While we’re counting down the days to Coven’s premiere, we’re taking a look back at Asylum by revisiting Briarcliff Mental Institution – caning, “The Name Game” and all. For The Writers’ Room, which airs on Sundance Channel, EW sat down with AHS producers Ryan Murphy, Tim Minear and Brad Falchuk to talk Jessica Lange’s influence on the series, the season’s theme and the use of aliens.
Below are some of our favorite revelations about American Horror Story’s second season. (Spoilers ahead!)
Jessica Lange refused to do any more caning in her scenes.
Ryan Murphy: I’m always shocked that [actors] call us up and say, ‘I have to do what?’ The only note I ever got from an actor was Jessica Lange. There was a day she was looking at bare asses for like 12 hours. She’s like, ‘I can’t do it anymore, I did it enough…” I even gave her the option: what if we do a different kind of caning? With, like, horse-hair canes.
The actress was also the brain behind the groovy “The Name Game“ sequence.
Murphy: ‘The Name Game’ happened because Jessica Lange played a lounge singer turned nun, and around episode eight, after she had been put into solitary and locked up, and was covered in vomit and everything else, she said, ‘Remember when I used to sing? Can’t I just have one song, can’t I have a moment?’… I had always loved that song since I was a kid, so I brought it in and played it, and we figured out a way to make it. It worked because that character was in the middle of a psychotic break.
Asylum ended with Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) killing her son, and Kit Walker (Evan Peters) being taken away by aliens. But that wasn’t the writers’ original plan for the finale.
Murphy: We thought the last episode would be Sarah Paulson going into the sanitarium and shutting it down. That indeed was part of it, but we moved it around a little bit.
Tim Minear: When she got violated, the seed was planted. Sort of.
While the presence of aliens in Asylum divided viewers, producers stand by their choice.
Murphy: For me, [aliens] were always an obvious metaphor for God. It fit very easily into the world of a Catholic sanitarium asylum.
Minear: The Betty and Barney Hill story of the fifties, sixties, was one of the first abduction stories. It was an interracial couple, we weren’t taking from that specifically, but it was in the water, in our experience, the stories that we all knew. When Ryan first pitched out that first story, he pitched it in that order, and he was like, ‘And then we meet him at his farm, and then he’s abducted by aliens.’ And my jaw was on the floor, but it felt exactly right to me for the period. If you think about it, those aliens are the closest things to angels, on our show about sort of religion versus science, there was nothing incongruous to me about any of that stuff.
Murphy: It was also about science versus faith so it made sense to me. The show is a show that pays tribute to a lot of horror masters. We take that seriously, so I always loved the alien idea of it, I loved what it was, I loved what it was about.
There was only one story point that the network, FX, interceded on.
Murphy: The only disagreement I had this whole last season was around episode ten. [FX CEO] John Landgraf said, ‘I just want to tell you one thing: I’m feeling that it’s really heavy, and I want to make sure some of those characters have a happy ending.’ So I wanted to make sure, particularly that Jessica’s character was well taken care of at the end of that run. It’s always a very pleasant, wonderful experience to [make the] show, it’s never been difficult, not for one minute.
Finally, Murphy took some time to choose which of his characters he would invite to a dinner party…
Murphy: Well, definitely Sister Mary Eunice [Lily Rabe], because she’s possessed by Satan. She’s going to turn her head around. Probably Constance [Jessica Lange] from the first incarnation because she’d steal the silverware, she’s a magpie. And probably Christian Troy [Julian McMahon] from Nip/Tuck. It’s like an alcoholic dark night. It is a liquid dinner, we just serve martinis. That’s all we need.
American Horror Story: Coven premieres Wednesday, Oct. 9.