Ryan Murphy has done it again.
There's been a lot of talk this TV season about the great strides we're seeing in casting diversity, thanks in large part to Shonda Rhimes and her now three incredibly well-cast series. Though TV networks as a whole still have a lot of work to do, the overall trend is incredibly encouraging, and we certainly cannot forget to look at what Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk are doing this season on American Horror Story.
Murphy and Falchuk have already made great strides through their work on Glee, giving hope to many young gay people in particular with Kurt's (Chris Colfer) powerful coming-out storyline, and now they are breaking down yet another casting barrier on AHS' fourth season: casting real people with special abilities, including Jyoti Amge, the world's smallest woman, Rose Siggins, a legless mother of two, Erika Ervin, the tallest model in the world (who is also transgender), and Mat Fraser, a rock musician who was born with phocomelia (an extremely rare malformation) of both arms.
WATCH NOW: See our interview with Jyoiti, Rose and Ryan Murphy above
"It's the thing that I'm the most proud of," Murphy told me at the AHS premiere. "We spent a long time looking for our special-ability cast. Looking for people who didn't have a voice or an opportunity. Many of them wanted to be actors. Didn't have an opportunity. And many of them had never acted before, but I was so moved by their personal stories, like Rose [Siggins] who plays ‘Legless Suzi.' So I would just call them up and I would say, ‘Would you read this? Would you screen test?' Sometimes they would say no, but we never gave up and we kept going at them and we got this amazing cast, and I think, have given a voice to many people who don't have a voice. I'm very proud of them."
American Horror Story's fourth season is called Freak Show—as it's based on one of the last remaining freak shows in Jupier, Fla., headed by Jessica Langeand though the term "freak" might give you pause, the storyline is distinctly sympathetic to the special-ability characters. In fact, the more "normal" you appear on this show, the more likely you are to be a deranged sociopath. (From what we've seen in the first two episodes anyway.)
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Something that will make you feel bad about ever complaining about anything, ever? Rose Siggins is actually the first woman with her condition (a rare genetic disorder called Sacral Agenesis, which caused her to be born with two severely deformed legs, which were later amputated) to carry a baby to full term. She's done that twice, and is now the mother of two healthy children: Luke (15) and Shelby (8). Rose told me one of the biggest reasons she decided to do the show was to show her children that she could do anything. (Also, it didn't hurt she'd be working alongside Kathy Bates!)
"Legless Suzi is kind of shy, she doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence, but don't underestimate her, she has a past that's kind of unique, kind of strong," Siggins teases of her character.
Also not to be underestimated? Jyoti Amge, the world's smallest living woman (at 2 feet, 0.6 inches), whom Murphy calls "the biggest diva in the world, which I love!" It took Murphy six months to get the 20-year-old Amge's visa cleared, so she could come here from India. "She came with an entourage," Murphy told me. "In India, she's a deity, so she showed up like, ‘OK, I'm ready to work and I'm ready to be treated in a very special way.' She's amazing and her laugh is amazing, she's infectious. She's Jessica Lange's favorite acting partner ever from Jessica's career. And also, she's a really good actor."
Meet Jyoti Amge and Rose Siggins in the video at top, and hear what else Ryan has to say about his special new cast, and….GULP...this season's terrifying new big bad! (I can't even type about him right now, it's so very horrifying, but more on Twisty—SHUDDER—later.)
American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres Wednesday on FX. Prepare for a sleepless night.