Who Would Want Three Sagging Breasts, Asks AHS: Freak Show’s Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett has had a long and diverse career on television and film, but there’s something she’s never been asked about any of the characters she’s played: Is she or isn’t she a she?

Until now. As Desiree Dupree on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” that question hung in the air until a recent episode.

Bassett joined the “AHS” ensemble last year when she appeared in “Coven” as New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Most of her scenes than were with Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange. This year, she mostly plays off Michael Chiklis and Emma Roberts.

The character of Desiree was introduced to the audience as being “intersex,” something that in a bygone era was called a hermaphrodite. But while her biological and gender identity was recently revealed, Bassett says she’s still in the dark about her character’s full story arc — and also how Desiree and Marie might be linked in a larger “American Horror Story” universe, as co-creator Ryan Murphy recently alluded.

The Oscar-nominated actress spoke by phone recently to talk about her character’s evolution, the breakup of her relationship with Dell, the character played by Michael Chiklis, and the nitty-gritty details of shooting with an uncomfortable three-breast prosthetic, Desiree’s signature characteristic. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

Q: When you signed on for “Freak Show,” did you know what the part was? What was your reaction when you found out what the part was?

Angela Bassett: I didn’t have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass, when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, “Now, how am I going to know who I am?”

Then you read the stage direction, “African American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling.” You’re like, oh, my gosh. You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You’re thinking, “What does that mean?” If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year? I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.

Q: Do you feel like the “American Horror Story” cast is sort of a family of performers, and do you feel like more of a part of that now that this is your second time on the show?

AB: Absolutely. I feel like it is a traveling troupe of performers. This year I feel more a part of the family. You know, having been here before, having established those relationships, not the brand-new girl. We’ve got some other new faces. I feel like I’ve been around the block at least one time with them. I feel more comfortable. I was excited. I’m still excited, but I feel more a part of the family this year, most definitely.

Q: How does it feel to try on another character? Is there a learning curve? Is that the challenge within itself?

AB: As an actor you’re used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing your research, working on that. I think what I found most challenging about television and shedding one character and having to come up with another is that there’s this lag time before I get to actually see what the characters are looking like, or sounding like, or how they’re coming across. We start filming in July and the first episode is in October. As an actor who wonders if you’re getting it right because you don’t have the immediate reaction of the audience just yet — that’s the little caveat. I can’t say it’s a real crazy frustration. If there were something that you had to call that, that would be it for me.

Q: Now that we know Desiree is 100% female, is that going to change how you approach the character and how Desiree acts?

AB: No. I don’t think it’ll change how I approach or how she acts. I think she’s comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she’s just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she’s always been reaching for what she calls normalcy, to have a family, a real family, and children of her own. I don’t think it’s going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. They might write her so differently, so I’m open, but I don’t anticipate it’ll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she’s treated, how she’s treated by others.

Q: Do you think she might demand a different kind of treatment now, especially from Dell?

AB: Well, she’s walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment. I guess honesty. Honesty for one, but that’s just not a desire of her as a freak, it’s just desire for her as a human being.

Q: How does your character view Michael Chiklis’? Do you think that she really sees the good in him in spite of his being kind of a bully, and a monster?

AB Yes. I think that there was a time when he was kind, and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they’ve been together where he’s crossed the line with her in the things that he says. He’s begged for forgiveness. It’s that same old thing, sometimes it happens, when people are abusive physically. I think there’s been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but … never crossing the line, and completely crossing the line, or she’s weighing, if I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?

I think there has come a point where he crossed the line of no return. She thought she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There’s something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can’t go back. You can’t make yourself go back.

Q: What’s the process that turned you into Desiree? How does she get that third breast and how long does it take to put on?

AB: Well, I go into my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, so that it’s there basically. Then I go over to the special effects trailer where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. … They spray it on. They’ll start with the brown. They’ll go to the red, and yellow, and green. It’s amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You’re like, oh, those are weird, weird colors. Then he’ll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it’s my own and based on that he’ll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on.

It takes maybe from start to finish about an hour, just enough time to check out a Netflix episode of “Orange Is the New Black” or something.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you first tried on the prosthetic?

AB: Well, I was glad it wasn’t on my face. I’m claustrophobic. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicone. It started out fine, but after about hour number 12, it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I’m like, what is the point of having three sagging breasts? No, this is not good. They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so, so pleased about because it’s the difference of night and day. Still, after about 12 hours of that internal heat, you begin to sweat. You begin to itch. You can’t really provide relief because you can’t get to yourself. You’re scratching foam. It’s much lighter. It’s much more bearable. I guess I’ve grown accustomed.

(“American Horror Story: Freak Show” airs on FX Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

With Racial Inequality Rife on the Small Screen, One Reality Show Flaunts its Diversity

Quick. Were there any black characters on “Friends,” anyone?

If so, they were background players. And not to single out a favorite comedy series, it was and is among the majority of television shows whose core Caucasian-ness is an attribute, rightly or wrongly.


Diversity is an issue that has long simmered on the back burner and intermittently moves to the front, as in these early days of summer that have brought a raft of criticism leveled at several showrunners for the all white-ness of their casts.


Specifically, Lena Dunham, whose “Girls” on HBO has been compared to the pay cabler’s vaunted “Sex and the City,” and Amy Sherman-Palladino (ABC Family’s “Bunheads”) have come under fire for being purveyors of white bread.


Dunham foresaw before her freshman series aired that it would be perceived as another show whose world did not include people of color. “When I get a tweet from a girl who’s like, ‘I’d love to watch the show, but I wish there were more women of color.’ You know what? I do, too, and if we have the opportunity to do a second season, I’ll address that,” she had said in an interview with The Huffington Post.


