ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE IN AMERICAN HORROR STORY. IMAGE COURTESY OF FX
Scintillating, excessive, heart-stopping: name an over-the-top adjective, and chances are it would make an apt descriptor for American Horror Story, the latest TV series from small-screen camp masters Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. The show follows the Harmon family, which has recently moved into a spooky Victorian in an attempt to find a fresh start. Anyone who's ever seen a creepy flick with the word "house" in its title can guess what happens next.
One of the eerie characters making life difficult for the Harmons is Moira, a 60-something housekeeper who morphs into a 20-something knockout any time she's spied by Ben (Dylan McDermott), the disgraced family patriarch. In her older incarnation, Moira is played by Six Feet Under vet Frances Conroy; as a young minx, she's played by Alexandra Breckenridge, who's done stints on shows from True Blood to Family Guy. Before American Horror Story's October 5 premiere, we caught up with Breckenridge to learn more about working on the show's spooky set and how "nasty rap" gets her into character.
HILLARY BUSIS: You've done stints on True Blood and Buffy before; and now you're on American Horror Story—is there something that appeals to you about horror, as a genre?
ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE: Yeah. I've been a huge horror fan since I was about eight years old, which is a little bit young to be watching scary movies.
BUSIS: What was the first scary movie that you saw?
BRECKENRIDGE: The Shining, and then, I really liked The Children of Corn, believe it or not.
BUSIS: So, you like the classics?
BRECKENRIDGE: And Rosemary's Baby—yeah, exactly. I've always loved it. Any time a new horror film comes out that looks appealing, I'm always excited to go see it. I love True Blood and Buffy, and, obviously, this is one of my favorite jobs that I've ever had—but not just because it's horror, but because the cast is so good and the writing is so great.
BUSIS: Have you been a fan of Ryan Murphy's other work?
BRECKENRIDGE: Yeah. I used to watch Nip/Tuck all the time. It was like my porn. [laughs] I thought it was a really great show.
BUSIS So, what's it like actually working with him?
BRECKENRIDGE: It's great. He's really, really smart, really funny. And you can tell, when you're talking to him, the wheels are constantly turning. He's very specific about what he wants and the way he wants it, and it's really nice to be able to work with somebody like that.
BUSIS: I can imagine that he would be exacting, considering how quickly everything moves on the show—and the sheer number of things that happen in the first episode is kind of amazing.
BRECKENRIDGE: I know. It's nuts. He really packs it in. Actually, in most of the episodes so far, there's a lot of characters. There's a lot of story lines. It's kind of like True Blood, in that sense. Obviously, that show has a lot of characters and a lot of different plot lines that interweave into each other. He's obviously kind of a genius at what he does, and it's really, really nice to get the opportunity to work with somebody like that.
BUSIS: So do you feel like True Blood prepared you for this, or is this a totally different experience?
BRECKENRIDGE: This is completely different to me. The character is totally different, obviously. They're both horror-based shows, but I think that they're extremely different from one another. I think it's really cool that I've been able to do True Blood and then this. It's really nice career-wise for me. [laughs]
BUSIS: [laughs] So, let's talk a bit about your character. You're playing the younger version of somebody who has a lot of history with this haunted house. How did you get into the mindset of playing Moira?
BRECKENRIDGE: [laughs] I've been trying to figure that out as I go along, which is pretty funny. I've never played this type of character before, and I've always been drawn to playing characters that are a completely the opposite of myself.
BUSIS: How is she opposite?
BRECKENRIDGE: Well, she has a completely different way of speaking, way of movement. She's extremely sexual. All these scenes, she's constantly trying to seduce Dylan's character, and I barely ever flirt with people. I'm not that way. I'm more of a "let the man come to me" girl. As far as the character goes, she has a specific rhythm, and I've found listening to specific types of music help me get into the rhythm of the character.
BUSIS: What have you been listening to?
BRECKENRIDGE: Portishead was working really well, and then, occasionally dirty rap music. [laughs]
BUSIS: That makes a lot of sense.
BRECKENRIDGE: Not so much for the rhythm, but the intent is so overtly sexual and just nasty. I mean, there are some nasty rap songs. I find that she's a sexual deviant.
BUSIS: You have a big, really sexually heightened scene in the first episode. What was it like to prepare for that?
BRECKENRIDGE: It was strange, because I really haven't done anything like that before, but, as an actor, you always find your way. You have whatever preparation techniques you use, and you just go with the scene when you're on set. You can only plan so much when you're working, because things have to come naturally in the scene.
BUSIS: Are you and Francis Conroy, who plays the older version of your character, conferring about the character?
BRECKENRIDGE: Not as far as character goes, because we are playing extremely opposite sides of this character. My intention is completely opposite of her intention. It's very hard to explain. As far as character work, we haven't been doing that. It's more about physicality on set. When we have to both be in the same scene, we try to mimic each other's body language.
BUSIS: I wonder if there's some theme on the show about redheaded characters being evil...
BRECKENRIDGE: There is. There is, but I have no idea what it is, because Ryan hasn't told me. [laughs]
BUSIS: [laughs] How hard is it to keep your bearing when there's so much going on, and you've got to do so many things and have such high energy all the time?
BRECKENRIDGE: When I was younger, it was difficult. When you're working, you have so many people working around you and being involved. It can get a bit overwhelming, but I've been doing this for 13 years now. I've just gotten used to it.
BUSIS: Is being on set a scary experience in itself? What's it like to just be around all of that - the creepy house and the props?
BRECKENRIDGE: Yes and no. The original house we were shooting at is an actual home in Los Angeles. Apparently the basement was really freaky. I didn't go down there, because I have no interest doing that. [laughs] It's like with anything when you're working. When you're acting, occasionally—or, hopefully, more often than that—you'll be so engulfed in the situation and the scene that you can make yourself believe what's actually happening. But, for the most part, when you're on set, you know everything's fake. You're very aware of the fact that you're shooting a television show. But I will say, the little creepy baby in the basement. That's just gnarly. [laughs] That little thing creeps me out.
BUSIS: I feel like Ryan has a little shelf of them hidden away. [laughs]
BRECKENRIDGE: I know!
BUSIS: What about the other members of the cast? Working with Connie Britton must be really great.
BRECKENRIDGE: She's one of the most deserving people of success and happiness that I've met in the industry. She's really, really amazing at what she does, and she's also such a delightful person to be around. She's very cool and smart, at the same time. I couldn't say a bad thing about anybody I'm working with. I love them all. They're awesome. And it's so nice. Thank God. You know what I mean? Sometimes you'll be on sets, and people will be fighting and there will be some nasty person that thinks they're the next Brad Pitt, but there's none of that.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY PREMIERES TONIGHT ON FX.