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Sarah Paulson on American Horror Story’s Bloody Face Reveal and Being an Ugly Screamer

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SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen this week’s episode of American Horror Story, read no further.

Sarah Paulson’s been asking for some quiet time on set lately. It’s been a rough few weeks for her filming the last chunk of American Horror Story’s second season, and perhaps we now know why: Last night’s episode revealed Lana’s savior, Dr. Thredson, as the serial killer Bloody Face, and he’s got her chained in his basement. Vulture got ahold of Paulson, recently Emmy-nominated for her performance as one of Sarah Palin’s hapless advisers in HBO’s Game Change, to talk about the big surprise, deleting a friend who had a bizarre — read: sick! — reaction to last week’s aversion therapy scene, and what Aaron Sorkin and Ryan Murphy have in common. She also teased all the awful that’s to come.

I didn’t get much sleep after watching that episode. 
Oh my God. It’s really scary, isn’t it? I just have to tell you, it’s going to get worse.

I believe that.
Think about it. Imagine what’s going to happen to me there.

So you’re saying there’s no hope for Lana.
There’s no — well, the other thing I can say is we’re shooting episode eleven right now, and I’m still alive. I just can’t tell you in what capacity. Maybe I’ve got no legs, maybe I’m got no eyeballs, but I’m still shooting.

Legless like poor Chloe Sevigny …
I know! Chloe is the gamest girl in town. That was a very serious thing to be in all that makeup and green tights, because they had to CGI out her legs, running around in her period bra and underwear. Although, if I had that body, I’d walk around like that too, legs or no legs.

Did you know from the beginning that Dr. Thredson was going to be the serial killer and that you’d be captured?
From the very beginning, Ryan told us that he was going to be Bloody Face. I don’t know if they knew that Lana was going to be dealing with him. The reason I’m not saying his name, by the way, is because my publicist is sitting right here and she doesn’t know who it is and I don’t want to tell her. So imagine I’m saying his name when I say “that person.” Anyways, it was never presented to me as, “Oh God, the things that are going to happen to you!” But I could be wrong. Ryan might read this and say, “That is not true! That was the plan all along! We always knew!” But I had no idea it was going to be me who was going to be traumatized by that person.

Traumatized further. Even before he’s revealed to be Bloody Face, Dr. Thredson subjects you to that aversion therapy —
Right, in episode four. How was that for you? Did you enjoy that?

Enjoyed is not the word I would use.
[Laughs] Enjoyed is the wrong word. I have a friend who texted me after that episode, “That was weirdly sexy.” And I was like, Goodbye. Delete. You’re a freak! That contact is totally getting deleted.

I should hope so. Was it difficult to film?
You know, it wasn’t easy. But because it was so well-written, I think I was more excited to play something, forgive the term, juicy. Yeah, [laughs] I’m going to say juicy. Also, Zach is one of my best friends. I’m very close to him and so us playing that aversion therapy scene, it was much easier to do because I got to look at his face. We were really there for each other. It was kind of a harrowing thing but it was nothing compared to what is coming.

I don’t mean to say Zach looks like a serial killer, but his face — and not the Bloody Face mask — is what gave me nightmares.
No, I know. He can have an evil face. But when he smiles it’s the most delightful thing ever. The eyebrows do a lot of work for him in terms of the terror.

Even his home was somehow scarier than that basement. The stained lamp, the mint dish that looked like it was made out of, I don’t know, a kneecap.
I actually think it was the bottom of a skull. You know, at first I wanted to say it’s all Sister Jude’s fault that Lana got trapped by this serial killer. But by episode six I think you can expect a flashback that explains why Lana was chosen. It maybe wasn’t so random.

