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How Kathy Bates Came Up With Her Controversial AHS: Freak Show Accent

Fans of the hit FX series "American Horror Story" were excited when it was announced that Oscar winner Kathy Bates would be joining the third season entitled, "Coven" (via The Hollywood Reporter). The horror anthology series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk has explored everything from aliens and haunted houses to cursed colonies and cults. Murphy and Falchuk have certainly created a show that pulls no punches in its exploration of the horrific as well as the thought-provoking. Indeed, for all its scary and sometimes gross moments, the show also has an emotional core that ties it all together.

Bates' skills as an actor support this mix of the macabre, the complex, and at times, the heartbreaking. In "Coven," she plays the vile and sadistic Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a wealthy socialite who lives in New Orleans in the early 1800s and uses her station in life to torture and murder slaves. Bates is at her sinister best here, and for her performance she took home an Emmy. After that, it wasn't much of a shocker to learn that Bates would return in the fourth season of "American Horror Story," "Freak Show." While her performance in Season 4 is stellar, the accent she uses is a unique, and somewhat controversial, choice. But what led her to put on this accent for her character?

Bates' character's heavy Baltimore accent was inspired by Murphy's friend

"American Horror Story: Freak Show" centers around a traveling show of human oddities. Murder, mayhem, betrayal, and a twisted clown are a few of the frights in the fourth season. Kathy Bates plays Ethel Darling, a bearded lady and right-hand person to show owner Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). During the series, we learn that Darling has lived a tough life, with a failed career, being humiliated for her appearance, as well as a terrible marriage. This tragic backstory makes for a deep and engaging character study, and of course, Bates brings a layered and thoughtful take on Ethel. One aspect of her character is her thick Baltimore accent.

When interviewed by FreshFiction.tv, Bates remarked on this, saying, "A close friend of Ryan's was on set for a while, from that area, and he really helped me with it. You can't do it lightly, it's a heavy accent and I also wanted it to sound like old-fashioned working class, so that's even more different than what people are used to hearing." She also did some studying on her own for the accent, listening to Barbara Ann Mikulski, a Baltimore native and politician, while also having a dialect coach friend phonetically spell out the words in the accent. Whether or not you think that the Baltimore accent Bates puts on is successful, you have to admit that she put a lot of effort into her performance.