When the "American Horror Story" finale airs tonight (Wednesday, January 23 at 10 p.m. EST), the FX's series second season, "Asylum," will come to an end, along with the torture, madness, rape, murder and aliens that have been gripping fans for a dozen episodes.
Sarah Paulson, who plays journalist-turned-patient-turned-celebrity-author Lana Winters, took the time to chat with HuffPost TV via phone about the "American Horror Story" finale and much more.
Below, Paulson opens up about the changes in Lana that had fans furious, her huge confession in the finale (which Paulson calls "extraordinary" and "brilliant"), what she took home from the set, the hilarious part of "The Name Game" scene that viewers missed out on, her surprising fan (Miley Cyrus), and saying goodbye to "American Horror Story: Asylum."
"I loved every minute of it. There's not a single thing I didn't love doing. Not a single thing," Paulson told HuffPost TV. "I don't think Lana ever gave up. Ever. She still hasn't, even in the finale ... I think I really learned things from Lana. She'll be in my heart forever. I never really cried at the end of a job from knowing how much I was going to miss the character I was playing. It was like she died. That was it. It's over."
The whole season, we've been rooting for Lana and fans had a very strong reaction to how she'd changed in last week's episode. Were you surprised by that or were you expecting it?
Both. First of all, we had shot it a long time ago so by the time I saw people's reactions I was like, "Wait, what? What do you mean?" There's a whole scene with Kit in the coffee shop where she says, "My life could have turned out very differently. I could've ended up dead like all of those other women and because I didn't, I'm now going to take what's in front of me to be had. I did try to go back to rescue Jude and I was told she was dead. I did what I could." She's had a lot of things happen to her that Kit couldn't know about and that people don't know about that are revealed in the finale in terms of her son.
So, to me, it made a lot of sense that that happened to Lana because Lana's a human being and people have interesting reactions to having been through trauma and coming out the other side. Some people want to do everything they can to help and other people go on to talk shows and talk about their story. You can't forget that Lana was a person who always wanted to be very successful and what happened to her in the meantime sort of changed some of that. But I do think that come the finale, more will be clear and people will be pleased about a lot of what happens with Lana in the later years.
But, at the same time, I also understood [what fans felt] on some level. When I read the script for the first time, on the one hand, I thought it was very hilarious and I totally understood it and on the other hand, I thought, "Oh my God. What happened to my sweet Lana Winters?"
I think if you really watch it carefully -- and I don't expect every fan to do that because, you know, we all have lives -- I think in that scene, in the coffee shop in particular, she's very affected by what Kit says. Even in the book store, she's apologizing for not coming to see him and saying Tuesday Wells is going to play her in the movie -- she's getting caught up in all of it. It's not who she is, but it's who she has allowed herself to become for a minute because what is a woman supposed to do after everything that's happened to her? Her lover's killed, she bore a child out of rape by a man who tortured her, she killed him -- it's just really a lot to ask a person to carry around. So if a person needs to go into denial and embrace her newfound fame, I don't know how you could possibly hold that against her.
It was clear in the bookstore scene that the fabrications in her book were really weighing heavily on her psyche.
There's no question. It was very hard for her.
In the finale, she's doing a "60 Minutes"-esque interview and she confesses something. Does she come clean about those fabrications?
It's something the audience already knows. Lana in her book has denied that she gave birth. She said the child died. That's the reveal. That's the lie in the book. But in the show, we saw Lana give birth in Episode 11 so the audience knows something that the readers of the book don't know. She comes clean about that. When you see older Lana, when you see her as a 75-year-old woman and how successful she's become, it's much more about being a hard-hitting investigative journalist. I think the things that Kit said to her in the bookstore and in the coffee shop hit her and it did cause a certain kind of change in Lana that you see in what she chooses to pursue as a journalist.
We saw in the promo for the finale that Lana will go back to Briarcliff.
Is there anything else that happens that prompts her to do that or is what Kit said?
