Offscreen with American Horror Story's Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott
by Terri Trespicio
photography by Robert Ascroft
ON CONNIE: Star print dress, Dolce & Gabbana ($3,475). Saks Fifth Avenue, The Shops at Prudential Center, 617-262-8500. Diamond and platinum necklace, Chopard (price on request). Saks Fifth Avenue, see above. ON DYLAN: Cashmere suit, Dior ($5,200). Saks Fifth Avenue, see above. Dress shirt, Prada ($420). Neiman Marcus, Copley Place, 617-536-3660. Atlas watch, Tiffany & Co. ($5,000). Copley Place, 617-353-0222
Ordinarily, Connie Britton hates horror. In fact, she’s so scary-movie averse, she couldn’t get through a recent episode of her own show, American Horror Story, FX’s new psychosexual thriller from the creators of Glee and Nip/Tuck. “I started watching it at night, and I just couldn’t,” she says. “I had to turn it off. I’m such a baby.”
Yet Boston-born Britton was intrigued by the premise of the show, which is why she signed on despite her aversion to all things spooky: A troubled couple, Ben and Vivien Harmon, leave Boston with their teenage daughter to start over in sunny LA, after Vivien’s miscarriage and Ben’s indiscretion with a student. They find themselves in a restored mansion with a dark—make that very dark—history.
While working with writer and director Ryan Murphy was a draw for Britton because of his collaborative approach with actors and her admiration for his other projects (the aforementioned Glee and Nip/Tuck among them), the prospect of playing Vivien Harmon offered her the chance to take on the complete inverse of Friday Night Lights’ down-home Tami Taylor. “I was drawn to the psychological aspect of the story,” she says, “playing this character in the midst of a crumbling marriage who is now dealing with all sorts of problems living in this house.”
House of Horrors
Of course, by problems, we’re not talking leaky roofs and domestic squabbles. More like dead people pounding on the door, shape-shifting maids making passes at her husband, and a rubber-suited ghost who impregnates her with his demonic seed (and that’s just the first episode). Murder? Infidelity? Sex with ghostly gimps? Sign me up, said her costar, native New Englander Dylan McDermott, who plays her husband, Dr. Ben Harmon. “Lots of actors have concerns—Will I have to be naked? Do love scenes? Jerk off? Cry? Jerk off and cry? But I had no issues about any of the stuff that goes on in the Polanski-esque world of this show. For me, it was a no-brainer. I wish I had some reservations about it, but I didn’t,” McDermott says.
The fact is, not many viewers have reservations, either, and they’re clamoring for fantasy, horror, and twisted psychological fare. American Horror Story has already been renewed for a second season—and earned a 1.6 ratings share in the 18–49 audience for its premiere, reportedly leading all of cable television for the night. With other fright-based shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm also crowding TV lineups, what does the acceptance— and popularity—of vividly gory and raw adult scenes say about what people want?
McDermott feels that people like to be scared. “We’re fascinated with the good and evil inside of each of us, as well as the existence of the devil himself. I mean, he’s the biggest bad guy in the world. What’s badder than that?”
Britton believes the fascination with evil transcends religious concepts. “I think this is about a collective consciousness of evil seeping into our culture from lots of different places,” she says. “The show taps into this consciousness, this idea that evil is palpable and close.”