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Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott Talk Ghosts, Rubber Men and <i>American Horror Story</i>

Since it premiered on October 5, FX's American Horror Story has steadily grown into one of the network's most popular shows, hovering around the 3 million viewer mark weekly. Last week's episode, the first of a two-part Halloween-themed frightfest, proved particularly popular and so FX wasted little time announcing a second season filled with more thrills, chills, chuckles and dudes in rubber suits. ("Halloween Part 2" airs tonight at 10 PM.) Stars Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott -- who play estranged husband-and-wife Vivien and Ben Harmon who are forced to deal with the bizarre goings-on in their new home, the so-called "Murder House" -- recently spoke with the press about the show's complex mythology, how they balance the humor and horror and the paranormal activity they've encountered in real life.

On What Attracted Them to the Show
Dylan McDermott: I hadn't read the script, [but] as soon as I heard the story, I had a huge instinct to [be part of] this project that I don't think I've had since The Practice. For whatever reason, I was instantly drawn to it. Hearing about the house, hearing about being able to play a psychiatrist, hearing about this fractured relationship and family and the horror aspect -- this Roman Polanski-esque vision of the show -- and having Ryan [Murphy] and Brad [Falchuk] and Connie [involved] were just immediately intriguing to me. And then, when I did read the script and met with everybody, it was just a big yes for me. I know that a lot of actors were afraid of the nudity and the sex and the violence of the show. But I was that guy running into the burning building as everybody was running out because I just thought it was a great concept for a TV show.

Connie Britton: You know, for me it was the opposite. I wanted to do something that was really, really different from what I had just been doing. When I sat down and talked to Ryan, which was kind of early on in the process, he basically presented it to me by saying, "This is going to be like nothing you've ever done before." And not only that, but it was actually going to kind of turn what I'd just been doing on its ear a little bit, going from this wonderful marriage on TV to this completely damaged marriage. And, to me, that was interesting, as well as the style of it being so different. It just seemed like a great gift and a great opportunity for me. Ryan is also very collaborative and that's something that I've learned is really important to me too. I just felt really fortunate to dive in even though it felt really risky and scary.

On Their Feelings About The Horror Genre
CB: I have an aversion to horror and one of the things people always say about working in horror is that it's a lot less scary when you're actually doing it. But there have been moments, for sure, that I get really creeped out or I go home at night, and it's a little creepy. I have to admit that I tried to watch one of the episodes at night by myself, and I couldn't do it, which is pretty sad considering that I had shot it.

DM: I like psychological horror. Roman Polanski's one of my favorite directors, and I love the picture that he paints in all of his movies, which is a little unsettling to say the least. And I think that this show is unsettling in a great way. And this show was described to me as a Rosemary's Baby world that the characters inhabit. So I was always attracted to it and I was never afraid of it.

On Whether They've Ever Felt Uncomfortable On Set
CB: I've found that the things about the script that make me uncomfortable are the things that are what make it interesting to me as an actress. I mean, listen, I was not comfortable with the Rubber Man in the pilot, and I was convinced that the Rubber Man was going to go. But I'm so always amazed that Ryan and Brad can come up with something that I think is just going to be hideous and awful, and I've grown to really trust them to create it in a way that is only interesting. So, I kind of keep my mouth shut at this point.

DM: After masturbating in the pilot, what else is there? I couldn't be uncomfortable again. [Laughs]

On Balancing the Show's Blend of Freaky and Funny
DM: I think that Connie and I try to keep it as real as possible, because we're probably the most grounded part of the show and I think that's really important so it doesn't become just a freak fest. We try to keep it grounded in reality so people can be rooted in something, rooted in the family. I've had to put on the rubber suit a few times myself and that's always fun. So I think you just have to go with it. There's no parachute in this show, there's no net. We're all in this together, and I think that's what makes it so much fun -- everybody's making the same show here and we're all going for it. And I think that's why it's working.

CB: When I first read the pilot and talked to Ryan about it, I thought it was very serious and dark. And I was actually talking to my cousin about it, and she said, "Oh, if it's a Ryan Murphy show, there's definitely going to be tongue in cheek." I'm like, "No, no, no, no, not in this show." But I've come to discover that that is, I think, a trademark of their shows. And I think we are the grounding characters of the show, but what's really fun, to me is that I can play the scenes very straight and very real, and they end up being comedic because of the way they're written. And that's always the best kind of comedy, the kind that you don't have to work very hard at. It just sort of happens out of circumstance. I crack up all the time when I act with Jessica Lange. Again, she's playing that part so real too, but she's also having such a good time with it. Just yesterday, I was doing a scene with her and she said to one of the writers, "I want more comedy." I think she really loves to play that [material].

On the Show's Evolving Mythology
DM: I think that's the great thing about the show -- the complexity of it. Most of the time people are aiming so low on television. They're trying to reach that common denominator, especially on network television. And when you see a show that is so ripe and rich with all these story lines and all these questions... it's almost like a puzzle every week that you're trying to figure it out. I have friends texting me all the time saying, "Is this true? Is this happening? What's the relationship of Tate and Constance?" They're trying to figure out this story and I think that's why people are intrigued by the show. It's not so easy to figure out. People are smart, and people really want to have something to watch that's interesting and intelligent. And this show offers that.

On Playing a Strong Female Lead
CB: I think that what I was interested in was that Vivien is somebody who's been very strong and together in her life and [now] she's kind of watching her world crumble around her. I like the idea of somebody like that falling apart and seeing them in conflict with themselves in the midst of disaster. I like to play different things as an actor, but one sort of common denominator is that I like to play women who are empowered in some ways, even when they're going through crisis or even when they're going through conflict or difficulty. So, it's always interesting for me to, in the midst of that, find where their power comes from. That's been both the fun and the challenge for me with this character.

On Their Real-Life Brushes With the Supernatural
DM: I did have a [paranormal experience] in 1989. I don't believe in this kind of stuff at all -- I'm cynical that way -- but I was in Louisiana doing a movie and I was travel ling in a car with two other people at night. And the headlights washed over this ghost-like figure around midnight. I don't know if that's specific to Louisiana or not, but I did see this sort of ethereal being suddenly, and we all just sort of didn't say anything for two minutes. And then, we all brought it up. So, that was the only time in my life that I actually saw something, so, I have to say I did have a real experience even though I'm not that [kind of] person.

CB: Well, I also am not a big believer in ghosts, or I don't really walk around in fear of ghosts. But I have definitely had an experience with ghosts, which was in Italy. I was staying at this really amazing, old Tuscan villa, which belonged to a friend of mine, and I woke up in the middle of the night and heard all kinds of moving around upstairs above me. There was furniture moving and voices and I thought that some plumbing must have exploded or whatever. And then, I asked my friends about it the next day, and they said, "Oh, no, no, no. No, nobody was up at night. Nothing was moving. Nothing was happening." And then, it came out that they were very aware that the house was haunted, and they told me all kinds of stories about the various ghosts that they've experienced while they're there. I've been back several times, but I can never, ever sleep at night when I stay there.



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