The new season of American Horror Story is set in a coven full of powerful witches.
American Horror Story: Coven, the third season of the FX anthology series, differs in many ways from Season Two, trading a harrowing asylum for a witches’ coven; 1960s Massachusetts for present-day New Orleans; and deep, deep darkness for scary with a dash of comedy, co-creator Ryan Murphy says.
“This is my favourite season that we’ve done so far,” he says. “It’s very odd and peculiar and very pop culture-y ... particularly after last year, which was so dark and grim and hard. I loved it, but this year was designed to be a little bit scary, but more fun. I heard a lot last year, ‘Oh, we love it, but it’s hard to sit through.’ So, I wanted this year to be not so hard to sit through, a little bit more light in tone.”
Coven features a mix of veterans of earlier Horror seasons in different roles including Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Frances Conroy – and newcomers such as Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.
Lange, in her third Horror turn, trades in her nun’s garb from Asylum for a more glamorous look as Fiona, “the world’s biggest liberal” and a Supreme, the most powerful witch of her generation. Fiona comes back to New Orleans to protect the younger witches in an academy run by her daughter, Cordelia (Asylum’s Sarah Paulson), with whom she has a hostile relationship.
“I think (Jessica) particularly loved that she got to wear St Laurent heels and make-up after last year. It was something completely different for her,” Murphy says. “And she hasn’t in her career, because she’s such a great dramatic actress, had a lot of occasion to do comedic stuff.”
The youthful coven members, played by Horror alumnae Taissa Farmiga and Jamie Brewer and first-timers Gabourey Sidibe and Emma Roberts, have ties to the Salem witches and possess a range of powers, including telekinesis, mind-reading and an undesired ability to kill via sex.
The identity of the next Supreme is a big, season-long mystery, Murphy says, but Fiona won’t go quietly.
“She’s not giving up that throne, no way.”
Bates and Bassett play historical figures, Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau, respectively, whom Murphy learned about while researching New Orleans’ rich past.
LaLaurie was a sadistic 19th-century slave-owner who tortured her human possessions, while Laveau was a voodoo practitioner. Each has a role in the present; Laveau runs a hair salon.
Fiona, who cannot use her powers to stop ageing, seeks out LaLaurie to learn why she has eternal life and then learns of her past atrocities, Murphy says. So LaLaurie is forced to become a personal slave to Sidibe’s Queenie as payback.
“Through that relationship, (LaLaurie) has an entire season of guilt and remorse, finally learning about the gravity of what she did,” Murphy says. “It is also a meditation on race relations in this country. There’s a very strong arc about the Salem witches and the voodoo witches and, ‘Can’t we all get along to fight our common enemies?’ So, it really is an allegory for any minority group in our country.”
Bates had a grand time with the role, despite Murphy’s early warning.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if you’d ever want to play a character that’s eight times worse than your character in Misery,’” he says. “And I just spent the weekend with her, and she says that this part is her favourite part that she’s ever played ... She loves the costume, she loves the arc, she loves the comedy.”
Another change for Coven is the location shooting in New Orleans (the first two seasons were filmed primarily in Los Angeles studios). Murphy wanted the historical connection to Salem, but didn’t want to film there, and Lange pushed to shoot in New Orleans.
“It made sense to me that the true witches were smart enough to escape and had fled,” he says. “So, once she said that, I started to (do) research ... and then you come across Madame LaLaurie, Marie Laveau and the Axeman serial killer (Danny Huston), and all these great horror legends of that city. And it just felt like a natural to me ... There’s something about that city that’s quite magical and quite creepy and scary.” – USA Today/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
> American Horror Story: Coven premieres tonight at 11pm on FX HD (Astro Ch 726).