It was a slow burn for Sarah Paulson on American Horror Story: Coven, but as viewers saw in "Go to Hell," Cordelia has come into her own. It just took a little eye-gouging. Warning, spoilers ahead.
Paulson's Cordelia regained her ability to see the past and then some. It all started when she saw her mother kill the entire coven, Cordelia included. She now can see the future and there's a psychic ability mixed in with all that.
"After that moment in the bedroom with Fiona she realizes she has more vision than she ever did before," Paulson told E! News. "It's not a small thing. It comes after the first time her mother ever says to her, 'Your power is yours and nothing to do with me. You were born this way, you have this power, you have always had it and you just didn't know it. It's not about me.' The moment that that is spoken between them and Fiona touches her, the vision comes and it's a different kind of vision. She's not seeing the past. I really liked that because I thought it was really connected to her mother freeing her in a way. The minute she was freed from her own negative part of the connection with she and her mother, she was able to have more power. she gauged her eyes out and the power didn't come back right away. It didn't come back until she kind of released her, 'Your gifts are not mine, they're yours.' And then it kind of comes back full force, which I thought was kind of beautiful."
Paulson said the scene and its results were "powerful." "Even though Cordelia and Fiona have such a contentious relationship, they are mother and daughter and there is love there. It's not expressed in a typical mother/daughter fashion, but it is there. It's very interesting that that's the moment that she was able to take flight with her power in a new way," she said.
"Go to Hell" also saw the demise of (possibly) four people, including Fiona, Cordelia's mother played by Jessica Lange. Paulson opened up about her time on the FX series, what she wanted to take from set, not being able to keep a straight face with Myrtle Snow and more.
This has been our favorite season, mostly because the camp value. How has it been to film?
It's been very different then preceding seasons, but that's what's so cool about the show. It's constantly changing and constantly evolving. Just when you think it's one thing—It was very dark last year, very kind of real and didn't have a kind of camp quality at all. And this year—not that it isn't real and all that stuff—it's very dark and there's a great deal of humor this year. And so I sort of think the most exciting thing from an acting standpoint is to be on a show that doesn't get stuck in a rut. It's something different every single time and that's just really exciting. Some people prefer doing the darker stuff, some people prefer doing the lighter stuff. If you're lucky to be on the show long enough, chances are you'll be able to do a little bit of everything.
It's been sort of a slow burn for Cordelia this season. We really didn't get to see her do anything meaty until tonight's episode. Was it hard to have patience to wait for her to come into her own?
Yeah. I mean, it was hard especially because last year I had so much to do and I'm a childless woman, a petless woman and a relationship-free lady, so I like to work. That's what I like to do. On that level it's not as much fun for me to kind of wait and do something juicy, but at the same time it was a nice break. The production was kind enough to let me do stuff for 12 Years a Slave and be able to run around a little bit and go back and forth, which was really nice…You may have everything to do one year and the next year you may have something much different and that's what keeps it real interesting and exciting from an acting standpoint. I definitely was excited when I had some things to chew on, which I do in tonight's episode and certainly in the finale.
Did you know from the start this was going to happen? Did Ryan tell you Cordelia was going to come into her own?
No, we didn't have that conversation. It was much more—he was very interested in the whole mother/daughter relationship. I think that to me was the most interesting part of my character's story this year: how she deals with her mother and all of that. Ryan [Murphy] didn't tell me to be prepared for a slow burn, just that she was going to be different. There are a lot more characters this year and a lot more stories to serve and tell.
So you didn't know you'd be stabbing your own eyes out?
Well, he did say that to me a very long time ago, but I've really come to learn that a lot of magic happens in that writers room. Ryan has these incredible ideas and then he gets in that room—we have a very small, intimate writers room—and sometimes the car changes direction. He had said I was going to gouge my own eyes out around episode 10 or so, but I didn't know if that was going to happen because I do know once they get into the writers' room, sometimes things change.
It's kind of weird that Cordelia came into her own after stabbing out her own eyes. What's the journey been like for you with this character?
