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Interview: Chloe Sevigny On American Horror Story: Asylum

Well, things certainly took a turn for Chloe Sevigny’s Shelley in American Horror Story: Asylum this week, didn’t they?

The lil’ nympho of Briarcliff Manor faced some changes in the episode “Nor’easter” and the actress got on the phone with select members of the press to talk about the series, what’s going on with her character and what’s ahead.

The FX series airs every Wednesday night.  Head inside for the interview – there are spoilers, so don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Question:  What was it that was specifically unique about AHS that drew you to the project?

Chloe Sevigny:  I guess it was having watched the first season and just being a fan of the show.  I just thought it was so rich, the production design and costumes and how much detail went into it and I just thought it was wildly entertaining.  I was hoping the second season would be as much so.  I didn’t get to read any scripts prior to signing on, so I was kind of going in on blind faith hoping that it would be what I wanted it to be and it’s proven so.  

Question:  Yes, were you able to work with Ryan [Murphy] with your character and develop “Shelley” along, or was everything kind of fed to you week by week?

Sevigny:  Yes, it was more week to week.  I mean I think that’s mostly how television works.  It’s a real writer’s medium and it’s not so much collaborative.  It’s not like a film, so it’s pretty much all on the page.  There were some bits where I asked Ryan for more lines, so that seemed to beef it up here and there and they tried to do that for me.  That was probably the extent of it.  I think with this season, he’s exploring different things from the first like you said before.  I think there’s a lot of really good … characters; how women are accused of being this, that, and the other thing.  I think it’s like they’re wildly represented in the season.  As a woman, as a female viewer I like that pitch.  

Question:  I know you’ve talked about working with all these great female actresses in some of the reviews, but I haven’t you talk about what it’s like to work with James Cromwell who is…I don’t know what he’s doing to you, but it’s really scary.  

Sevigny:  Oh, it gets much scarier.  He was good.  I mean I was a huge fan of his.  I actually saw him in a café right before we started shooting and I went up to him introduced myself and he just like, “I’m so looking forward to chopping off your legs.”  Yes, he was great.  I mean you know he was really into rehearsing the scenes before and really exploring it to its fullest, so that was kind of nice.  Sometimes people just go in and just hit their marks and he really wanted to work everything out before.  He was really … in that regard.  

Question:  I’m curious what the heck is “Shelley’s” attitude going to be now in the wake of losing both of her legs at the operating table there.  What’s your disposition going to be; she’s going to be pretty pissed off I’d have to imagine.

Sevigny:  I think she’s pretty pissed off.  I think she feels pretty helpless and I think in the beginning you kind of like not so much rooting for her.  You think she’s this bad girl and then see her helping Evan’s character and … character trying to escape and you realize that she’s pretty selfless in that regard.  I think after she gets in the clutches of the evil doctor, I think you’re then kind of more rooting for her and hoping that she can escape or find a way out.  So I think the character goes through a lot.  The audience goes through a lot with the character.

Question:  Is that kind of what’s next ahead for her, trying to find a way out of this predicament, given the new disadvantage she has?

Sevigny:  Oh, yes, and her disadvantage has only increased.  She becomes more and more helpless.  It’s very tragic, actually.  

Question:  You’re playing a very specific character here, an inmate in a sanitarium and then for your next role you’re playing a driven detective, and that seems like a more grounded part.  I’m wondering how you shift as an actor from one role to another?  Do you have to shake off “Shelley” before you play “Catherine” in Those Who Kill, or you find moving between roles to be an easy transition?

Sevigny:  I find it pretty easy.  I’ve already wrapped American Horror Story a couple of months ago.  I think they might have me come back for something else.  I’m not sure, so I’ll have plenty of time and then of course delving into the scripts and research and … with playing “Catherine” they’ll probably be some training involved also, so just trying to immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing at the time.  While we were shooting American Horror Story, I was also shooting Portlandia, so I was going from one set to the next, and I’d never really done that before.  And Portlandia was so new for me because it’s all improvisation and trying to be funny and all that, so it was quite difficult when you’re shooting two at the same time.  But I think having basically…is a better way to go. 

Question:  I was just wondering if you could sort of give your take on “Shelley’s” character.  She’s obviously billed as a nympho, but then there’s that question of whether she truly is addicted to it, or she just likes it more than other people.  What’s your take on that?  

Sevigny:  I don’t know if people truly are addicted to that.  There’s so much talk about it as of late.  I think that she was a little wild and her husband had it within his power to commit her and I think kind of once she’s in there, she kind of goes with it to come to who she is and how she identifies herself.  So I think that she probably yes really likes sex.  All the reaction, I don’t know if she’s quite a real nymphomaniac.  

Question:  Okay, and then if you could just talk about the challenge of acting with no legs or half legs.  

Sevigny:  Well, the prosthetic pieces that they put on made it impossible to straighten my legs, so I had to keep my legs bent all day and I had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair and I was feeling quite helpless.  It was a strange feeling to have to need assistance to do lots of different things.  And that was probably the most challenging part, feeling kind of helpless in that way.  

Question:  Can you talk about how the environment helps you get into character?

Sevigny:  Yes, and the smokiness and all of that, well, in the last episode when I kind of knock out the orderly, Carl I think he’s named, we’re supposed to be in the stairwell, but they haven’t built the stairwell yet or maybe they have run out of budget for the cast, I’m not sure.  But so the scene was written as like I’m on the stairs and I pull him down, so I felt  like it wouldn’t have sold, like that stunt would have been much more convincing that she would  have been able to knock him out, that she pulled him down and he hit the side of the tub so conveniently.  For me it was difficult.  I kept arguing with them saying I don’t see how she could be such a shot to have that happen so conveniently.  So the set can help working for you in that way.  I was just being in there and all of the icons and everything.  I don’t know, they’re … for people, but the smoke is really irritating. 

Question:  Are there any other past thrillers or horror films that you drew from when you were creating your role?  

Sevigny:  I watched Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, there’s this one scene…one of my lines is pulled from that film, so I watched that scene over and over again … hair, the way they moved and I drew a lot from that one scene, like a three minute scene of the movie.    


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