Dylan McDermott & Connie Britton: The Tricks and Treats Behind “American Horror Story”

With “American Horror Story” (which is a having a special Halloween marathon - catch all four episodes back to back tonight starting at 10 PM on FX) has been haunting record numbers of viewers since its diabolical debut, its stars are screaming about its success.

Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton – who star in the series as Ben and Vivien Harmon, whose fractured marriage and tenuous safety grow increasingly threatened by their phantom-infested home – aren’t about to spoil any of the mysteries unfolding in this week’s dramatic conclusion to the Halloween two-parter, but they do reveal what’s been going on behind the scenes since the show’s success. Oh, yeah – and they share their own spine-tingling real-life ghost stories.

1. They had no idea just where this story was going – and still don’t!
Britton: I actually didn't know very much, but what was fun was that it felt like it was sort of in creation as we were going forward with [series creators] Ryan [Murphy] and Brad [Falchuk]. So it feels constantly like as though we're getting new backstory and discovering who these people are, which to me is really fun and adds to the mystery of the whole thing.
McDermott: It kind of unravels as we go. I don't think we know exactly where we're going. So, it is kind of fun to look at the script and realize, 'Oh. I didn't even know this about myself.' That's kind of the best part about the show.

2. They DO have ideas as to why the show is capturing so many viewers’ imaginations.
McDermott: When I met with Ryan and Brad and Connie, originally we had talked about that this really being a show about a fractured family and what infidelity can do to people. I think it's a metaphor for all the horror, being in a relationship and being in a family and being in a marriage. All that stuff, the horror of it is really the metaphor of this marriage and the house.
Britton: What I think is so brilliant about what Ryan and Brad is that they have a very distinct vision that is so outside the box of anything that we've ever seen before and they have such a great talent for bringing that to fruition. I think that audiences, even audiences who didn't have the natural inclination to like a show like this, I think that audiences are really drawn to and appreciate bring challenged and seeing something that they've never seen before.

3. It’s incredibly cool to work alongside Jessica Lange while she’s (figuratively) killing it as Constance.
McDermott: I love Jessica and her whole story and where she's going. To see Addie die this week, I thought that was really so powerful and her dragging her to get to the house to make her a ghost. I thought that was just a great storyline. For me, her having a young lover and all these kids, these mentally handicapped kids is just a great backstory for her, so I'm really interested in what's going to happen to her character.
Britton: I kind of go back and forth with feeling, like, 'Wow –she just makes me better than I could ever be,' and then also just catching myself stopping and just kind of watching her in a scene, which of course I really shouldn't be doing! But it's really, truly extraordinary, because she's almost this mythic creature, and yet also just very approachable and real and lovely to work with.

4. The more complicated the show’s mythology continues to become, they promise, the more the viewers are going to grab onto each terrifying twist.
Britton: I love how it all sort of evolves each week. I love that there are so many ghosts in this house that we just have no idea, that we could never count them, really. They create this culture and this community in this house that we have stumbled upon. I just think that's really fun. I think it's fun that we're watching these people, these sort of human people stumble upon this crazy world.
McDermott: I think that's the great thing about this 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. When you see a show that's so ripe and rich with all these storylines and all these questions, it's almost like a puzzle each week and I have friends texting me all the time saying, 'Is this true? Is this happening?' They're trying to figure out the story, and I think that's why people are intrigued by the show: that 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. This show offers that, and a lot of television just doesn't offer that. It's really the complexity of this show that makes it stand out.

5. Only one of them had any fear factor about working in the show.
McDermott: I know there are a lot of actors who 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 everyone was running out because I just thought that it was a great concept for a TV show.I like psychological horror. Roman Polanski is one of my favorite directors and I love the picture that he paints in all his movies which is a little unsettling, to say the least, and I think that this show is unsettling in a great way. The way that it was described to me was as this 'Rosemary's Baby' world that we're inhabiting. So I was always attracted to it and I was never afraid of it.
Britton: Something that they 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 where I get really creeped out, or I go home at night and it's a little creepy. I do have to admit that I tried to watch the episode this week at night by myself and I couldn't watch it – which is pretty sad, considering that I had shot it.

6. They each have a real-life ghost story to tell.
McDermott: II don't believe in this kind of stuff at all – I'm kind of cynical in that way – but I was in Louisiana in 1989 doing this movie. I was in a car with two people at night and the headlights sort of washed over this ghostlike figure around midnight in Louisiana. I don't know if that's specific to Louisiana or not, but I did see this and [the cast and crew] did see this sort of ethereal being suddenly. We all didn't say anything for like two minutes and then we all brought it up. That was the only time in my life that I actually saw something. I've felt things, but have never seen anything like that before. So I do have to say that I did have a real experience, and also that I'm not that person. But that's the only time that I've ever had it.
Britton: I don't walk around in fear of ghosts, but I've definitely had an experience with ghosts, which was in Italy. I was staying at this really amazing old Tuscan villa – It was my friend's house. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard all kinds of moving around upstairs above me, furniture moving and voices and I thought that some plumbing must've exploded or whatever. Then I asked them about it the next day and they said, 'Oh, no, no. Nobody was up at night. Nothing was moving. Nothing was happening.' Then it came out that they were very aware that this house was haunted and they told me all kinds of stories of the various Tuscan ghosts that they'd experienced while they'd been there. This is my friend's house where I've been back several times and I can never ever sleep during the night when I stay there.


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