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AHS actors who were never the same after their roles

When American Horror Story: Murder House started airing in 2011, audiences were simultaneously repulsed and enthralled. Creator Ryan Murphy was willing to push boundaries on television, and despite the blood and gore, viewers were hooked. 

Previous seasons of AHS have focused on everything from demonic possession at an insane asylum to murderous clowns to a group of nuclear war survivors living in a bunker. We've watched a family crumble after moving into a haunted mansion and a white supremacist attract a cult following. It can be scary enough just to watch it all play out onscreen — so how does the cast feel as they bring these stories to life? For better or for worse, AHS seems to be the kind of show that makes a permanent impact on an actor. Here's how being a part of AHS has changed these actors' lives. 

Evan Peters was burned out after American Horror Story

In the early years of American Horror Story, Evan Peters was basically the face of the show. He started out playing Tate Langdon in Murder House, a role he later returned to in Apocalypse. and he's also appeared in the Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, Hotel, Roanoke, and Cult seasons. Peters is an AHS veteran, to put it mildly, and after awhile it seemed like a given that he would be in every season of the show. That's why fans were so shocked when he announced he wouldn't be returning for the 1984 season in 2019. Unfortunately, Peters has been very clear about the toll that his years of working on AHS have taken on his mental health. Getting into the mindset of disturbed characters season after season was affecting his life outside the show. 

"There's this massive amount of rage that's been called upon from me," Peters told GQ. "It's just exhausting. It's really mentally draining, and you don't want to go to those places ever in your life. And so you have to go there for the scenes, and it ends up integrating it somehow into your life."

American Horror Story helped Taissa Farmiga embrace her fears

Taissa Farmiga made a name for herself playing Violet Harmon on Murder House, and since then, she's been a familiar face in almost every subsequent season of American Horror Story. Farmiga has also worked on other projects in the horror genre, including the 2018 film The Nun, so it might surprise her fans to learn that she actually gets pretty freaked out by things that go bump in the night. 

In an interview with Interview Magazine, Farmiga admitted that she gets scared very easily — to the point where she found herself feeling terrified on set while filming in creepy locations, like the basement of the "Murder House" in season 1. But eventually, she came to realize that her authentic, fearful reactions made her acting in AHS come across as more realistic. Although Farmiga doesn't enjoy watching horror films, she continues working in this particular genre because it comes so easily to her — she's not just acting like she's afraid, she genuinely is, and she now views it as an asset. "When you have to go play these emotions like fear and terror, I realized that comes kind of natural to me," Farmiga told IndieWire.

After American Horror Story, Emma Roberts no longer feels typecast

Emma Roberts felt that casting directors always saw her as a "girl next door," but she was tired of being typecast. She wanted the opportunity to try something different, so when Ryan Murphy reached out to her about playing the powerful, conceited witch Madison Montgomery on Coven, she jumped at the chance, and she credits her time playing Madison as the source of her newfound confidence. 

"It's definitely made me a more fearless actress," Roberts told Collider after shooting her first season on AHS. "Things I would normally say no to, I'm more like, 'Bring it on!'" 

When she returned to AHS for another season a few years later, Roberts said playing Madison and working with Murphy on Scream Queens had opened up new doors for her in Hollywood. "I remember before Madison, I would go up for parts and they'd be like, 'She's too sweet,' or 'She's too nice,'" Roberts said in another interview with Collider. "Now, after Madison and Chanel, no one says that."

American Horror Story let Sarah Paulson try her hand at directing

Since Murder House, Sarah Paulson has been a consistent fixture on American Horror Story, delivering solid performances in a wide variety of roles. Whether exposing the corruption at an asylum as journalist Lana Winters, running a coven in New Orleans, or playing conjoined twins with two completely distinct personalities, Paulson has always given it her all.

Eventually, Paulson was ready to move beyond acting and try her hand at directing. She finally got the opportunity to sit in the director's chair while shooting the sixth episode of Apocalypse, "Return to Murder House," which reintroduces many of the characters from the first season. 

"The most confronting experience I've ever had was directing," Paulson told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was really hard!" 

Now that Paulson has spent a little time on the other side of the camera, she admits that it has changed her approach to acting. As she put it, "This experience has helped me zoom out from my own piece of the puzzle and see the greater picture and how my character fits into it."

American Horror Story took Lily Rabe from victim to villain

Lily Rabe has been with American Horror Story since the beginning, and has appeared in almost every season. She started off her run on AHS with Murder House, playing the ghost of Nora Montgomery, a socialite married to a wealthy doctor who killed her husband and herself. 

In Asylum, Rabe played Sister Mary Eunice, a naive and devout nun who becomes possessed by Satan. Rabe had to embrace the role of a tortured villain inflicting pain and terror on the other inhabitants of the asylum. It was hard to process those emotions, even when she stepped away from the set. "Sometimes I would go home from work and just stare at the wall for a couple of hours," she told Collider. The role affected her on psychological level, and she couldn't just snap out of it when she was done filming for the day. But even though playing Mary Eunice was one of her most challenging roles at the time, she embraced it — she says she wanted to be pushed to her limits rather than playing it safe. 

Jessica Lange felt inspired again thanks to American Horror Story

Jessica Lange was probably the biggest name to appear on early seasons of American Horror Story. She started with the role of Tate's mother Constance Langdon, who murdered her husband and his mistress and moved next door to the haunted Murder House. The role ushered in a whole new phase of her career and earned her a second Primetime Emmy. She stuck with AHS for three more seasons and eventually returned for Apocalypse to reprise her role as Constance, reminding viewers that no one plays an intimidating matriarch quite like her. 