Well, I think it's twofold, like anything. She's motivated by the fact that it's a very good story and that she has the most credible credentials possible to be able to report on that story because Briarcliff -- as you see at the end of Episode 12 -- has all gone completely to shit. Not that it was a great place before, but now that the state owns it and the church doesn't, it's become overcrowded and ... I mean, you saw the people having sex in the corner. It's just gone from terrifying to horrifying and then some. So I think Lana sees an opportunity to go and expose what's going on there to try to get the place shut down. That's what she tries to do in the finale. It's motivated both by a desire to have that place wiped off the face of the planet and also because she knows it's a story she has access to and nobody else does. They're not going to let a reporter in there with a camera, but Lana knows how to get in. So it's a combination of her ambition and the need to have justice served, as well.
After filming the finale, how did you feel?
I was happy with Lana's ending. I really feel like it was unlike anything I've ever done before because you very rarely get to tell the beginning, middle and end of a person's life -- not that she dies or doesn't die -- but to start the season as a young upstart and a person with great ambition and confidence and hope and to have everything that has happened to her and then to end up an old lady ... I was very proud and happy with the way that they tied up the end of the story. I think the final scene of the episode is pretty extraordinary in terms of storytelling and the writing. I think it was pretty brilliant of them to do it in the way they did.
We've seen so much happen to Lana over the course of just 12 episodes, but the scene when she finally gets out of Briarcliff and flips off Thredson (Zachary Quinto) was particularly great. Did you personally feel relieved in that moment?
That whole episode to me (Episode 11, "Spilt Milk") -- and it sounds very nerdy of me -- but when I read that script and Sister Claudia [Barbara Tarbuck] comes up to Lana and says, "I'm a friend" and Lana says, "I don't have friends in here" and then Sister Claudia lets her know that it was Sister Jude [Jessica Lange] who told her to get her out and she gets the tape and that whole scene of going down the stairs and walking past Thredson, it was a nail-biter for me to even play it. So when I got out on those steps and I flipped him the bird and showed him the tape ... I think they did use the take where I smiled a little bit after because I just couldn't help it. It just came out of me that way because I was just like, "You motherfucker. You're so fucked, dude. You're gonna get it." I don't even know if she knew she was going to kill him at that moment, but she knew she was going to go to the authorities. She had time to go to authorities, then go get a manicure, do her hair, put on a dress and get home before Thredson did because she's a super star.
Seriously. She's been looking amazing. The wardrobe is just ...
I know! Our wardrobe woman Lou [Eyrich] is a genius and it's hard to tell when everyone's wearing blue denim smocks and hospital uniforms, but the minute you see anyone get to wear anything else, you're just like, "Holy crap!" The clothing I wear in the finale -- '70s Lana -- was my favorite thing to do ever in my life from a style perspective because it suits my figure. I'm all torso and no leg, but they have really high pants that come up to your neck and make your legs look longer. It was very fun. I got to wear falls, too. It was kind of extraordinary.
Did you get to take anything home?
I did take the "L" pin that was on her jacket when she first came to Briarcliff. I got to keep that. And Lou, as a wrap gift, mounted and framed my first two fitting photos of the outfits that were chosen back when my hair was blond, before Ryan [Murphy] decided he wanted Lana to be a brunette. And it says, "Finding Lana Winters." It was very moving to me. I also have the "Maniac" book and I also have the "Maniac" poster because it's so genius: "One Woman's Story Of Survival." It just makes me giggle so much. I can't take it. I had it framed. I cherish it.
I have to ask you about "The Name Game."
It was the most fun thing ever. We were all like, "Yeah, 'Glee' -- suck it! Here we are. 'American Horror' can do it too!" But it was pretty funny because it was me, Evan and Jessica in the room where the "Glee" cast does their rehearsals and we felt like total dummies. We worked with Zach [Woodlee] -- the same choreographer from "Glee" -- and it took us a while. None of us are professional dancers. That was Jessica singing. It was so amazing.
