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InDepth InterView: Connie Britton Talks AMERICAN HORROR STORY, Neighborhood Playhouse, African Children's Choir & More

Acing the tailor-made lead role in GLEE creators' Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's new supernaturally-themed FX series AMERICAN HORROR STORY, the former FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS star Connie Britton is finding herself at a career peak (look no further than the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly that just hit newsstands yesterday). Britton's bright beginnings at The Neighborhood Playhouse and study under acclaimed acting instructor Sanford Meisner - as well as her Off-Broadway and stage work - have clearly prepared her well for the tricky ROSEMARY'S BABY-esque role of a lifetime that Murphy, Falchuk and company have devised for her on the star-studded nighttime soap thriller - which also features TV heavyweight Dylan McDermott, as well as two-time Oscar-winner Jessica Lange and Tony-winner (and TRUE BLOOD's King of the Vampires), Denis O'Hare. Discussing all aspects of the first three episodes of the surprise hit horror series, as well as offering some hints as to what we can expect from the forthcoming two-part Halloween special and upcoming episodes (including a Rubber Man tease), Britton and I dissect the complex inter-workings of the Harmon family and the house from Hell that they now reside in - as well as its ghostly inhabitants. Will they somehow make it out alive? And, who exactly is the new ghost in house, revealed just this week, played by previous InDepth InterView participant Lily Rabe? What can we expect from Zachary Quinto's first appearance coming up this week? And, what about The Infantata? As Murphy's original pitch's tagline states, "The House Wins," but, as far as AMERICAN HORROR STORY goes, the actors do, too. In addition to all about AMERICAN HORROR STORY, Britton and I also discuss her passionate dedication to Bono's ONE charity, as well as her participation in supporting the African Children's Choir, who will be performing at a gala raising awareness and funds on Monday at The Highline Ballroom.

Further information about the African Children's Choir 3rd Annual Gala on Monday, as well as tickets to the event, can be obtained here!

Tainted Luck

PC: Given BroadwayWorld's gigantic GLEE audience, this is like the perfect marriage of the two Ryan Murphy worlds now that I am talking to you about AMERICAN HORROR STORY.

CB: Oh, that's so awesome! I love that.

PC: Are you a GLEE fan or is this your entrée into the Ryan Murphy universe?

CB: Well, you know what? It's not that I'm not a big GLEE fan, it's just that I am not a big TV watcher. But, what I have seen of GLEE I just love and admire so much. It would not be doing justice to the real fans out there like you have if I said that I was a true fan - but, I do really, really appreciate it and what it is. And, that was part of why I wanted to do this show with Ryan - because I think he and Brad are such innovative filmmakers, really; even though we are doing it on TV, but whatever.

PC: It's so outright filmatic - just this week's episode had Dario Argento touches and a million other homages, plus that unbelievably powerful music cue from Coppola's DRACULA.

CB: Yeah!

PC: DON'T LOOK NOW and ROSEMARY'S BABY seem to be the main influences on AMERICAN HORROR STORY, so are you taking anything from the great female performances in those films - Julie Christie and Mia Farrow?

CB: Oh, yeah. Honestly, I watched all of those because I knew those were big inspirations for Ryan, and, in fact, they are so kind of pertinent to what we are doing. So, I watched them all, and, then - it's funny, because it's always a tricky thing with doing a send-up to something like that - I want to really have the performance have a reverence to those things, but, at the same time, I could never even hope to match them or duplicate them. So, then, it is just about being inspired by them and kind of taking it and running with it.

PC: Right before our eyes you seem to be creating a totally idiosyncratic horror heroine - and a strong, fierce woman, too.

CB: Aww, thank you so much! Well, that's my hope, so I really appreciate you saying it.

PC: I've heard that when you first read the script that that is the aspect that grabbed you immediately - that she wasn't just some big-breasted bimbo. Do you know what I mean?

CB: [Laughs.] Totally! No, no - it was very important to me. In fact, what was interesting about her - I really love playing, and, obviously, in FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS I was playing something very regional...

PC: Of course.

CB: ... and it was very true to my experience of the Southern woman - but, it's also every woman. And, here, you know, this is a woman from a different region and she has lived a different kind of life - and I really love to get those kinds of specifics and details, but, at the same time, I also want her to feel very true and very accessible - again - to every woman. So, it's kind of that fun balance of accessibility, but, also, with real specifics. But, always - across the board - I always really want the women that I play to be characterized by a certain strength. Even if they are in the midst of a full-on breakdown!

PC: As your character is on the show.

CB: Even if they are in crisis; even if they are in conflict - you know, I want there to be something that feels strong about them. So, that's something that I always look for in every character.

