Actress Angela Bassett continues to take on interesting projects in an ever-growing career. She has morphed into real-life people such as Tina Turner, Betty Shabazz, Voletta Wallace, Rosa Parks and Katherine Jackson, portraying them on the big and small screens.
The talented Yale alumna continues to be nominated for films such as The Score, Akeelah and the Bee, Meet the Browns and Jumping the Broom. Bassett has won awards for her roles in such films as Stella Got Her Groove Back and Music of the Heart.
She joined the American Horror Story ensemble with Coven and is now in her second season with Freak Show, portraying Desiree Dupree, a three-breasted woman. We focused the interview on the horror show that seems to have the whole world talking on Wednesday nights.
Windy City Times: Hi, Angela. First off, how is it working with FX?
Angela Bassett: The work environment is really wonderful. I mean, it's a hectic, fast-paced sort of work environment, but the cast and the crew are tireless. They're dedicated and talented as heck. We put hours and hours in. There's nothing but support from the network, which is evident from being picked up for another season after the airing of the first show. That's just indicative of the support that we experience.
WCT: How about that stellar cast?
Angela Bassett: That was one of the prevailing reasons for me joining the cast. I couldn't believe I'd get an opportunity to work with Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates in a lifetime, especially at the same time. It's wonderful.
WCT: It seems like your character is beginning to be friends with Kathy's character, Ethel, this season. What can you tell readers about that?
Angela Bassett: That's the thing. We really don't know what's coming in the subsequent episodes and the subsequent scripts. That's the aspect of this that makes it a little bit frustrating or difficult for us. I guess we don't have input, but we might have influence. We've played it as good friends. It remains to be seen. Maybe they'll see that in the writer's room and it'll take them down a different road then they had anticipated. That can, does happen, and has happened in the past. We'll see. I'd like to be friends with Ethel. We were such archenemies last year for all eternity as it turned out.
WCT: Is your character on American Horror Story this season based on a real-life person?
Angela Bassett: Well, of that I'm not sure, but I know that there are instances of individuals who have this sort of characteristic. What they're called is intersex today. In the '50s the term was hermaphrodite, but today the terminology is considered passé, especially in that community.
WCT: What was the makeup process like for you?
Angela Bassett: Well, I went to an FX studio office and I think it was three women and three men that took to cast a mold of my chest area and then attempt to get the color rightyou know, the color, the tone, that sort of thing. Of course, the tone is very difficult, and it still takes about 30 to 40 minutes to paint it once it's applied.
WCT: Who does the makeup?
Angela Bassett: I go with my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, so that it's there basically. Then I go over to the special-effects trailer, where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special-effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. They'll start with brown and they spray it on. They'll go to the red and yellow and green. It's amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You're like, "Oh, those are weird colors." He'll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it's my own and based on that he'll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on.
That's it. It takes maybe from start to finish about an hour, just enough time to check out a Netflix episode of Orange Is the New Black or something.
WCT: What was it like trying on the prosthetic for the first time?
Angela Bassett: Well, I was glad it wasn't on my face. I'm claustrophobic. You can just feel confined a little after about 14 hours of it being on. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicone. It started out fine, but after about hour number 12 and on it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I'm like, "What is the point of having three sagging breasts? No, this is not good." They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so pleased about because it's the difference of night and day. Still after about 12 hours that internal heat, you begin to sweat and itch.You're scratching foam. It's much lighter and more bearable. I guess I've grown accustomed.
WCT: What was your reaction when you landed the role?
Angela Bassett: I didn't have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, "Now, how am I going to know who I am?" Then I read the stage direction, "African-American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling." You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You're thinking, "What does that mean? Oh, my gosh. If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year?"
WCT: Did you call up Ryan Murphy about it?
Angela Bassett: No. I wasn't scared like that. I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.
WCT: Now that it is revealed that she is 100-percent woman, is your approach different with her?
Angela Bassett: No. I don't think it'll change how I approach or how she acts. I think she's comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she's just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she's always been reaching for what she calls normalcy, to have a family, a real family, and children of her own. I don't think it's going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. They might write her so differently, so I'm open but I don't anticipate it'll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she's treated, how she's treated by others.
WCT: She seems to expect different treatment from Michael Chiklis' character, Dell.
Angela Bassett: Well, she's walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment but that's just not a desire of her as a freak; it's just desire for her as a human being.
WCT: Does she see him as a bully?
Angela Bassett: I think she did find someone, that there was a time when he was kind, and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they've been together where he's crossed the line with her in his speak, and his speech, and the things that he says. He's begged for forgiveness. It's that same old thing sometimes it happens, when people are abusive physically. I think there's been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but always never crossing the line, and completely crossing the line, or she's weighing if I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?
I think there has come a point in last week's episode where he crossed the line of no return. She thought she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There's something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can't go back. You can't make yourself go back.
WCT: Was that love scene awkward with Evan Peters?
Angela Bassett: Well, it was not too awkward. He's a cute little boy who's engaged. I mean, you're playing characters. He's quite a professional. I think the most awkward part of it was he was so emotional, and just tears, and things coming out of one's nostrils. I think that was the most awkward part, but sexually, it wasn't.
WCT: Clowns have been the talk of the town this season. Do you ever get scared of them on the show?
Angela Bassett: I think, well, when he took that mask off, and I saw where he had put a gun in his mouth, and shot half his face off, you know? The way the little people treated him, which spurred him on to do that. I didn't like that. That sort of freaked me out, just how people treat one another. He was innocent in his mind, so taking advantage of that. Pushing him to that point. That was a lot for me. That made me very sad.
WCT: It's a pretty heavy show. Who on the set is fun?
Angela Bassett: Let's see, well, Sarah Paulson can make me laugh really easy; so can Gabby Sidibe when she's around. I haven't gotten the opportunity to spend any time with her this year. Michael Chiklis is light-hearted. Emma Roberts is pretty crazy, especially last night; it was she and I till midnight outdoors in the cold. She's pretty funny.
WCT: Ryan Murphy said the seasons are all connected. Do you know how Desiree or Marie will fit in?
Angela Bassett: Is that right? The only connection I was able to make was Pepper from season two to season four. No, I haven't thought about that. That gives me something to think about.
American Horror Story: Freak Show ignites fear under the big top Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FX. Visit www.fxnetworks.com for details.