From co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the FX series American Horror Story uses a unique and compelling approach to television, with a different setting, different characters and a rotating cast of actors for each season. For Season 3, American Horror Story: Coven tells the secret history of witches and witchcraft in America, with a cast of talented actresses that includes Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Patti LuPone, Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Lily Rabe, Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe and now even Stevie Nicks.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Emma Roberts (who plays out-of-control Hollywood starlet and resident bitch Madison Montgomery) talked about how she came to be a part of Coven, that she was initially nervous about the subject matter, how much fun it is to play a bitch, how far ahead she was made aware of her character’s story arc, the fantastic clothes and shoes she gets to wear, how great it is to work with all of these talented actresses, just how much crazier things can get (they actually cut out a sex scene from Episode 7), the fan reaction she gets from people when she’s out, and how she’d love to return for Season 4. She also talked about how she hopes to continue to find a balance between roles in comedy and drama, and how it’s her dream to play a Margot Tenenbaum (from The Royal Tenenbaums) type of character. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Ryan Murphy has said that he wanted you to be on the show for awhile, and then this character came up and he thought it was perfect for you. Had you been talking to him about doing the show?
EMMA ROBERTS: I’d told him that I wanted to be on the show since the first season ‘cause I was obsessed. Anytime I’d run into him anywhere, ‘cause we’re kind of friendly, I’d be like, “When are you gonna put me on American Horror Story?” And he randomly just called me, one day. It was so surreal. I got a call saying, “Ryan wants you to be on the show, and he’s about to call you.” And he called me and I tried to be cool, but I was jumping around my house like, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
When you were told about what the season would be and who the character would be that you’d be playing, what was your initial reaction?
ROBERTS: When I heard it was going to be Coven, I was like, “I’m so happy I’m on this season ‘cause if I wasn’t and I was watching it, I would be so mad.” When I was younger, I loved all those witch movies, like The Craft and The Witches and The Witches of Eastwick. Even Sabrina the Teenage Witch was what I grew up on. There’s just something so fascinating about witches, and I think it hasn’t been done, in a very, very long time. It’s just so cool. When we do our witch stuff, obviously we don’t see it because it’s special effects. I love watching the shows because I look really cool.
When you were told about this, were you immediately all in, or did you need some questions answered first?
ROBERTS: I was nervous. When he asked me to be on the show, I was so excited, but then, I was like, “Wait, what’s the part?” I thought, “What if it’s something I don’t want to do?” Last season was pretty hardcore, so I was definitely a little bit concerned about some of the things I would have to do. And Ryan told me the role, and then I was even more excited. It’s a role I’ve always wanted to do. It’s fun to get to go to work and wear really fun dresses and heels, and look glamorous. I feel like I’ve typically played the girl-next-door, in the past. So, it’s nice to mix it up and play the popular girl.
Is it also fun to play the character who’s just a total bitch that says exactly what she wants to anyone she wants?
ROBERTS: Yeah, it’s really fun. It’s fun to play a character who just says what everyone wants to say sometimes, and who is also just a complete bitch for no reason sometimes. But what I like about her is that, in every one of the upcoming episodes, there’s glimmers of her being very nice, so you take her side, but then she’s typical Madison and goes back to making the horrible, mean joke.
Did you know when you signed on that you’d have a scene with the Supreme slitting your throat?
ROBERTS: I did know that would happen, and I thought it would be amazing to get to do such a scene like that with Jessica Lange ‘cause I’m such a fan of hers.
Did you also know that you’d be brought back, after that?
ROBERTS: Yeah, kind of. They were like, “We’ll probably bring you back,” but you never know for sure. After I was dead for two episodes, I was like, “Are you guys really bringing me back?,” and they were like, “Of course!” So, she’s definitely back. I’ve done pretty much every episode since.
What kind of a reaction did you get from viewers and fans, when Madison got her throat slit and died?
ROBERTS: It was funny, the response I got. In my mind, I knew she was coming back, so I wasn’t worried. But, I was looking on Twitter and people actually thought I was dead for good, and were not happy about it. That felt pretty good, to have created a character that people are really liking, even though she is kind of unlikeable. What was really important to me, doing it, was making her likeable, even if it’s in small ways. I don’t want to play her as your typical bitch. I wanted her to have a lot more layers and be more interesting than just a surface bitch.
Since there are certainly a lot of people like her, did you draw on any particular Hollywood starlets, in finding this performance, or was it more about a type of girl than anyone specific?
ROBERTS: Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. I’m just joking. No. I feel like, whether you’re an actress or whether you’re a kid in high school in the Midwest, there’s always this girl. It’s not just Hollywood. My little sister is 12 and there’s this girl, even at that age, in New York. I feel like it’s this universal person that we’ve all encountered in our lives. I just wanted to play on that. I thought that would be more interesting.
How much does that amazing wardrobe and the shoes that you get to wear really help you get into and find this character?
ROBERTS: It’s really fun. I love all the outfits. I remember my first fitting was three or four hours long ‘cause we were trying on clothes the whole time. I love it. It’s definitely hard, standing in five-inch heels for 12 hours, but you get over it when you realize the heels are Prada. By the end of the day, I’m so tired because I’ve had my boobs pushed up, I’m sucking in, I’m wearing heels and I have all this jewelry on. I’m definitely ready to wear sweatpants, on my days off.