PC: Ryan Murphy writes such strong female characters - on NIP/TUCK his characters for Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave were unforgettable. Even his direction and collaboration with Julia Roberts on EAT PRAY LOVE - he is one of the best female storytellers.

CB: I agree with you. I thought [EAT PRAY LOVE] was beautiful - I thought what he did with those characters was amazing. I am always fascinated to find men who can write women so well - and, you know, he's just got great insight into it! [Laughs.]

PC: Indeed he does.

CB: And, he's also very collaborative - he really listens to my thoughts on it, as well, and, I think, really appreciates that and tries to incorporate it.

PC: How great.

CB: Yeah, that was one of the things that was really important to me about this project, too - I got a very collaborative feel from him and he has been very true to that.

PC: Have you ever felt uncomfortable filming any scenes so far - the insemination scene with the Rubber Man in the pilot is…

CB: Yeah, I know! [Laughs.]

PC: Was that really terrifying to do? I can only imagine.

CB: Well, you know, honestly, I was dreading it so much that by the time we actually shot it, I was kind of like, "Eh. Ok! That wasn't so bad." [Big Laugh.]

PC: Are you depicted as the pregnant woman with the Rubber Man - in any way - on the poster?

CB: No, it's not me. I'm not sure who it is, but I think that ended up being a very acrobatic photo shoot, and, so, I think they hired a dancer or an acrobat who actually shot those pictures. So, when I first saw them, I said, "Wait! I think that's supposed to be me!" [Laughs.]

PC: I don't even think a lot of people noticed she was pregnant, at first, given the angle and everything.

CB: Yeah! I know.

PC: I am so glad I get to speak to you after Episode 3 - I think it was the best episode ever, which is saying something.

CB: It was such a great episode, wasn't it?!

PC: Of course, Lily Rabe made her first appearance as the first homeowner  of the house - and she has done this column, as well.

CB: Ugh, she's just so great!

PC: What was it like working with her? She was so great as both the modern and the 1920s woman - I'm assuming the same person/ghost - and the kitchen scene was perfectly pitched, which was no easy feat.

CB: Yeah! That was so fun. I've actually known Lily for a while and I was so excited when I heard that she was going to do the show. I think that she does those kind of characters - those very period characters - so well.

PC: I agree - a predilection, it seems.

CB: I think that she has such a beautiful grasp of playing every nuance of that and I knew she would just knock it out of the park - and she did. And, it was just so fun to work with her in those scenes and watch her create that character.

PC: Can you tell me if she will be back?

CB: Yes. She will.

PC: I've heard that hers may become a recurring role - as Zachary Quinto's may be. Are you filming with him right now?

CB: Yeah. He has done several episodes, as well. One of the great things, too, is that I feel like Ryan is really creating this community of ghosts, you know, in our show. So all of the people that we are establishing here at the beginning…

PC: We will see much more.

CB: Yeah, I mean - they live there. They live in that house! So, Zach is gonna be back and Lily is gonna be back - and their arcs just keeping getting better and better. [Pause.] It's just so fun every time we get a new script out.

PC: What are you filming now?

CB: We are filming Episode 7 now and we are about to start Episode 8, I think.

PC: All the groundwork has been laid now by the end of Episode 3. Can we assume The Infantata in the basement is the baby of the Doctor and Lily Rabe's character since they are wearing the same outfit?

CB: Ohh! That's clever! [Laughs.]

PC: I'll take that as a yes, then! That 80s flashback with the DYNASTY-esque Jessica Lange was so fabulous. Since you were interwoven into it, were you actually onset in the 80s design or was it an effect?

CB: No, that was a really cool effect. They shot it where they had the sets all set like that and they shot it very specifically and carefully and then they did a total reset of the set and everything and the camera continued to pan around the room to move us into modern day.

PC: How interesting.

CB: I just think, you know, the camerawork and the artistry on this show is impeccable. I am just blown away every time I see an actual episode air. I just think our crew and the directors and DPs do such an amazing job.

PC: It's like a film. It's art - at least to me.

CB: Sure! And, we're shooting on film - which on TV these days is so rare and a real pleasure.

PC: What was FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS shot on? HD?

CB: I think that was 12? Maybe Super 16?

PC: Fascinating. So, exactly how much of the punch-ins and close-up work is done on set?

CB: I think a lot of that is done on set. Yeah.

PC: Even inserts and ultra-close-ups and hand shots and such?

CB: Yeah. It's very intricate, actually. We have a very long shooting schedule! [Laughs.]

PC: I bet.

CB: You know, each scene really takes a long time because each scene is so intricately shot. [Pause.] Each scene is so ambitious.

PC: You can say that again. And, the Halloween episode kicking off this coming week we are all looking forward to…

CB: Yeah! It's a double episode and it's pretty, pretty exciting.

PC: Since it's two episodes, it will be more like a two-hour movie proper, right?

