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Stevie Nicks Talks Twirling, Shawls, and Playing American Horror Story’s White Witch

In advance of tonight’s Stevie Nicks party on American Horror Story — accurately titled “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” — Vulture was granted a quick chat with the fairy godmother of rock-wedding officiator to talk about her acting debut. You already know she sings two songs; the obvious one is spoiled below. Selfishly, though, we wanted to hear about twirling dos and don’ts and the history of her shawl obsession first. There are other places on the Internet to go if you really want to ruin the how and why of Nicks's involvement with the coven — suffice it to say, she and Fiona are thick as thieves. Because of course they are!

What’s the secret to doing a good twirl?
Taking lots of ballet lessons.

Really?
Really. Yeah, that’s where you learn how to twirl! When I’m playing “Rhiannon,” I do this thing at the end when the music’s going duh-duh-duh-duh-duh … to me it’s like the horses are running through the forest and the goddesses and gods are all there. It’s a really dramatic part, and when I perform “Rhiannon” myself onstage, I always twirl to it and I love it.

I don’t know if Lily Rabe, who plays Stevie Nicks devotee Misty Day, did ballet. But she seems to twirl well.
I had to watch my fingers when we were filming because I don’t play it all the time [Nicks plays the piano while singing to “Rhiannon” in the episode], and so at first I wasn’t even thinking about this poor girl twirling herself into the universe. Lily gets an Academy Award for that. You can twirl for so long and then you just drop dead. But she did it. She almost passed out at the end of every take because no one is used to twirling that much [laughs]. I thought she did great. I didn’t have to teach her how to twirl, but she had to summon up the strength to be able to twirl for a minute and a half, and get faster and faster and faster and faster and not look dorky. When you twirl, you want to look beautiful, you know? You want to have your hands up, and you definitely want to spot or you will get dizzy. I was like, “Bravo, Lily!”

She’s really been working the shawls, too. When did you first start using them?
Well, first of all, when I used to be 105 pounds and five-foot-one-and-a-half-inches, I could be pretty much dressed in floor-length shawls at all times. They’re a way to make big movements look huge. You have to be a showgirl when you’re up there on that stage, and if you stretch out your hand, you have to really stretch it out, and be seen from the back of the place. Shawls enhance that. They allow you to be a bigger person than you are. I just thought they were fun in the beginning.

I remember really getting into them after someone brought me one from Colombia or Peru or somewhere and it was sort of like what I wear but made out of a more wooly material. I loved the way it looked, and when I got it, I thought, Boy, if I ever make it in this business, I’m going to re-create this shawl in silk chiffon. And that’s what I did. I said to my designer, “I want you to make square ponchos.” I also had ones that didn’t have a hole in the middle, that were just solid, and when you twirl in those it’s really magnificent. It just became a part of what I did. Then I had this other designer who was able to find the fabric from all over the world, and every time I’d go out, she’d make a new one. I have a vault of these shawls that never fall apart because they’re made out of the silk chiffon that they make sails out of. They never disintegrate so long as you keep them in an air-controlled place.     

Did you bring your own shawls to wear in the episode?
I took a couple with me, yes. I was going to give Lily one, a red one, to wear as Misty, but we couldn’t swap it out. It would have screwed up the continuity of what she’d been wearing in other scenes. I’m like, “But, but, but, I brought ... ” The one I wear is mine. I gotta tell you, it was so cool to be in that house with them. It’s so beautiful. More ornate than my house, but similar.

Similar how?
It has the same white fireplaces, the oval fireplaces, the same kitchen, a very similar living room. When I walked in I was like, “Did you guys see my house? Am I in your dreams?”

Possibly in Ryan Murphy’s dreams! He said you were hesitant to appear on the show at first, not because you’d never acted, but because of crazy Wiccans assaulting you.
In 1977 probably, because I wore black — and why did I wear black? because it’s the thinnest color — I started getting some really stupid wacky mail from witchy weirdos. I didn’t like it. I’d only been famous for two years, and it scared me. So I had some colored outfits made. I wore red and green and salmon for a year, and then I said, Well, this is not going to work for me, so I’m going back to black, and I did.

What happened was when Ryan asked for my music, I said yes. I’d been watching the episodes diligently, and later I called Ryan and said, “I would love to just do a walk-through where I’m in a long black dress and I look amazing and a fan is blowing my hair and I could just be really tall. I could just walk through and say [pitches her voice higher], “Good morning, witches! Good-bye, witches!” And then I’m gone. I could be like a vision: She comes, she’s gone. Deal. Well, when I got to New Orleans very, very late in the day, we got the script and my assistant read it out loud to me and I’m pretty horrified, honestly. I’m going, “This isn’t just a walk-through.” I’m terrified. I didn’t sleep very well. I’m thinking, Oh my God. Do they know I’m not an actress? Have I not told them that already? But when I got to set, everyone of course was just open arms and so loving and like, “You can do it! Don’t worry about it. If you don’t get it, we’ll do it again. Nobody gets it on the first time.” That gave me a safety net. I tried to let all that fear go and think to myself, This is probably the funnest thing you’ll ever do. Also, this is taking my music to a generation of kids from 15 to 40 that have never really probably been associated with it.

You’ve had problems in the past with people thinking you’re a real witch, and on the show you’re referred to as “The White Witch.” Did that bug you at all, or are you over it?
I looked at it differently. I looked at it as my being Misty's only hope. I was her friend. Like all of us do when we’re upset, I go and put on my favorite treadmill song and I rock out in my bathroom. Twenty minutes later, I feel like a new person. That’s how I looked at it: I was there for her, and for goodness’ sake, she lives in a swamp with alligators! She has no friends, no parents. She knows she’s crazy because she’s got witchy powers, but she doesn’t know what that is, or why. I was her blanket, and I love that relationship. I hope that’s what everyone feels about my music. That’s why I write it. Misty is just a personification of the person who I write for, and that doesn’t have anything to do with her being a witch. It has everything to do with her being a human being like all the rest of us who have hard times and music gets us all through it.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty