If you've been watching "American Horror Story: Asylum," chances are ... you've been scared shitless. But, according to Sarah Paulson, who plays lesbian reporter turned Briarcliff patient Lana Winters, "It's so only just begun. What happens in the first few episodes is like eating a bowl of ice cream compared to what happens to her."
On the series' fourth episode (Wed., Nov. 7 at 10 p.m. ET on FX), things take a turn for Lana, Paulson told HuffPost TV. Even Chloe Sevigny, who played Shelley on "Asylum", told us, "What happens to Sarah Paulson's character [later on] is what's scariest to me."
Below, Paulson, who also recurred on Season 1 of "American Horror Story," explains why "Asylum" is far more terrifying than its predecessor, upcoming guest stars, how the show can make an impact in terms of gay rights (even though it's set 50 years in the past) and what it's like being flashed by Evan Peters, which made her and Jessica Lange burst into laughter. Seriously.
What did you think about the character of Lana when Ryan Murphy first presented her to you?
Well, Ryan first presented it to me by way of giving me the first four scripts. I'd already said yes to being on the show for this installment, but I had no idea what the character was going to be. I was very surprised and delighted to see that I was getting to play Lana Winters. I feel a certain responsibility in the sense that she is, I believe, like the gateway to the audience because she's sane in an insane asylum -- her crime being that she's a lesbian and an inquisitive lesbian. So I like the idea of playing the sane woman in the crazy house. I think that's exciting to do.
This season being set in the 1960s allows the show to explore issues civil rights and gay rights. It feels like there's more at stake this season than in the first.
Well, I certainly feel like this season is just more terrifying in general. I was obviously a big fan of last year and it scared the shit out of me. I could only watch it during the day and that's still true to this day with this season. But I do think there's something more terrifying just in terms of how much the time period plays into what happened to a lot of us -- both what's going on with Kit Walker [Evan Peters] and his interracial marriage with Alma [Britne Oldford] and me and my being a lesbian and all of that. It's really a sign of the times that what goes on, goes on. I think it's rife with possibility because of what the limitations were on a lot of people's hearts and minds at that time and ignorance, as opposed to today where we have an African-American president and we've come a long way. But it's still scary. I feel like the same thing could almost happen today.
Yes, like the scene with Sister Jude and Lana's partner Wendy [Clea DuVall]. When she said Wendy had no legal standing, and in many states ...
That's still true. Exactly.
Do you think the show, despite the fact that it's set 50 years ago, still has the opportunity to affect change in that regard?
You know, it's one thing to read about the facts and the statistics in the paper or on the news about gay and lesbian rights. But the idea that you can attach it to a human being and look at their story, I think there's definitely a way to make an impact in that regard because you start to connect [those statistics and facts] with human beings. And, you know, we're all human beings. Why does anyone care who someone else -- and by the way, a stranger -- loves? It just doesn't make any sense to me. It's so confusing.
Will Lana find out about Wendy's murder?
[Laughs.] I can't answer that yet because that doesn't happen until much later ... in Episode 5.
I was kind of looking forward to Lana being out in the non-Briarcliff world for a while. Were you surprised she was committed so early on in the season?
Well, I feel like in true Ryan Murphy form, it's going to be an assault, not a slow burn. The show to me -- even the style in which it's edited -- is very in your face. I feel to draw it out would have been antithetical to the way he does things. I think now that she's in there, what happens to her is so insane and so extreme that if we waited a few episodes to get her in there, all this stuff wouldn't have happened. I can understand why a viewer would think, "Wow. That was quick!" But at the same time, I sort of feel like, given what's coming for Lana and what happens -- we're about to shoot Episode 9 -- given what I know happens and what we've shot, it's so only just begun and it's so horrifying that what happens in the first few episodes is like eating a bowl of ice cream compared to what happens to her.
I'm officially terrified now.
Yeah. You should be. [Laughs.] It's just really terrifying, I have to say.
Season 1 was scary, but "Asylum" is on whole new level.
