As the doors closed on Briar Cliff in the season finale of American Horror Story: Asylum, appropriately titled, “Madness Ends”, we chat with the creator, Ryan Murphy and it’s star, Jessica Lange about the original inspiration for this dark season, the acting approach and what we can look forward to in Season 3. At a press screening of the finale last week on the Fox Studios lot, the room of journalists anxiously awaited to find out what happens to Bloody Face, Does Kit, Lana and Sister Jude survive and what is to become of Briarcliff. All I can say is that all of these, and more were answered in a most satisfying finale to a tumultuous and disturbing ride of a season. I can also add that this is the most intimate and touching episode of the season with standout performances by Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and of course Jessica Lange. Interestingly enough, Mr. Murphy did confirm that all three of these actors will be back for Season 3, but more about that later.
If you thought, like many, that this past season, Asylum, was much darker and creepier than season 1 then you are not alone. But, where did the inspiration come from? Murphy confessed to being obsessed with a documentary he had seen, “Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace” that was filmed in 1972 about a state supported institution for people with mental retardation in Staten Island. The film is responsible for putting reporter, Geraldo Rivera on the map for breaking into the institution with cameras and exposing the horrific conditions. Mr. Murphy was also inspired by a film, related to Willowbrook entitled “Cropsey”, an unsolved mystery and urban legend, about a man who lived on the grounds of Willowbrook, after it’s doors had closed, but who preyed and abducted children. Murphy always knew that he wanted it to be about an asylum with a smart female reporter who breaks into the asylum, with her sole mission being to close it’s doors for good. The rest of the story, he said unfolded as the season progressed including the alien abduction theme, the religiosity, and Lily Rabe’s character, Sister Mary being possessed by Satan, which surprising to Murphy, became a fan favorite.
On a recent call with Jessica Lange she spoke about season 2 and her approach from an acting perspective. “I think there was a leap of faith on my part just thinking, well if I’m going to do this I’m going to do this. And I think as an actor you have to have trust, you have to believe that someone is taking care of you or watching your back, because with a part like this especially and where we’re going with it, I can’t pull any punches, I can’t do it halfway, especially when you’re dealing with madness, and I felt like I’m going to embrace this 100% and hopefully somebody will look out for me and not let me completely humiliate myself.” Lange confirmed what Murphy had stated, that even though the end was determined, the middle was left open for story lines to organically emerge between the writers and Murphy. “Jessica has become a sort of uncredited producer”, admitted Murphy stating that it was Lange’s idea to shoot a flashback scene as a 1940’s-esque cabaret singer in order for her to have a scene that was more frivolous, thus allowing her a much needed break from the confines of Sister Jude. She later visited Murphy’s office and begged for another similar scene, which became the now infamous, ‘Name Game’ with Paulson, Peters and the entire 20 extras. The extras, by the way were meticulously cast for specific traits and remained the same 20 throughout the entire season. Lange was so impressed by the actors, as was Murphy, that she went up to each and every one of them, and thanked them for their tremendous dedication to staying in character during the entire dark season. Lange said she really liked working with a script that was ever evolving where she had input. “It’s kind of like life, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And it’s been an interesting way to work. It’s made me work in a much more fluid, I think in a braver way in a way, of just taking every chance that comes along. I don’t plan things ahead of time. I don’t map out the character. It’s been a great, powerful exercise in working just in the moment. I think it’s made me a better actor, in a way, because of not being able to go into something pre-determined.” Lange did admit, however, that this season did harken back to when she played “Frances” only this time under different auspices.
Mr. Murphy said he was very pleased with season 2, especially the finale. “I think that season 2 was really cool, and I think that it was about something cultural and social, but it was very dark and it was very unrelenting by design.” He stated that Sarah Paulson and her character, Lana became the real revelation of the season. He loved that Lana became the heroine and that she was a lesbian. He always told Paulson to approach Lana as if she was the smartest person in the room. He admitted that he always knew the fate of Lana within the storyline, but he didn’t know how fabulous her wigs would be at the end of the season, stating that they reminded him of Jackie Suzann. At the finale, Lana is patterned after Barbara Walters including her wardrobe and stylings.
Season 3 Forecast:
Murphy didn’t confess to much regarding season 3, but he did admit that next season will be much lighter and funnier than previous seasons. “I’m done with aliens”, but instead he will explore the idea of a horror/romance. He admitted that he got Lange to return by agreeing to everything the actress asked for, including location, hair & makeup and that he would outfit her in the best designer gowns possible. Yes, Lange will return to glamour in season 3, admitting that both he and Lange missed the character of Constance in season 1. Season 3 will be a modern tale with a mixture of cities, but will always incorporate earlier time periods as he credits this to part of the franchise’s success. Mr. Murphy said he really likes the novelistic approach to each season with a beginning, middle and end, and hopes it continues for another ten years. Speaking for myself and the fans, so do we!
The season finale of “American Horror Story: Asylum – ‘Madness Ends’ airs tonight on FX at 10 PM.