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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Blu-ray Release Event

Article first published as ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Blu-ray Release Event on Blogcritics.

This weekend, FOX and H+K Strategies threw an event in New Orleans to celebrate the release of American Horror Story: Coven on Blu-ray and DVD (my review of this set will be forthcoming). Held at Buckner Mansion, which served as the exterior of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies during filming, press and fans were treated to cool costumes, an advance screening of a new episode of the franchise, and the chance to hear from a few of the people involved in the show. Needless to say, this was quite neat, and as a fan myself, as well as a reviewer, I jumped at the chance to attend.

The event day started with a walk through the imposing gate, and up those famous front steps of the more-than-a-century old dwelling, which actually was a school at one point, and still inhabited today. This was a rare chance to get up and close with an historic place not normally available to visitors. A charming guide, clad in black and with a witch-appropriate hat, provided some trivia and a few stories about the house, which she says is haunted. One might believe it, tucked into a rather picturesque setting on a quiet New Orleans street.

What struck me most about this place, is how small the yard actually is. In the show, it seems there is lots of room, and it’s quite likely that other outdoor locations were used in conjunction, although this wasn’t discussed at length. It is also very close to neighboring houses, making it a lot more suburban than it appeared. Still, it was very cool to be on that porch and see that white facade and those hand-carved columns.

Going inside, Buckner Mansion is actually quite different than Miss Robichaux’s in the show. There is no grand staircase, and only a small number of rooms make up that ground floor (if you can call it a ground floor, given its height off the ground). But it still seems full of the past, well decorated and preserved, and some of marketing photography for the show was completed in the room we were ushered into.
Adding to this were a number of costumes used in American Horror Story: Coven, including both the maid’s outfit and golden gown worn by Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) and the chicken restaurant uniform belonging to Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). Eleven costumes in all, all from female characters, were on display, and it was pretty cool to be so up-close-and-personal with clothing actually worn in the television show. There was also an entire room of hats used in this season, and the costume Emmy won was on display.

Then came the question and answer session with Jamie Brewer, an actress in both Coven and the first season of American Horror Story, and Emmy-award winning costume designer Lou Eyrich. The ladies had many insights about Coven. They got to tell us who their favorite characters and favorite scenes were, and what powers they’d like to have (clairvoyance for Jamie and time travel for Lou). Both were entertaining and natural on stage, seemingly happy to be there and plenty willing to answer questions at length, both from the moderator and those seated, which the myriad of fans, many of whom were in costume, enjoyed.

At the end of this panel, Naomi Grossman, who played Pepper in the second season of American Horror Story: Asylum, a character brought back for this year’s Freak Show, made an appearance. Sadly, there was little time to talk to Naomi, but she seemed excited to be there, and joined the gathered crowd in a viewing of this week’s upcoming episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. (I’ll be posting a full review of this episode Wednesday evening, so look for it!)

This concluded the public potion of the event, though press got to go upstairs and sit down with the three creative folk in turn. Each session lasted 20 minutes, or so, and were much more in-depth than the initial Q&A, leading to many revelations and interesting tidbits being discussed. All three ladies were beyond accommodating and friendly, even as they were exhausted from their work weeks, and when these concluded, Naomi even stood around chatting casually with those in attendance, a surprising treat.

Lou went first for the group interview. She told us how she actually got her start ironing costumes while touring with Prince. She was there with her boyfriend, a lighting tech on the show, and because the world of costuming is such a small one, she sort of accidentally discovered she had a hidden knack for it about the same times others in her industry did. This has led to much work for her, including on many of Ryan Murphy’s projects, and while she’s tempted to retire, she can’t resist being pulled back in every time Murphy pitches a new season to her.

Lou was humble in admitting that many of the performers in American Horror Story have told her the clothing she selects helps them get into character, but one could tell she takes great pride in her work, and deservedly so. She’s also a perfectionist and a hard worker, putting in extremely long hours during the months the show is in production, which came as a bit of a surprise to me, unfamiliar with everything that goes into finding all the costumes and keeping them constantly available, well-take care of, and often copied so that they can be destroyed or mussed up. She is definitely one of the underrated heroes on the set.

Next up was Naomi. Her head is shaved for the character she’s playing, but lacking the prosthetics that make her Pepper on this day, she appeared relatively normal. Unlike Pepper, who is not very intelligent and a woman of few words, Naomi sparkles with great energy and talks a lot! One can tell just how enthusiastic she is about the part and getting to play it again. She had many interesting stories about her time on the series, and though she jokingly admitted to wanting to kill off her on-screen brother so she didn’t have to share her pinhead-ness anymore, she seemed to have nothing but respect for all of her fellow actors. She said the set is extremely professional and everyone cares a lot about one another, from Oscar-winners Kathy Bates and Jennifer Lange, all the way down to some of the “freaks” this season that have little, if any, dialogue.

Unfortunately, Naomi was not willing or able to share any secrets about why Pepper has returned or what is in store for her this season. She did confirm it was nice to have the job security of knowing she won’t be killed off, since Freak Show is set about ten years prior to Asylum, where we first met Pepper. But if anyone on the production has clued her into what Ryan Murphy does or does not have planned for her, she did a terrific job of playing ignorant, which is exactly what she should do, so it’s hard to complain, especially about someone who seems so nice.

Last up was Jamie, a driven and smart girl who has many ambitions. While enjoying her chance to act, Jamie shared her interest in all of the various aspects of film making, especially writing, which she is working on honing right now, and music, telling us she is a dancer (though sadly she did not do any dancing at this event). Jamie spoke of the personal emotions her characters have brought out in her, and what it’s like to deal with frightening things on set, such as running from zombies. She mentioned having a lot of fun with her sexy love interest in Coven, as well as battling his controlling mother, played by the great Patti LuPone.

Like the others, Jamie had lots of nice things to say about pretty much everyone she works with. She had a lot of trouble picking a favorite scene or costume, but that’s only because she says she loves just about everything involved in the production. She is definitely someone who is going places, and through these great experiences she’s having with AHS, she’s quickly becoming prepared to step into some bigger and / or different roles going forward in her career.
 
At the end of the day, we braved the sudden downpour as we fled from the house. Looking back through the rain, we got one last glimpse of the very cool house (perhaps cooler with the water dripping from it) which has left me with a lot of memories and fun I will not soon forget. Kudos to FOX and H+K for throwing such a fascinating experience. 
American Horror Story: Coven is available on disc now.

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