For months we’ve gotten little tidbits on the latest season of American Horror Story, like the character names and guest stars. Now, in EW’s Fall TV Preview, readers get to see behind the curtain of Freak Show.
This latest installment of AHS is about a titular group of misfit performers, led by former German cabaret star Elsa Mars (Emmy winner Jessica Lange), who arrive in the small town of Jupiter, Florida.”My character is very manipulative,” says Lange. “She understands what’s needed and she provides it. However the thing I want to be very clear that Elsa really loves these people. She truly cares for them in her own selfish narcissistic way. It’s not just exploitation.”
With her show’s popularity waning, Elsa hopes to pump up attendance by finding and recruiting conjoined twins Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson), two very different personalities sharing one body. “It’s not as simple as nice and evil,” Paulson says. “It’s more complicated, in true Ryan Murphy style.”
Elsa’s troupe includes Jimmy (Evan Peters), who was born with lobster-like hands, and his mother, bearded lady Ethel (Kathy Bates). “Ethel is basically Elsa’s right hand woman,” says co-creator Ryan Murphy. “She helps run the camp, and she’s sort of the guardian of the law. She had a real tragedy in that she was a real circus star in the ‘20s and 30s and then she had her baby and she became a down-and-out drunk, and Elsa saved her.”
Adding more drama to the tents is the arrival of Ethel’s ex-husband (and Jimmy’s father) Dell Toledo, a strongman who’s on the run from the law. “Jimmy is the big man on campus and is the male leader of the group until Dell comes and they begin to battle for power under Elsa,” says Murphy. Then there’s Dell’s new wife, Desiree Dupree, a three-breasted performer played by Angela Bassett. The role requires Bassett to wear a prosthetic that covers her entire chest. “Angela likes to flash them,” jokes Paulson. “She’s like, ‘Look at my 3 boobs!’”
Even freakier than a tri-boob? This season’s main villain, a nasty fella (and murderer) named Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch). The evil Bozo has retired in Jupiter and is not thrilled by the arrival of the freak show. “He’s out to make their lives a living hell,” explains Murphy. “He’s wearing a mask on the lower part of his face and there comes a point in the season where takes the mask off and when you see what’s under you will faint in terror.”
Other Coven alums back for more (despite the scary clown) include Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare as a pair of con artists, Frances Conroy as a wealthy woman whose son (Finn Whitrock) wants to join the freak show, and Gabourey Sidibe as a socialite who returns home to Jupiter when her mother (Patti LaBelle, who Murphy called personally to appear on the show) goes MIA.
There will, of course, be the hallmarks fans have come to expect from AHS, including time jumps (look for flashbacks to Elsa’s cabaret days in 1930s Germany as well as a peek at young Ethel) and a two-part Halloween episode featuring Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games) as a character named Edward Mordrake. “He is a very famous horror myth,” explains Murphy. “It was a man with two faces. A normal face and then a face on the back of his head that would whisper evil things and force the forward-facing entity to commit horrible crimes.”