Obligatory spoiler warning: If you haven’t watched Wednesday’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Head,” come back later. Damn, Queenie better not be gone for good. Voodoo witches can totally shoot themselves in the head and come back from it, right? Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the lonely but big-hearted Queenie, says if it’s the end, she’s had a good time doing “kickass” things like ripping the black heart out of a rapist’s chest and propositioning a minotaur. Unable to accept the demise of Coven’s resident B*A*P*S fan — but realizing this is AHS, so we’ll probably see her again — Vulture rang up Sidibe to talk about everything from tinkering with the scripts to that time Kathy Bates asked for twerking lessons.
Is this it for Queenie? Have I seen the last of her?
Did you get a call from any of the writers about being killed off?
I didn’t. So that’s okay, right? I didn’t get a good call or a bad call.
Good enough for me. I’ll take “not too dead.”
I know how we treat death. We sort of have people die for fun [laughs], and then we bring them back. So, there’s no death that’s really a death. Queenie’s did read as a serious one. And it was such a badass scene. So much fun to film. [If it’s the end] I feel like I had a lot of fun on this show. I’d already done more than I thought I would do, so I was okay with leaving — but no one ever sat me down and said, “Goodbye now!” I was sort of going to wait around and see if anyone would, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.
You had some great stuff to do with Kathy Bates in this episode. How did you feel about hosting a sensitivity-training film festival for LaLaurie?
I was really, really worried about talking to Kathy’s head. I don’t do well with heads, and that’s something I’ve learned about myself. I’m apparently really, really afraid of decapitation, like, in all forms, for myself and other people.
When I first read it, I was going to make her watch a completely different movie. I don’t want to say too much [about what the original was] but it was a movie that I didn’t like [laughs]. So I asked the writer if it was okay for the movie to be changed to Roots. Roots is consistently the only movie in history that makes black people really, really mad about slavery. I mean, there’s a lot of them, but every time Roots comes on, you sort of can’t deal with black people for a few days. I thought it would be perfect for LaLaurie to help her see the error of her ways. Um, didn’t really work!
It really didn’t. I loved how giddy you were when you mentioned B*A*P*S. Was that real affection I saw?
I do like it! B*A*P*S came out when I was in junior high school, and I had a friend who was sort of Halle Berry-ish, so we thought of ourselves as B*A*P*S. I specifically remember walking down the halls of our school going, “We’re B*A*P*S!” and we were very serious about it. We would quote all the lines to it. It’s definitely one of my favorite movies.
Series co-creator Ryan Murphy mentioned to me that Kathy Bates ad-libbed singing “Dixie.”
I was there for that. The scene happens once I close the door, so I was just standing on the other side of that door listening and waiting, and she goes into whistlin' dixie. It was hilarious. As soon as the director said, “Cut!” the entire floor just erupted with laughter. No one knew she was going to it.
One of the things that’s really working for me this season is the unlikely friendship between Queenie and LaLaurie. Were you told that’s where your story would be heading, or is it something you discovered along the way?
Ryan did tell me I would have a lot of scenes with Kathy Bates, but that’s all he said. I didn’t know we were gonna be best friends! Half of it was a big surprise. It’s been so fun to work with her, and it’s really funny having to do stuff with her head. It’s sort of like Kathy and I are our own sitcom. We’re always kicking around ideas for our sitcom called Gabby and The Head.
I’d watch it.
I don’t enjoy heads, but I feel like this is something I need to give to the people.
LaLaurie says some horrible things about black people, some directed at Queenie. Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable?
It doesn’t make me uncomfortable because Kathy is so sweet and so concerned about not being seen as a racist. Because she isn’t! She always tries to make sure that I’m okay, that we’re all okay, that we all know that this isn’t in her actual heart.
