Tony winner Lily Rabe discusses work with Ryan Murphy and what lies ahead on a returning favourite
HBO CanadaTV Week: Of course, you can’t really say much about the new season of American Horror Story at this point. So let’s talk about the general AHS experience. What’s it like to play in that boundless sandbox?
It is a boundless sandbox. It’s so wonderful. Now there are more shows that are limited series but are ongoing, but when Ryan [Murphy] started this... you know, he’s such a genius and he’s always at the forefront of breaking the mold and creating such incredible opportunities, both for actors and for viewers with the world that he creates and the structure that he creates. As an actor, being able to have a job where you get to come play different people but there is also this familiarity, so many of the same scene partners and crew and directors and designers but it’s a different story—it’s a really wonderful structure for an actor. It really is sort of a trust fall into Ryan Murphy’s arms year after year, and that’s the kind of trust fall that you want to do because he will always catch you.
Have you found that horror offers you opportunities that you just don’t get in any other genre?
Yes, absolutely. The genre is so specific and you really get to swing for the fences, because the rules are completely unique to the world of the show and they change season to season. So, there’s a remarkable amount of freedom there and that’s just wonderful for an actor.
You were just in The Undoing, which was a massive hit—but also a show that was sort of a lifeline, a distraction for people in the thick of the pandemic.
Certainly during this time, the shows that I’ve watched and that I’ve loved, they’re imprinted on my cells, in my DNA now... more than they would’ve been during another time. Then, on the other end of it, being on a show that is being watched week to week [instead of binged], it was so wonderful that it was watched [that way] and that people really had to wait for it. I was glad especially because if there hadn’t been those breaks, I don’t know that some of the really wonderful, detailed theories would’ve been born in the same way, because people would’ve just watched the next episode. But everyone really had to sit with each episode, and I love that. I think that was so beneficial to the overall experience.
You’re at a level now where you’re not just fighting to get an audition; you can be a bit more picky. Has that been its own challenge—deciding what sort of career you want to chart for yourself now that you actually have some control?
I feel like we could talk about this for hours because there’s no simple answer, at least not for me. One thing I have learned is that the journey of it is always surprising. Sometimes it’s disappointing and then sometimes it’s surprising in ways that you never could have imagined, in the most wonderful ways... It’s funny, my boyfriend [fellow actor Hamish Linklater], he thinks “career” is a bad word. He says, “Don’t say that word, it’s such a bad word.” But what he means and what I really agree with is that it’s job to job. That is the only way I know how to make choices is, “Do I want to crawl inside this person’s skin for this period of time and tell this story?” There is no such thing as control when it comes to this, and it’s so full of surprises... That’s part of the ride of it. You just kinda have to hold on [laughs].
American Horror Story airs Wednesday at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. on FX Canada