’s role is revealed. While Murphy was light on details about the role the Normal Heart alum has in Freak Show, he said Bomer would be featured in episode five, where something “horrible and dastardly” happens. It’s a seven-page scene with Bomer and Chiklis that Murphy says is “really f—ed up” and “maybe one of the most disturbing things we’ve ever done and a true horror scene.”
10. Expect another Halloween two-parter. Wes Bentley plays Edward Mordrake, a character is based on a horror myth of a man with two faces. Murphy said the annual two-parter is based on the legend of Edward Mordrake and how carnival “freaks” would take Halloween off because they believed their music would summon Mordrake to collect one of them and take them to hell. “We took that myth and ran with it — and that’s the episode where Jessica sings Lana Del Rey.”
American Horror Story airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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