Before getting that pivotal phone call from Ryan Murphy, Lange was going through a difficult breakup. She had just ended a 30-year relationship with Sam Shepard, and she was grieving, with no idea what to do next. AHS was the catalyst that helped her move forward. "Going into that series somehow revitalized me and made me understand that there was a whole way of working that I had never done before," she told GoldDerby. "It forced me to work in a way with complete and total abandon."

Lady Gaga broke into acting with American Horror Story

We all know Lady Gaga as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, but even some of her biggest fans didn't know that she originally hoped to break into acting before finding success in the music industry. She even had a bit part on an episode of The Sopranos early in her career. But for a long time, she put her acting ambitions behind her, assuming that it was too late for her to realize that dream — until Murphy asked her to star in American Horror Story: Hotel as the Countess. 

"She has always wanted to be an actress," Murphy told Billboard. "She studied it in college, but she was too terrified to go on auditions." When Murphy showed her footage of one of her scenes in AHS, Gaga started sobbing, and at first, Murphy was worried that she was disappointed in herself. But as it turns out, they were tears of joy. "She told me later it was because she was so happy that somebody had believed in her," he said.

Gaga's newfound confidence as an actress changed her entire career. She went on to star as Ally alongside Bradley Cooper in the 2018 remake of A Star is Born, which was nominated for several Academy Awards and won Best Original Song for "Shallow."

Denis O'Hare played a transgender character on American Horror Story

When Denis O'Hare signed on to play Larry Harvey in Murder House, he never imagined that in just a few years, Murphy would trust him with a role that challenged him in a whole new way. In Hotel, O'Hare was cast as Liz Taylor, a transgender woman who worked as the bartender at Hotel Cortez and learned everyone's secrets while serving their drinks. 

"It was not what I expected. So I was really thrown for a loop," O'Hare admitted to The Daily Beast. But when it comes to the acting jobs he accepts, O'Hare has a particular motto: "If something scares you, you have to do it." O'Hare rose to the occasion of fairly representing a community that he wasn't personally a part of. 

Taylor's character was inspired by a drag queen, but eventually, Murphy decided that playing Taylor as a male drag queen didn't quite work, and O'Hare approached the character as a transgender woman instead. "As the character is growing into her own identity, I'm growing into her identity," O'Hare told Entertainment Weekly

Billie Lourd processed her grief on American Horror Story

Billie Lourd was a welcome addition to the recurring American Horror Story cast. She joined the show in Cult, playing both Winter Anderson and Linda Kasabian. She returned for Apocalypse to play Mallory, and went on to play Mallory Duke in 1984. She also worked with Ryan Murphy (and Emma Roberts) on Scream Queens

Lourd has certainly made strides in her acting career over the past few years, but she's also dealt with heartbreaking tragedy in her personal life. Before Murphy asked her to appear on AHS, Lourd was grieving the loss of her mother, Carrie Fisher. And shortly after Fisher's death, Lourd lost her grandmother, Debbie Reynolds. But working on AHS was the start of her path towards acceptance. 

"It honestly helped me process all of my emotions through these characters," Lourd told Entertainment Tonight. "Being able to cry for Winter helped me cry for myself. And it's been really healing and cathartic... Honestly, it kind of saved my life." 

Cheyenne Jackson went out of his comfort zone on American Horror Story

Cheyenne Jackson had worked with Ryan Murphy before American Horror Story — he guest starred on Glee, and he was also in a pilot for a project Murphy had done with HBO, which didn't end up going anywhere. But when Murphy called him up again and asked him to play Will Drake on Hotel, Jackson was nervous. He had acted in dramas before — he appeared in United 93 and on Law & Order — but working in the horror genre was entirely new to him. In fact, he didn't even enjoy shooting AHS at first because it was so different from his previous work. Acting alongside stars like Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga made him self-conscious, and he didn't really find his groove until they had filmed a few episodes.

"I was the comedy guy and I did 30 Rock. That was much more comfortable for me. And here I am, doing these big dramatic sequences... it was so far out of my comfort zone," Jackson told Collider. "It took half the season to sink in a bit."

Cody Fern explored humanity's dark side on American Horror Story

Cody Fern joined American Horror Story to play Michael Langdon in Apocalypse, and his portrayal of the antichrist who started a nuclear war is unsettling. To prepare for the role and get into the mindset of someone like Michael, Fern spent plenty of time reading up on theology, psychology, and philosophy. He didn't want to play Michael as a cartoonishly evil character — instead, he wanted to understand Michael's motivations. 

Playing Michael has been Fern's biggest role to date, and he still hasn't quite moved on from it. Stepping into Michael's shoes opened up his eyes to a darker side of our society. 

"I haven't let go of Michael. I really think that something is happening in society at the moment," Fern told GoldDerby, explaining, "I think it's very Jungian and I think it's very much about trying to understand the darkness within ourselves... It's fun to investigate the other side of the coin and I understand it a little bit more now."

American Horror Story made John Carroll Lynch act without words

Freak Show wouldn't have been complete without a killer clown. John Carroll Lynch, who had never worked on American Horror Story before, was brought on to play Twisty the Clown, who had a habit of sneaking up on innocent people and either kidnapping or killing them. Twisty barely spoke a word, which made him even more frightening. Naturally, this made things more difficult for Lynch, who couldn't convey his character's thoughts and personality through dialogue. Instead, he had to rely entirely on body language. And on top of all that, Twisty wore a mask to cover his mouth, so he couldn't act through facial expressions, either. 

"There are a lot of things that I've never tried before because the character is silent," Lynch told Collider. "There was the challenge of being told, 'There's almost no dialogue and we're gonna take away half of your face. Let's see if you can act in those circumstances.'" Judging by his nightmare-inducing performance as Twisty, he nailed it.