When actress Angela Bassett, known for her numerous biopic roles, such as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It? and Rosa Parks in The Rosa Parks Story, joined American Horror Story: Coven as real-life voodoo icon Marie Leveau, it was safe to say she (and fans) didn't quite know what to expect. "I was really concerned, you know, portraying one of these characters who is such a historical figure and is so revered," she admits. Creator Ryan Murphy, who is known for not letting his actors know much about their characters ahead of filming, forced her to put her faith in his skills as a writer and producer. Yet, Bassett's concerns went unwarranted, considering the show debuted to its highest ratings yet and the part earned her an Emmy nomination.
For the fourth season, Freak Show, Bassett returned to play three-breasted, intersex performer Desiree Dupree and found herself in a similar situation. "I had no clue what the part was when I signed on," she revealed during a press call. "When I got the script, I sat down to read it to see. I had no way of figuring out which part was mine, but I guessed from the stage directions: African American woman, three breasts and a ding-a-ling."
Now five episodes in, Desiree has proven to be the most adventurous character yet for the actress. During a chat with reporters, Bassett also opened up about what it's like to play a three-breasted woman, what has scared her most on the show, and working with Sarah Paulson.
On what it's like portraying different characters:
As an actor, you're used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing research, and everything like that. What I've found most challenging about television -- shedding off a character and putting on another -- is the lag time between putting on the character and seeing the episodes and how the character comes off. So as an actor, you wonder if you're getting it right because you don't have the reaction of the audience yet.
On transforming into Desiree:
I go into my regular make up artist and she applies [the third breast] to me and then it's there, then I go to the SFX trailer where her husband blends it in and smooths it out so it seems like it's natural, then I go to the paint trailer where they blend more with all these colors, yellow and green and red. I wouldn't think they'd use all these colors, then I go take a photo and it takes like an hour -- just enough time to watch a Netflix episode of Orange is the New Black or something.
On what has scared her the most on Freak Show:
When [Twisty the Clown] took that mask off [in episode 4] and I saw where he put a gun in his mouth and shot half his face off, how the little people treated him and spurred him on to do that. He was still an innocent in his mind, so taking advantage of that took a lot from me. It wasn't like a freak out, but it was very sad.
On how both Desiree and Marie might be connected to the other seasons:
Not one [clue] and I haven't seen it. The only connection I've been able to make was Pepper, from season 2 to season 4.
On working with Sarah Paulson:
Sarah Paulson can make me laugh really easy. So can Gabby [Sidibe, who plays Regina Ross on Freak Show] when she's around. But Sarah's pretty funny to me. And Michael [Chiklis] is very lighthearted.