It’s weirdly weird with her character, though. I just joined Twitter, which is completely idiotic, and it was really interesting to see how Twitter exploded after Queenie takes LaLaurie over to LaVeau. It was completely split between people who were on LaVeau’s side and those who were on LaLaurie’s side. LaLaurie is a homicidal maniac serial killer racist, and people were tweeting at me, “How could you do that to her?” It was insane. People started tweeting death threats at me, which is, again, insane. Hi! Hello! This is a television show! None of it is real. But if this were real, it’s really interesting that so many people who would be on the side of the racist serial killer. I told Kathy and Kathy could not believe it. She was so upset. She was like, “You’re kidding! No one is tweeting death threats at you. I don’t understand!” It’s really a testament to the writers that they’ve made this woman likable without having her apologize.
When you watch the episodes, do you understand Queenie’s compassion for her?
I completely get it. I love it. I weirdly love LaLaurie, but I love her from afar, understanding what she’s done and how horrible she is. Queenie has a lot of compassion for her, but I wonder if it’s just because LaLaurie is a human being. LaLaurie was nice to her and did things for her because she was made Queenie’s slave because of her crimes, not because she loved her. I think Queenie knows that, too.
When I talked to Kathy Bates earlier in the season, she said the nicest things about you.
Kathy’s adorable. She keeps asking me to teach her to twerk.
What? Why does she want to learn how to twerk?
I don’t know! I didn’t ask her, I just started to teach her. Every now and then, I’ll see her sitting in her chair, not paying attention, and I’ll just walk over and twerk on her. She doesn’t see it coming. I do weird things like that. I also vogue on Emma Roberts and Taissa Farmiga if they’re not paying attention. Taissa used to get freaked out. Now they just let it happen. We hang out with each other a lot, because we don’t know anyone else [laughs]. We don’t know other people.
Which was crazier to film: ripping out the heart or pleasuring yourself for the Minotaur?
They were both pretty badass, but I felt crazier about the Minotaur scene. I couldn’t figure out if it looked cool, or if the right point was getting across, or if it just seemed like some weird thing that was happening, like, Apparently Queenie is super into minotaurs and she just has to have some of that bull meat! Watching it later, I felt better about it. The director of that episode, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, was really great and supportive, even more supportive than I guess a director would be because I was so freaked out about it. I was freaked out for weeks in advance, so he really walked me through it. I was really concerned about the way other people would watch it. It wasn’t the same when I had to rip out the heart. That was just a cool thing. I’ve stopped worrying what the audience thinks now because we’re throwing so many things at them. Every episode is an onslaught of insane images. But yeah, I had a lot of fun beating that homeless dude and killing him.
What kinds of things have you learned by working with all these veteran actress?
So much. How to get into character, how to stay in character, how to approach your character. And that if there are things in the script that you don’t feel your character would say, it’s okay to tell someone.
Tell me about meeting Stevie Nicks.
Meeting Stevie was so funny. I said, “Hi, my name’s Gabby,” and I shook her hand, and she goes, “Yes! Of course! You’re Queenie! Of course! Now we have our queen. Our queen is here.” Aaaaalright. I thought, Wait a minute. Could I be Stevie Nicks’s favorite character? She was really into Queenie.
Have you heard anything about having a role next season?
I haven’t but it would be wonderful to come back. I also know it would be okay if I don’t. The show is clearly bigger than me. It needs what it needs.
In any case, you have Sundance to look forward to in January. You co-star with Shailene Woodley in the upcoming film White Bird in a Blizzard.
I think I’m going to Sundance. If everything works out, then yes. It will be my first Sundance since Precious. I love Sundance. I miss going.
When you say “if everything works out,” does that mean if you’re not still filming?
Yeah, it does. But I want to book a ticket immediately.
Anything you’re looking forward to specifically?
Just hanging out in the cabins. God, there are so many parties and so much free stuff. But it’s all lotion! I remember being there the first time and I went home with two duffle bags of just free stuff. I was so excited, but all of it was just hairspray and lotion. None of it was anything super useful but I had to have it. I’m looking forward to being calmer this year. I’m going to be a normal actress. I’m still using free lotion from Sundance.