This is the season of the witches, but don’t you also see it as the season of the women because there are just so many fantastic actresses?
ROBERTS: Yeah, it’s amazing! I’m so happy I got to be on a show with these amazing actresses. Whenever I watch any of them work, I will literally forget I’m on camera. I’m staring at them and think, “Oh, shit! I’m on camera. I need to not be drooling at Jessica Lange or Kathy Bates or Angela Bassett.” Patti Lupone is amazing. With Stevie Nicks, I geeked out. I chased her down after she was wrapped for the night and was like, “I’m really sorry, but can I have a picture with you please?” She was so nice. I have a bunch of pictures of us on my phone, and I’m actually going to print one out and frame it, which sounds so archaic these days.
And ironically, you have two male character on the show that don’t speak, with both Spalding and Kyle.
ROBERTS: Ah, I didn’t even think of that! It’s total girl power, this year.
What’s it been like to work with Jessica Lange, and play this antagonistic relationship?
ROBERTS: It’s fun! We have another confrontation with each other, and it’s so fun. It’s surreal. When I’m saying these lines and getting into Jessica’s face, it’s just so crazy. The real me is like, “Oh, my god, I’m so sorry! Please don’t be mad at me for yelling at you!”
Fiona must not be happy that Madison is back.
ROBERTS: No, she’s not. It’s a weird, unexpected confrontation that the two of us have, that I thought was really well written when I read it. The director, Alfonso [Gomez-Rejon], had all these really cool ideas that made the scene so different than a typical scene like that would play out. It was really, really fun to get to do that.
Ryan Murphy has said more than once that this season would be lighter, funnier and sexier, but so far there’s been gang rape, mass murder, incest, bestiality and now a threesome with two dead people. Just how crazy will things continue to get? Can they get crazier, at that point?
ROBERTS: Yeah. Things actually were crazier. They cut some stuff out of the last episode that was crazy. There was actually a scene where Madison and Spalding have sex, and they cut it out of the episode. So, yeah, things can definitely get crazier.
What was your reaction to the crazy threesome?
ROBERTS: When we were shooting it, the three of us were laughing to hard. It was hard to keep a straight face. We just couldn’t stop laughing. Taissa [Farmiga] and I texted each other a wide-eyed emoticon, and we were like, “Threesome? Really?!”
Are you just at a point where you expect anything when you’re reading the scripts?
ROBERTS: The one thing that I can thank being on this season of the show for is that it’s definitely made me a more fearless actress. Things I would normally say no to, I’m more like, “Bring it on!” But definitely, there are sometimes where I’m reading the script and pacing around my house for 20 minutes, biting my nails about it. But, you just do it. Even the craziest stuff on the show, I’m never really too offended by it ‘cause I always feel like it goes with the story. I think that’s why it’s forgiven. They know how to tie it in.
Do you ever get taken aback when you see the finished product and you see just how creepy the atmosphere and mood of the show is, once it’s all put together?
ROBERTS: Yeah, totally. It’s one of these shows where, when you’re shooting it, you think things are gonna be one way, and then you watch it and you’re like, “Oh, my god, this is so not what I thought we were shooting,” but in a really good way. They do all these crazy camera tricks and lenses. The people who work on this show do such an amazing job. The lighting and the camera all adds to the tone of the show. A lot of times, when we’re doing the scenes, us actors are laughing. It doesn’t seem that creepy, just from the dialogue. It’s whatever everybody else is doing that makes it creepy.
Now that Season 4 has been confirmed and you’ve had the experience of being a part of this ensemble of actors, would you like to return, if the story and character are as enticing as this season?
ROBERTS: Yeah! I’m just waiting to be asked.
Because such crazy things happen on this show, do people stop you a lot to talk about it when you’re out?
ROBERTS: People stop me a lot when I’m out because of the show. People don’t really ask me about it, but they’ll be like, “I can’t believe that happened!” Lately, it’s been, “I can’t believe the threesome!” It’s hilarious! And they always want me to tell them what’s next, but I can’t. All of my friends are like, “Don’t tell me!”
A show like this really shows how talented you are at both comedy and drama. Do you feel personally drawn to one over the other, or do you want to find a balance between the two?
ROBERTS: Thank you! I definitely want to continue to do both. It depends on my mood. I go through phases where I’m like, “I wanna do a drama!” And then, I go through phases where I’m like, “I can’t handle dramas! Please, only comedies!” So, I feel like it’s just finding the balance. Whether it’s comedy or drama, I want to find projects that I love and play characters that I’m totally invested in. That’s what I want to do.
You’ve already had a pretty amazing career and haven’t really stopped working since you started in this business. What do you look for, in scripts and projects, or is it really just about instinct?
ROBERTS: It’s just what I like. You know that something’s good when you read it, or you know that people are good people when you meet them. Those are the projects you want to do, and the people you want to work with. I definitely have a list of people that I hope to work with, in my lifetime. But, I’m also open to anything, as long as it’s something that’s good and interesting and different.
Is there a type of role that you’d love to do, that you haven’t gotten the opportunity to do yet?
ROBERTS: My favorite movie and character, ever, is The Royal Tenenbaums, and I’d love to do a Margot Tenenbaum kind of role. That would be my dream.
American Horror Story: Coven airs on Wednesday nights on FX.