How far did you fall through that trap door?
That was a stunt double, sister. They actually took the trap door out of the script at some point, but the unmentionable person argued it was important to keep for the element of surprise. Ryan eventually agreed. The alternate was Bloody Face was going to have to come after me with a candlestick. I remember thinking, Really? I don’t think that’s where we go here. I think I asked to fall through the door like nine times and they said they didn’t feel safe letting me. Then I tried to do a stunt in episode eight with something I can’t tell you about, and they said no again, to which I said, “That is crap.” And they said, “If you lose both your legs, you can’t shoot tomorrow.” But I’m an actress. I want to do all of it!

Losing your legs could be inconvenient.
We’re going to have to talk in a couple of weeks. You’re going to be worried for Lana.

Clea Duvall told us she was coming back to the show. Naturally, she meant as a corpse, which was probably not a bad day of work.
There was nothing creepier or weirder or more disturbing than standing outside Stage 18 with her with all that fake ice in her hair and dead makeup, smoking a cigarette, talking about what movie we should see over the weekend. She looked exactly how you saw on the show, but smoking and talking about The Master. She’ll be back again, too. How about that teeth line at the end?

Bloody Face doesn’t like to waste anything.
I remember Ryan saying to me after that scene, “You’re a good screamer. Your whole face vibrates.” It’s not the most attractive I’ve looked, I will tell you. I haven’t seen blush on this show since July when we started. I haven’t had lipstick. I only have foundation. That is all I get.

You think you look bad? You don’t look bad. You look scared.
The thing is if you’re a woman on television, usually the goal is to make you look as “TV hot” as possible. This is why I’ve had extensions in my hair down to my ass, why I’ve had bleached blonde hair for twenty years. It’s what they always seem to want. Leave it to Ryan Murphy to say, “I want you as a brunette.” I just thought, Thank God. No one wants me as a brunette but Ryan Murphy does! It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been on television where it isn’t about how attractive I need to be to the opposite sex. It’s very refreshing … and then at some point you come to work and look in the mirror and go, Um, this is starting to depress me [laughs].

But really, it’s great. I haven’t done anything this emotionally open or raw because I haven’t been asked to do it. It’s why we all keep coming back to the show. Ryan, like Aaron Sorkin, has thrown me the ball. I would do anything he asked me to do. It would never occur to me to call him and say, “I don’t like this scene where I have to put my hands in my pants and touch this guy’s member.” A lot of times in this business you end up walking around with a briefcase on a lawyer show going, “Which room is the perp in? Do you have the brief typed up from last week?” Not that those shows aren’t great, but I get to attack something real here, and I don’t have to worry about how pretty I look or don’t look. I just get to focus on how to tell Lana’s story. The last time I got to do something like this was on Nip/Tuck, another Ryan Murphy show.

And there’s also a lot of humor in his shows. Sister Jude has had some great lines. “Are you purposely trying to make a murder baby?” made me laugh.
And what about when she said, “I’m off to find a Mexican.” Or when she said, “Charles Laughton is an enormous whoopsie.”

Lana hasn’t had any light moments since entering Briarfliff, but do you manage to have any fun on set?
There’s definitely moments of levity, but lately, once we got to episodes six and seven, there were a couple of days where I asked to  be excused for a minute just to kind of take a deep breath in another room because it’s very exposing. Intellectually, you know this stuff is not really happening, but physically and emotionally you are trying to make the audience and yourself believe that it is. It’s a fucked up psychological place to straddle.

How do you unwind?
The unmentionable person and I sometimes go out. There was one particular thing that happened in episode six or seven where we needed a glass of wine afterward, stat. I drove over to his part of town, we went to dinner and drank an entire bottle of wine. It was necessary after what we had spent the day doing. I touched my forehead at one point and realized I still had all this glycerin on my forehead to make me look sweaty. I had forgotten it was there and I was out in public with this person people recognize because of Star Trek, and he goes, “Yeah, you look like you need a bath.” Blood in my hair, grease on my face, this is not the way to go to a fancy dinner. But at that point, it was time for wine, so there was nothing to be done.

Sarah Paulson on AHS’s Bloody Face Reveal