Well, that's just because last year, you know, I feel like there are plenty of people who don't believe in ghosts and the things that go along with ghost rules and dying in a house and a haunted basement. Some people just don't subscribe to that kind of thing. It can still scare you, but I don't think it gets under your skin. Where the idea of what happens to Kit Walker and Lana Winters and they're being held against their will ... Well, I mean, I know that Kit Walker has murdered some women so maybe he belongs there, but Lana Winters has no reason to be locked in an asylum. To me, the story between the powerful and the powerless is even more terrifying than things that go bump in the night.
It seems like Sister Jude [Jessica Lange] does have something against Lana being a lesbian, but it also seems like a big part of the reason why she committed her is because she's worried about Lana exposing what's going on at Briarcliff.
Yeah. I think that's right. I think most people don't always remember that it's not just because she disapproves of Lana's sexual orientation, but it's because she'll be damned if anyone is going to get in front of the work she's doing and the the work she's doing for Monsignor Howard [Joseph Fiennes]. That is the thing that governs her the most. I'm not saying that she doesn't absolutely believe that Lana's lifestyle is wrong, but it's how she's able to keep Lana from exposing what's going on inside the institution. And it's not that she thinks the things going on are barbaric -- she just wants to protect the work of the Monsignor. She doesn't think there's anything wrong with keeping Lana there; she thinks that she belongs there.
Lana developed a friendship with Grace [Lizzie Brocheré], but then that changed when she turned her and Kit in.
Yeah, that was fleeting. [Laughs.]
Does Lana's lack of friendships affect her mental state in the asylum?
I think as the season goes on, what ends up happening and what's coming is that her desperation increases to get out, but her isolation has also increased. There's no one to go to, she doesn't trust anyone so that's a very isolating thing and a very hopeless thing. But I think Lana Winters is a fighter so she's not going to go down without a fight, that's for sure. Boy, I wish I could tell you everything. [Laughs.]
Will her drive to get out overshadow her goal to expose what's going on in Briarcliff?
Yeah, I think what she's constantly trying to do is collect all the information. She's trying to keep it all in her brain; it's just hard because when you're in a place like that, your brain just turns to mush, not to mention the electroshock therapy. There's nothing to do to stimulate the mind, which is a muscle. I think her reporter head starts to take a backseat to her I-need-to-survive head, even though, everything single thing she's experiencing, she's keeping in the back of her brain to hopefully write the story she wants to write.
"American Horror Story" almuni Frances Conroy and Dylan McDermott are all also coming back to guest star this season. Have you done scenes with either of them yet?
Um, I don't know if I'm allowed to answer that question. Dylan, no and I'm going to plead to fifth on the other one.
There was an interview with Evan Peters on Vulture and he said he flashed you and Jessica on the first day of shooting "Asylum."
He did. He flashed us. I got a whole view of his nut sack.
Yeah, but listen, there are worse things to look at than Evan Peters from behind, I gotta say. I mean, Jessica and I blew a couple takes, we were laughing so hard because we just looked at each other and thought, "What the hell are we doing?!" We're looking at these bare asses of these people and I'm handing her canes from the closet. [Laughs.] At one point, we were completely off camera -- the camera was just pointing at Lizzie and Evan and we just literally could not get through the scene we were laughing so hard. So there's a great deal of levity on the set because what goes on is quite dark. It is very depressing. There's never anything overly lit and we're never outside. So it's kind of brutal.
Is it difficult being on a show like this and leaving work at work and forgetting about it later?
I will tell you that I'm not scared when I'm home, but there's has been a sadness that has lingered with me sometimes. There's certain stuff that happens from Episode 4 on that mentally, I know these things aren't happening to me, but physically, my body doesn't know. I'm having to emotionally communicate so much and that is something your body doesn't know, like why you're sobbing.
The show has a lot of different horrifying aspects -- killers, aliens, etc. Which element scares you the most?
Just the idea that a person could be stripped of all of their rights. There's something about having zero power and I mean, power by way of your voice, power by way of action. Just to have no opportunity to change your circumstances is very, very terrifying and something I think that anybody could relate to, whether you're watching the show or not. I think that is really scary and that's the element of the show this year that's hard to shake because I want to save Lana and there's nothing I can do.
Well, now I'm scared to watch.
You should be. We can talk again after Episode 8 or 9 and you'll be like, "Um. OK. Now I understand. OH MY GOD!"
"American Horror Story: Asylum" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.