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Behind the scenes of American Horror Story: Coven

Haunted houses? Been there. Nuns and Nazis? Done that. In season 3, American Horror Story looks to scare you senseless with a gang of sexy witches — and not the kind you find at a Halloween party.

American Horror Story
Image credit: PETER YANG for EW

For its third season, FX's American Horror Story has decided to get an education...in witchcraft. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's anthology series' appropriately subtitled Coven is set at Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, a New Orleans institution for witches that masquerades as an all-girls private school. ''There is a bloodline that descends from the Salem witches,'' explains exec producer Tim Minear. ''The families will often send their girls to this school to learn how to control their powers and also learn who and what they are.'' AHS mainstays Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson play mother and daughter as well as magical mentors to a group of young spell casters, including The Bling Ring's Taissa Farmiga and We're the Millers' Emma Roberts. EW was on the New Orleans set of AHS: Coven and has an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at the ingredients for this year's witches' brew.

Emma Roberts
Roberts' character Madison, a movie star (and witch), pulls out the cloak and dagger — and a faux human sacrifice — to welcome a new student. The actress says her current challenge is perfecting Madison's spell-casting gesture. ''I've been walking around my house and doing these weird witch hand movements, just thinking how embarrassed I'd be if anyone saw me,'' she admits. ''But I'm literally looking at things pretending like I can move them. I've tried flicking the wrist, just holding my hand there, I've tried some slapping motions. I haven't found it yet.''

Sarah Paulson & Taissa Farmiga
Paulson — who takes on the role of headmistress Cordelia — had no learning curve when it came to playing Lange's daughter; the duo costarred in a 2005 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. ''To me, the mother-daughter relationship is one of my favorite in the world to explore,'' says Paulson, ''and to get to do it with her [again] is extraordinary.'' Meanwhile, Farmiga, who didn't appear in AHS' second season, says her return to the franchise — this time as Zoe, a timid new student — ''felt like back to normal, like this is where I'm supposed to be.''

Gabourey Sidibe
On screen the teen witches don't always get along. But Precious star Gabourey Sidibe, who plays human voodoo doll Queenie, says that's definitely not the case off camera. ''It's pretty fun. I'm older than all of them,'' she says with a laugh. (At 30, Sidibe has more than a decade on Farmiga.) ''But sometimes I can ignore that fact. And Taissa is sort of my boo. I call her TT.''

Jessica Lange
Lange, whose character Fiona is called a ''Supreme'' for her powerful abilities, loved relocating to New Orleans for Coven. ''There's a magic to this place,'' says the actress. She adds: ''Yesterday I came out of my house and there was a tour going by; I heard the tour guide talking about witchcraft, so I stopped and thought, 'Oooh, maybe I can get some information here.' Research!''

Denis O'Hare
The actor, who wore prosthetics in season 1 to play Larry the Burn Man, has one of Coven's most startling transformations as the school's mute butler, Spalding. The final look is one part aging fashion designer, one part creepy perv. ''We looked at a lot of sources for this. The first thing that comes to mind is [Rocky Horror's] Riff Raff,'' says O'Hare (above with prosthetic makeup specialist Mike Mekash). ''We just kept exploring with the costume designer Lou [Eyrich] and we ended up with a very elegant, distinguished-looking freak. Except for his nails. And my teeth are going to get worse.''

Originally posted Oct 02, 2013 Published in issue #1280 Oct 11, 2013 Order article reprints