CB: Yeah! Yeah.

PC: And Rubber Man is back?

CB: Yes! Rubber Man is back. You know, he's part of the fabric of our show.

PC: And is it a coincidence Jessica Lange's character shares your namesake - Constance?

CB: Oh, yeah - that's a total coincidence. Isn't that cool?

PC: Very. Strange luck. Do you enjoy working with a great stage actress like her, having come from the Meisner school and Off-Broadway originally? Is it a privilege as a fellow theatre actress?

CB: Oh, such a privilege. It is. Every time I see her onset - whether we are working together or not - is such a privilege. She's just beyond being a brilliant actress - she's a lovely person, too. Getting to spend the time with her that I do get to spend, I just soak it up - you know, as an actor, it is so wonderful to be able to be around somebody with that talent and experience.

PC: Has Sam Shepard been around at all?

CB: No, he hasn't! [Big Laugh.]

PC: Which brings us to another great thespian on the show and a favorite past participant in this column - the absolutely phenomenal Denis O'Hare.

CB: Denis O'Hare is off… the… charts!

PC: He is the best.

CB: Forget it! He is… I don't have a lot of scenes with him, but I had one with him recently.

PC: I can't wait to see it.

CB: Oh, I was so looking forward to doing it.

PC: What happened?

CB: Well, it was a good thing that Denis had most of the lines in the scene, because I caught myself - as we were shooting the scene - standing there, with my mouth hanging open, just watching him. [Laughs.]

PC: No way!

CB: Yeah, I was not even really in the scene at all, I was just watching how great he was and what he was doing. He is just so incredible and the nicest guy in the world.

PC: Moving to Monday night's gala fundraising event and celebration for the African Children's Choir - how did you get involved with the organization in the first place?

CB: I have been really doing a lot of work around African issues - particularly pertaining to African orphans and children - for many years now. And, I was working with ONE - which is Bono's organization, as you probably know - and, my friends at ONE said, "Hey, this is a really great organization that we support and are really behind, so if you want to check them out you can go to Africa and see what they are doing over there." So, Taylor Kitsch - from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - and I both went to Africa to sort of see the different schools that they've done and the work that they've done over there with the African Children's Choir.

PC: Were you impressed?

CB: We were just… I was just absolutely blown away. Really, it's one of the best organizations that I've ever seen in terms of just the work that they are doing, supporting children, getting children out of the worst circumstances - and educating them and giving them opportunities. The people who go through the program go back to Africa to hopefully, ultimately solve some of the problems there, too. It's such a well-run and important organization for Africa, I think.

PC: How impressive.

CB: Since we went, I have just been as involved as I can be with them.

PC: Your passion for it comes through even just talking to you.

CB: You know, it's really always a tricky thing when you put faith into an organization and put your money behind it and I have never seen an organization that was run so efficiently - every single bit of the money that they spend and everything that they do is so totally about these kids. They create so many opportunities - they have schools in seven African nations, so they create so much opportunity for Africa's most vulnerable children. It's really, really extraordinary.

PC: And, ONE's Bono is a Broadway composer now thanks to SPIDER-MAN. Have you worked with him one-on-one on ONE yet?

CB: [Laughs.] No, I haven't! I am such a huge fan of Bono - just on every level. I love his music and I love who he is in the world so I hope I get to meet him one of these days.

PC: Have you gotten to see SPIDER-MAN yet?

CB: No! I haven't seen it yet.

PC: Have you seen anything you have liked onstage recently?

CB: You know what? I have been in LA and I am behind. I am missing it desperately. I want to catch up on everything. I am not sure if I am going to be there in New York on Monday right now because of work stuff, but if there is any way I can be there I definitely will be.

PC: What can you tell me about your New York roots working with Sanford Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse? He's such an icon.

CB: Well, I went to The Neighborhood Playhouse - which was his school - and, when I went, he was still teaching. So, I definitely got to study with him, which was definitely an amazing experience, you know?

PC: To say the very least. What was the best advice he ever gave you?

CB: The one thing that I would say is the most Meisner thing that I have held onto is: just listen. Always listen. [Laughs.]

PC: And so much of horror acting is reaction acting. All your first scene in the pilot is reaction acting.

CB: I know! That's the hardest stuff to do, actually.

PC: Horror acting in general is the hardest acting - especially to keep it non-camp.

CB: Yeah, I am telling you - this stuff is very challenging. Every day I wake up, going to work on AMERICAN HORROR STORY, and, I am like, "Wow! I have no idea how I am going to do what I am going to do today." [Laughs.]
 
PC: That's so funny.

CB: It's really challenging because it is flexing different muscles for me - but, I really enjoy every day, because it is so exciting to be working in this way and to be doing a different character and different work.