It was the craziest day ever because I think what's not in it is the chronic masturbator when we're clapping over by the couch. It was the most insane thing. Evan, Jessica and I didn't notice him at first and then Evan pointed him out because he's literally jerking it at top speed while we're clapping and doing the swim in front of him. Once we noticed it, we had a 50-car pileup where we just dissolved into giggles on the floor. It was just so absurd, like, "What are we doing with our lives here?" We spent 12 hours shooting that scene and it was just the most fun because think about it: We had all spent five months in drab clothing, not smiling, screaming, crying, running and now, here we all were, laughing, smiling and having the greatest time.
But the chronic masturbator scene needs to be added. I think Ryan said he'd put it on the DVD. It was the kind of thing where once you saw it, it was impossible not to think it was the most hilarious, disturbed, depraved thing you could possibly imagine. It was just so much fun. It was the greatest day.
Was there any other scene you enjoyed filming that we might not expect?
Well, this is going to sound weird, but the aversion conversion therapy scene. I'm not gonna say it was fun to shoot, but I did love filming it. I mean, this is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. It really is and I've never felt that way before. This to me -- although so much of it was harrowing and horrifying -- it was also, from an acting standpoint, very exhilarating to do because I got to really go to some dark places and I got to really access my acting muscles, which you don't always get to do. I got a lot of exercise this year with this role and I don't take it for granted. I loved every minute of it. There's not a single thing I didn't love doing. Not a single thing.
What will you miss about playing Lana?
Gosh, just everything -- everything from her plucky quality to her incredible strength. I don't think Lana ever gave up. Ever. She still hasn't, even in the finale. I think that's an incredible quality to have as a person: to have perseverance with a dash of hope. And I think I really learned things from Lana. She'll be in my heart forever. I never really cried at the end of a job -- other than, "I'm gonna miss you" [to the cast] -- but I never cried from knowing how much I was going to miss the character I was playing. It was like she died. That was it. It's over. That was heartbreaking.
This season has gotten so much of attention. I saw Miley Cyrus started following you on Twitter. Have there been any interesting fan stories since Season 2 started?
I mean, that was pretty wild. I think I tweeted her back like, "Are you kidding? Did you follow me? Miley Cyrus watches 'American Horror Story'?" I couldn't understand. Certainly when I was at the Golden Globes, where I was a big fat loser ...
Yeah, but it's OK to sit in the Golden Globe room and look around and think, "Oh, Helen Mirren's a loser tonight, so is Nicole Kidman. Meryl Streep lost tonight. Jessica Lange didn't win." If you're gonna be in the company of losers, that's the company to be in. And if you're going to lose to someone, Maggie Smith is not the worst person to lose to. I should be so lucky to be in a category with Maggie Smith. It was all fine. But I definitely have felt how wide-reaching this season has been in terms of people who have come up to me in restaurants and in New York, walking down the street. It's wild. People really like the show. This is first time I've really been on a TV show people have liked. I've never been on a show that's run for more than a season.
Is there anything you hope to get to do in next season?
I don't think there's anything that I could possibly imagine that would be better than what Ryan would come up with.
What about anyone you hope to work with more?
Well, if Frannie Conroy comes back, I'd love to have stuff with her. She's an amazing actress. I used to quote her character from "Six Feet Under" all the time and I'm such a theater lover and she did so many plays in New York. I think she's absolutely a remarkable actress. And also, just more stuff with Jessica. I love working with Jessica.
Ryan recently talked to reporters about Season 3 of "American Horror Story" and said he knew who you were going to play but you didn't. Do you yet?
I still do not know. But I didn't know who I was playing last year either, so if that's any indication, I'm not worried. He gave me such a beautiful part, but I can't imagine ever being lucky enough to play something as great next year. So I don't care if he has me playing a cow in a pasture, I'm just so happy to be a part of it and to be asked to be a part of it again.
The season finale of "American Horror Story: Asylum" airs on Wednesday, January 23 at 10 p.m. EST on FX.