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November 02, 2013

American Horror Story: Coven finds celebrated actresses Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett delivering bold performances in this acclaimed, often grisly series.


Juliana J. Bolden

Rocking fans with characters rooted in real-life and twisted story elements once again, American Horror Story: Coven brings acclaimed actresses Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett together with returning stars Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and more – delivering one of FX's most successful episodics in network history .

Coven clocked in as top cable program in its Wednesday night 10:00 p.m. slot this week, having held second position only to wildly popular Duck Dynasty each week since its high-rating debut.

Set in present-day New Orleans, this third American Horror Story anthology edition pits all-supreme witch Fiona Goode (Lange) with 2 known figures of the Crescent City's 19th century history: beloved and feared voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau (Bassett) and notorious socialite and serial killer Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie (Bates).

“You can't even make this stuff up,” Lange said, aghast at LaLaurie’s lurid torture and murder of black slaves: eyes gouged out, skin peeled off while still alive, limbs amputated and far more grotesque accounts, according to some accounts.  “This woman actually existed and did this stuff, it's like 'Whoa.'" 

Bates plunges into LaLaurie’s skin with zero hesitation, embodying a character eons more frightening to many than sledgehammer-swinging Annie Wilkes (whom Bates played in 1990 film classic Misery) – if for no other reason than LaLaurie is a real person. 

But, as Lange recently told HuffPo, if you choose to take on such a role, "you need that kind of bravery as an actor to do it, and she has done it in spades.“  Likewise, Bassett meets Bates with her acclaimed turn as formidable adversary Laveau.

Revered for her layered portrayals of such iconic ladies as Tina Turner, Rosa Parks and Betty Shabazz in film (and known to many television fans as Dr. Cate Banfield of ER), Bassett said she enjoys the broad spectrum of “big and bold” performances to smoldering “small and quiet” turns that this FX series pulls from its actors. 

“I love the theatrics that this world offers,” Bassett said. “If you look at the history of the show, they just go all over the place. I'm trying to start off slowly, with the right intentions.”

American Horror Story veteran Paulson plays witch-teacher Cordelia Foxx and noted recently that this season’s ensemble is much bigger.  Gabourey Sidibe and Emma Roberts join returning stars Frances ConroyEvan Peters, Jamie Brewer and Taissa Farmiga and Lily Rabe, who has been delivering a much-discussed turn as Stevie Nicks-obsessed witch Misty Day.  

Show co-creator Ryan Murphy seems to be telling a “bigger story” this time around, Paulson said in Rolling Stone, showing how our past intersects with our present – and how much is not so different.

“Even though we imagine that there's been things that were quite progressive – and I know we have an African American president – racism is still running amok,” she said. “And this year, yes, Cordelia's past is bumping up with her current state. She's trying to hold on so tightly to a sense of security and safety, and her mother's coming in and trying to mess it all up.”

Meanwhile, as 13-episode Coven rolls along weaving alarming imagery with humor and cross-generational plotlines, her “mother” Jessica Lange announced that season 4 will be her last. Murphy isn’t really buying that just yet:

“Every year, she says, ‘OK, that's my last one,’" Murphy said. “I can see American Horror Story going 10 years, 12 years…I think it's limitless because it re-energizes every year, and I would love for Jessica Lange to be part of it every year.

American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on the FX network. Check your local listings.

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