If fans of American Horror Story worry that the miniseries’ second installment won’t match the operatic and kinky frights of last year, let EW paint you a little picture: It’s only day 2 of shooting on the FX series, which this year is appropriately subtitled Asylum, and star Jessica Lange is in a nun’s habit spanking the bare bottom of her bound and shackled costar Evan Peters with a cane.
For those who didn’t watch the first season (in which Lange and Peters actually played a mother and her ghostly son tormenting their yuppie neighbors), fret not; AHS: Asylum launches a completely new story line set in 1964 at Briarcliff Manor, an institution for the criminally insane run by the Catholic Church and Lange’s Sister Jude. The Emmy-nominated actress looks like a wicked Maria von Trapp doling out medieval whupass in her office to Peters’ Kit, an inmate who attempted to escape. Before the camera rolls on this July afternoon inside an epic Paramount Pictures soundstage in West Hollywood, Lange storms about in a circle, her long black robe whooshing behind her, like she’s a prizefighter just waiting for the bell to go off so she can unleash holy hell on her opponent. When that moment comes, costars Sarah Paulson and French newcomer Lizzie Brocheré — both playing residents of Briarcliff — cower in the corner of the head nun’s office, grimacing at the torture. At one point, Paulson’s Lana turns to Sister Jude and, in a severe understatement, notes, ”You’re so twisted.”
Twisted doesn’t even begin to describe the corkscrew of a plot that encompasses season 2 of AHS, set to premiere Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. ”We are going Ryan Murphy-style all the way to the crazy house,” says Paulson, referencing the show’s co-creator. Adds Chloë Sevigny (Big Love), who plays sex-obsessed inmate Shelley, ”When I read [the scripts] I was like, ‘This is nuts.’ Then when we did the table read, and we read it aloud, there was something more grounded about it. But it’s provocative, and that makes it fun to watch.” Last year, AHS — which averaged 4.4 million viewers and is up for a whopping 17 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie — followed an L.A. family battling ghosts within their Victorian abode. But season 2 is a full and complete reboot. While some actors from the previous season (Lange, Peters, Paulson, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe) will be back, they will be playing entirely different characters — doctors, patients, nuns — in this new mental-hospital setting, making AHS the first notable TV anthology since Tales From the Crypt. ”I think Ryan’s doing something with American Horror Story that hasn’t been done on television recently, which is create a repertory company of actors,” says Quinto, who plays Dr. Thredson, a modern-thinking psychiatrist who clashes with Sister Jude. ”To have the opportunity to come back and play characters that are totally different is so appealing to me.” Murphy says that this has been the plan from the very beginning. ”Every year of the show is a different miniseries, and there will be several chapters,” explains the producer. ”You need as your leading man or leading lady an institution to haunt.” Adds co-creator Brad Falchuk, ”To me, last year was a family drama. This is our version of a workplace drama.”
But the folks on this series aren’t threatened by stapler shortages or drunk co-workers making out at the holiday party. The employees/residents of Briarcliff will actually be dealing with [SPOILER ALERT]…aliens. Yes, you read that correctly. And Nazis, and a serial killer named Bloody Face who wears a mask of his victims’ flesh along with a black nightie and opera-length gloves. You also read that correctly. ”I don’t think people tune in to the show because they want My Dinner With Andre,” jokes Murphy. ”I think they want to be scared. I’m just writing what I would like to see. I’m scared of aliens and I’m scared of Nazis and I’m scared of nuns. So it’s the perfect stew of horror and fear.” According to those involved, this gruesome gumbo will have you watching from behind your couch. Says FX president John Landgraf, ”I think this season is going to be the scariest thing anybody has seen on television.” (And yes, that includes Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.)