There is definitely going to be a second season, and Dunham followed through by reportedly adding a black cast member to her acclaimed series, although Donald Glover’s casting is apparently still unofficial.


Meanwhile, Palladino initially said she did not want to get into what she called a “pissing match” with “fellow” female showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who criticized her on Twitter for the lack of any people of color on the new program about young ballerinas.


For those of you who missed it, Sherman-Palladino, best known for creating “Gilmore Girls,” said in an interview that she didn’t have a big budget for casting, was under a great deal of time pressure to cast the pilot and that she felt unsupported by other women in the industry.


Read between the lines: she was referring specifically to Rhimes, after pointing out the latter’s success with multiple shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.”


“I don’t do message shows. I don’t give a shit who you learn your life from. Someone said, ‘Oh god, I hope we don’t see the eating disorder show. You won’t because I don’t give a flying f— about that,” Sherman-Palladino was quoted as saying, perhaps adding fuel to the fire but also planting her firmly on the shortlist of people in Hollywood who say what they really think.


The lack of diversity accusation cannot be leveled at Oxygen’s “The Glee Project,” currently in the midst of its second season. For those who haven’t caught it yet, the program features contestants vying for a seven-episode guest spot arc on Fox’s “Glee” under the tutelage of its creator, Ryan Murphy, and other mentors including casting director Robert Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal producer Nikki Anders.


The 14 contenders, currently down to nine, are culled through intensive rounds of workshops, singing, dancing and acting-based assignments as the creative forces of “Glee,” including guest mentors like Lea Michele and Kevin McHale, make judgments on who has what it takes to be one of the next new faces on the award-winning show.


Many of those faces are of color. One of contestants recently eliminated, Tyler Ford, epitomized several shades of census with his ethnicity: half black, half white, Jewish and transgender, and was considered by many to be an inspiration because of his diverse background.


To its credit, “The Glee Project” not only spotlights ethnic diversity, but also disability, with one of this season’s contestants confined to a wheelchair and another who is blind. Another aspirant has been diagnosed with severe ADHD and low-spectral autism.


Each episode has a theme, ranging from the initial episode’s “Individuality” to the recent “Vulnerability,” during which Oxygen aired an anti-bullying PSA starring “Glee’s” Cory Monteith as part of an ongoing partnership with The Bully Project, an organization dedicated to ending bullying.


In a similar show of commitment, this reality competition show seems dedicated to busting some stereotypes and giving opportunities to people who because of their disabilities may have been shoved to the margins of society.


Perhaps one of its talented performers could also join the cast of “Bunheads.”


(“The Glee Project” airs Tuesdays on Oxygen at 10pm ET/PT)



Secrets of the Spanx: Costume Designers Know it All

It’s the one night of the year when costume designers in film and television get more glory than the actors who wear their creations in an event that has a rep for being loose and rollicking, the Costume Designers Guild Awards.


Actress Jane Lynch, outfitted in a stunning long red gown, ably hosted the 14th annual edition of the gala awards ceremony held Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, which was packed with well-dressed attendees.

Lynch has close ties with a double honoree of the evening, “Glee” costume designer Lou Eyrich, who was awarded with trophies for Career Achievement in Television, presented by Ryan Murphy, and for Outstanding Contemporary TV series. The actress recalled their initial encounter for the Fox show.

“The first fitting, she gave me an off-the-rack Adidas track suit. She had ripped it apart. But I am so hard to fit, she (Eyrich) just said, ‘We’re going to have to make them for you.’ Now, I have 35 custom track suits in my wardrobe closet. And you won’t rip that track suit off my body until it goes into the Smithsonian,” Lynch told the appreciative crowd. “That’s the magic of costume design.”

Eyrich reflected on her career, which began in 1988 when she was a production assistant on a music video, then worked on a movie with Prince in her native Minneapolis before beginning television costume design with the WB show “Popula r” and moving on to work with Murphy on his acclaimed FX series “Nip/Tuck” and then on to “Glee.”

“I’ve learned to handle everything with grace and a sense of humor,” she said. “Costume design is like falling off a cliff and you have actors that need to be dressed by the time you hit the ground.”

For the contemporary television series category, she competed with the costume designers from “Modern Family,” “Revenge,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

Viewing the recap reel of the year in design, it was easy to appreciate the artistry in shows ranging from “Downton Abbey” to ”Pan Am,” “Boardwalk Empire” to “the Kennedys” and films including “Hugo,” “The Help,” “The Iron Lady,” “The Descendants,” “Bridesmaids” and “Moneyball” that were showcased.

In the period/fantasy television series category, “Empire” and  ”Pan Am” competed with “Game of Thrones,” “Once upon a Time” and “The Borgias,” with John A. Dunn and Lisa Padovani taking the prize for their 1920s period costume work for the large ensemble cast of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Lacoste and Disaranno which each presented honors, to Kate Beckinsale and Marlene Stewart, respectively,  and studded with actors of the nominated programs as presenters, including Katey Sagal, Penelope Ann Miller, Amber Valletta and Madeleine Stowe.

But it was Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood and his long-time costume designer Deborah Hopper who stole the spotlight as they were honored for their 20 films during 28 years of collaboration.

Marcia Gay Harden introduced them, and noted Eastwood’s early contribution to the concept of his clothing in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, ”The Man With No Name.” “That iconic serape, Clint came up with that idea. Sergio not only approved the olive green poncho, that serape was never washed, never even dry cleared and with each film… it became a darker shade of olive,” she said.

Actor Ken Watanabe made a surprise appearance to honor the two as well, having worked with them on “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Eastwood charmed the audience by noting that he never subscribed to the auteur theory of film–that he considered people on his productions a platoon and a company, with Hopper playing a key role. “I feel lucky every minute,” she said, alluding to one of his iconic movie lines of dialogue.

It was a feeling that swept through the ballroom.