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Connie Britton wasn’t quite sure what Ryan Murphy had in store for her when she returned to the Murder House set. The haunted Hollywood mansion served as the backdrop for season one of American Horror Story, which was the last time Britton had appeared on the FX franchise, and the house was re-opening its doors for a big season eight event.
“Walking in after seven years, I didn’t know what to expect,” Britton tells The Hollywood Reporter of making her highly anticipated return on the Oct. 17 episode of AHS: Apocalypse. “It did feel like going home — albeit, a creepy home.”
Britton was reprising her season one character, Vivien Harmon, for the crossover episode that also welcomed back former AHS stars Jessica Lange and Dylan McDermott, and was directed by series star Sarah Paulson. When viewers last saw Vivien on the 2011 season that launched the horror anthology, Britton recalls how the Harmon matriarch was living out eternity as a “happy ghost” with her husband (McDermott), daughter (Taissa Farmiga) and newborn baby. The trip back to Murder House on Apocalypse, however, revealed marital strife in the afterlife over Vivien’s living son, Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), the villain of the Apocalypse season who was officially identified as the Antichrist in Vivien’s revealing return. The reveal tied together AHS mythology from season one with the current cycle, much to the squealing delight of longtime viewers of Murphy’s franchise.
Below, in a chat with THR, Britton opens up about returning to confirm an AHS theory that has been seven seasons in the making, while also discussing the next TV anthology on her slate, Bravo’s Dirty John adaptation. And while reprising Vivien does leave her musing about a future with AHS, Britton also explains why she has no interest in re-opening the door to the Taylor family home amid the reboot craze.
Have you had a chance to watch the “Return to Murder House” episode yet?
I haven’t! I’m still in the middle of shooting Dirty John.
To go back to the beginning, what was your conversation like with Ryan Murphy when he asked you to come back to American Horror Story?
Well, it was very straightforward. Of course I was going to come back. We’ve been talking about this for years, and I’ve been obviously working with him on other things, so it was really very simple. But actually, he didn’t even tell me what I was going to do. It was basically like, “Ok, we’re going to do a crossover.” And I said, “Ok, I’ll show up!” We carved it in to my Dirty John shooting schedule — which was no easy feat — and we made it happen.
He has been talking about doing this crossover for a while. How long had you been waiting for the Murder House call?
It’s funny. It actually took a while. I heard that the crossover was happening and I kept seeing reports. At one point, I actually texted him and said, “When are we doing this?” For a little while, I was concerned because I hadn’t been called about it yet. But when they finally got to the episode, it was very straightforward.
Were there any other times you came close to returning to AHS — why now?
There weren’t, really, because I’ve just been working non-stop since we did season one, so there was never really an opportunity. Lord knows, he also didn’t really need me. Every season is the most incredible cast of brilliant, amazing actors, so he was fine without me. I’m sure of it! But at the same time, we love working together. That’s the thing that’s great about a longterm relationship. You know the right moments will always come, and they always have with Ryan.
What was it like to step back into Vivien Harmon’s shoes? The episode was a gift to the fans, but she is also a key player in Apocalypse, being the mother of the Antichrist. How was this crossover explained to you in terms of why it’s important for the current season?
I actually had very little information when I walked in to shoot, so thank God for Sarah Paulson. By the way, what a joy. I didn’t realize until a couple days before shooting that she was going to be directing the episode. She was just a force. I absolutely loved seeing her as a director, seeing her in those shoes and being able to work with her in that capacity. She’s really cut out for it. So it was really up to her to fill us in and to fill me in. Dylan [McDermott] had a little bit more of a heads up because he had been working a couple days before me. And Brad Buecker, who was also very prominent in our first season of American Horror Story, was also there. It was truly a fun, lovely experience to walk back into that crazy Murder House after seven years and, not only to be back in that space, but to be back in that space with so many of the people who were there for season one. So many of our original crew was right back there, which is a real testament to Ryan’s sense of loyalty. He really does like to keep his people close. It gave a real sense of comfort. Because walking in after seven years, I didn’t know what to expect. It did feel like going home — albeit, a creepy home.
Returning to a character in an anthology is rare. Did you ever fantasize about how Vivien ended up and were you happy with the ending she got?
I was happy because this is a show where the vision of the creators was so clear and important. I always, always defer to them, in terms of what happened with the characters. But it was funny because Dylan and I both had a conversation when we started shooting these recent episodes. As we remembered, we left the Harmon family as happy ghosts. Now, there’s trouble in paradise! What happened in the last seven years of their ghost-dom that they’re not living their happy lives as ghosts? Obviously, that was interesting to explore and so much of it was about the “devil” child.
Would you consider coming back to AHS as a series regular in the future?
I always say, never say never. To be perfectly honest, I can’t generally watch American Horror Story. It’s way, way, way too scary for me. It’s a very dark world to live in. The season that we shot, I loved, because it was such an exciting season of television. It was the inception of the whole thing and there was a real sense of discovery and that we were creating something new. It is tempting to think about going back, because I do think it could be a fun world to inhabit again as Vivien. But then I also wonder if after a while I would just be having a panic attack every day in that scary world!
Your most recent collaboration with Ryan Murphy was during the first season of his Fox procedural 9-1-1, which is now airing season two. Do you want to return in any capacity?
I never say never. For sure. Listen, if there was time and space and we could make it work, I would always be open to that.
You’re now filming your next anthology, Bravo’s Dirty John, where you’re playing real-life character Debra Newell. Why does the limited series format appeal to you right now?
It appeals to me on a lot of levels. It can allow for a lot more detail and energy in what you’re doing because you are literally not spread so thin. And the story can be much more specific. Then, just personally, as a mom and trying to raise my son and wanting to have more time with him, it’s a much better way for me to live my life. And I honestly do really enjoy it creatively. I love series television. I’m all for doing multiple seasons of a limited series. I love to be able to carry out a character and really explore a character over years, but I think having a limited number episodes in a season is really key.
The second season of the Dirty John anthology will be a new story. Would you want to come back and play a different character, whatever that story may be?
Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows what the second season is going to be like. So, never say never. (Laughs.) For me, it’s all about the character and I generally love to play characters that feel challenging and like something I haven’t done yet, so that’s usually what I’m looking for. But then, of course, I always like to work with people that I love. So it will always be a possibility, for sure.
There is a Friday Night Lights spinoff movie in the works, but it’s unrelated to the TV show and original film. Has the current reboot craze reinvigorated any talks of a FNL reunion?
Nope! (Laughs.) I believe that ship has sailed. It’s funny because I was a fan of the idea early on, back when Pete Berg was into writing it and there was a real conversation about it. But now I realized just how special it was and how fortunate we all were to have the seasons that we had and let it arc to the ending that it had. You don’t want to take that for granted. To be able to accomplish something like that is a rare and beautiful thing, and sometimes we just need to appreciate what that is and not try to recreate it.
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