PC: TV is better than film these days - GLEE, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, MAD MEN, and, now, this.

CB: Yeah, it really is, isn't it?

PC: Do you think AMERICAN HORROR STORY will go too far at some point?

CB: I don't know! I mean, who knows? The president of FX if very supportive of Ryan and really appreciates him, so, I think that he will be as unrestrictive as possible. With Ryan, you never know what that means!

PC: Would you be open to doing nudity on the show, should that be the next cable TV taboo he breaks?

CB: I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't know that it's necessary - if it ever came up, we could have a conversation about it. But, until then, we'll leave it to Dylan's butt! [Laughs.]

PC: Thank you for answering that question, either way!

CB: No problem! [Laughs].

PC: You have a movie coming up with Carla Gugino and she is also going to be at the African Children's Choir event, so, do I presume that is more than a coincidence?

CB: Well, she is one of my dearest friends...

PC: Oh, really! She is?

CB: Yeah. She has gotten very interested in this organization, as well, and it is always really, really, really extra-special when you can do something like this with friends. Julia Barnett Tracy, who is one of the women running the whole gala on Monday, she is the one I went to Africa with for the African Children's Choir, so, through that, we have become dear friends as well. So, you know, I always like working with friends whenever I can.

PC: So you and Carla will start shooting BY VIRTUE FALL soon?

CB: Yeah. You know, I think that is one where we have to get all the pieces and cast-members together and schedules on board and, then, I am hoping that is going to happen - probably at the beginning of next year.

PC: I see an amazing cast is already scheduled - Eric Bana, James Spader.

CB: Mmmhmm!

PC: Hopefully all the pieces come into place. I see you have another movie with an amazing cast coming out - Rachel Bilson, Bill Hader, Clark Gregg - for THE TO-DO LIST?

CB: Yeah, we have shot that movie and, by the way, the title is now THE HAND JOB. [Laughs.]

PC: No way! How can they get away with that?

CB: I know! I know. I love it!

PC: What about the Steve Carell movie you just wrapped recently?

CB: I loved doing that - SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD. It's a really, really great movie.

PC: Where does that awesome title come from?

CB: Yeah, it is, isn't it? It's just very unique and beautifully written. You could sort of loosely call it a dark comedy.

PC: What's it about?

CB: It's about... the end of the world coming. It ends up being a kind of a road-trip movie happening just as the world is about to end. The writer of that was amazing and it's a really cool movie.

PC: And Keira Knightley, too - co-billed alongside you and Steve Carell. As someone who knew you first from FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, your career has just exploded this year. Do you feel particularly lucky right now - on the cover of EW?

CB: Aww, I feel so lucky! I feel lucky for all of it, but I feel so grateful for having had the experience of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. That was just a wonderful, wonderful show and a wonderful experience to have and I will always treasure it. That will always be something that is so special to me and, now, to see all of this coming out of it is, really - as an actor - so great to have had this opportunity.

PC: Did Ryan Murphy write the role for you on AMERICAN HORROR STORY based on your work on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS?

CB: You know, I'm not sure how it all happened, but I think that he really had me in mind for it from the beginning. And, I signed on to do it fairly early on in his process, and, so, we got to really be creative about it right from the beginning - which is so exciting and always such a wonderful place to be as an actor.

PC: This is the perfect thing for TV - for culture - right now. And, you are now a part of two TV classics - and AMERICAN HORROR STORY is only three episodes in!

CB: Yeah! I know. Listen, I am pinching myself every day. Every. Day.

PC: And you are pregnant on AMERICAN HORROR STORY and your next new movie is titled CONCEPTION, correct?

CB: Right! CONCEPTION. That is my friend Josh's movie and it is really a lot of fun.

PC: You and Julie Bowen.

CB: Mmmhmm!

PC: Two of the great TV actresses of today. Did you enjoy working with her?

CB: Well, I didn't actually work with Julie Bowen in that movie, but, you know, it's always fun when you are not actually working together to wave at each other when you are coming on and off the set - you know, "Hey! How's it going?" [Laughs.] It's nice to be in such great company, let's put it that way!

PC: You could not ask for a better assortment of great actors than you have on AMERICAN HORROR STORY - Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Denis O'Hare, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto.

CB: [Laughs.] I am in the best company ever! It really is a dream come true - or, in this case, a nightmare come true!

PC: What a line to go out on! Lastly: My HORROR STORY theory is that you murdered your whole family and you are all ghosts. Viability?

CB: Oh, my God! [Laughs.] You're hilarious! If that's true, it's news to me - but, you know, it's not completely out of the question. We'll see!

PC: Thank you so very much for this today, Connie.

CB: Thank you so much, Pat. This was so much fun and thank you so much for shedding some light on the African Children's Choir, too. Have a great night! Bye bye.


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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)