The journey? It's been exciting. To me, the greatest part for me is I get to work with Jessica Lange and that's one of the most extraordinary gifts—and Ryan's given me many gifts—but one of the things he's given me is the opportunity to have my scene partner be so extraordinary. Playing Jessica Lange's daughter is an exciting thing to do because it means I get to have scenes with her. Who doesn't want that?
It seemed like Cordelia almost wasn't fazed by seeing and kind of getting her mother killed in some strange way.
I don't think that's true. She's very upset after she sees the Axeman do what he does to her. She falls into Myrtle's arms. I don't think that's true at all...it's not a nonevent. She's certainly—she's not undone by it, but it's definitely a situation.
This has been a theory all season: Cordelia is the next Supreme. Have you heard that theory?
People have had that theory. The thing about this show is that—I love that I'm on a show that people have theories, you know? That means the audience is very engaged and they care about the outcome. I think you'll be surprised how this thing wraps up. I don't think anyone will see it coming. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, it ends up being something else.
We've seen a lot of past stuff with your character and Myrtle Snow. Just seeing Myrtle Snow on the screen is delightful.
Yes, it delights everyone, I think! That character is I think one of the great characters of all time. Frances Conroy is, for my money, one of the greatest actors going. It's very hard to keep a straight face in scenes with her because not only does she look like that with the hair and the ensembles are just so outlandish and insane, but she says the most hilarious stuff. The writers give her the funniest sh-- to say and she delivers it so brilliantly that it's very hard to keep a straight face.
She's so underrated in some instances, it's so easy to be obsessed with her.
I agree. If you really look back at her from the beginning, the first season and she has a smaller part in the second season, but was very powerful as the Angel of Death and looked so beautiful.And then she played a variety of different parts as Sister Jude was unraveling...and then now she's playing Myrtle Snow. She's a real chameleon, there's nothing she can't do. She's a huge asset to the show because that thing that happens where every year you're playing something different, you have to have the audience really believe that different thing you're doing. She's an expert at it. She's really gifted. I've been very lucky to have scenes with her this year.
Does anything stick with you after these individual seasons?
Last year was very personal to me. The show really felt...really focused on Lana's story and her journey. I felt very connected to it. Because this show is a miniseries and has a beginning, a middle and an end to it, when it was time to say goodbye, it was really saying goodbye. I knew even though I was going to do the show next year, I knew I wasn't going to be playing that character and I would never play her again and it was over forever and ever. I think there's something about the nature and the way that we do this—there are 13 episodes and the story starts and there's an end to the story and you put it away forever—that kind of lends itself to feeling very connected to the characters your playing...For me it was Lana. Lana's a character that I felt most connected to and part I most lived playing.
Was there anything that truly surprised you this season as you went through the scripts?
Kathy [Bates] being her own tour guide I thought was so brilliant. She went back to that house and wanted to be there to set the record straight. It didn't surprise me, but I just thought it was a genius thing to have LaLaurie become the LaLaurie tour guide. It was so great to see her look completely different.
Did you get to meet Stevie Nicks?
I did not, no I was not there...I actually met her once backstage at a concert in New York a couple of years ago. I was with people who were going backstage and I weaseled in. I shook hands with her and I didn't wash my hand for like three days. I brushed my teeth left hand, I washed my face with one hand. I'm really not kidding. She smelled of tuberose and the perfume was in my hand and I didn't want it go away. I wanted to tell her that story when I saw her, but unfortunately Ryan didn't put me in that scene, so I didn't get any Stevie Nicks action.
Did you take anything from set after you guys wrapped?
I wanted my cane. I wanted my walking cane, but props said I had to wait until after they tallied everything up. I wanted to buy the cane. Last year, I kept my pin that I wore—the L pin that I wore on my green jacket in my first scene of the show and the last scene of the show. I also kept "Maniac," the book that Lana Winters wrote and a poster. I kept all those things last year and this year the only thing I wanted was my cane.
We wondered what happened to that big painting of Jessica Lange.
[Laughs.] I don't know! I wonder what happened with that. I have no idea.