‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Interview: Kathy Bates On Ethel’s Heartbreaking Journey

American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 7 Test of Strength (2)

The incomparable Kathy Bates brought humanity and grace to American Horror Story: Freak Show this season in the role of the bearded lady Ethel. While Ethel met an untimely demise at the hands of her best friend earlier in the season, like many who die in the American Horror Story world, Bates’ Ethel might just reappear in time for the season finale this Wednesday, January 21st at 10PM ET/PT on FX.

Even if Ethel’s heartbreaking swan song has already been sung, the character left a lasting mark on Bates. TV Equals joined in a conference call with Bates shortly after Ethel made her bloody exit and the actress discussed why she keeps coming back to American Horror Story, what made Ethel so special and more.

How Ryan Murphy Rejuvenated Bates’ Career

After NBC cancelled Bates’ ratings winner Harry’s Law due to it drawing an audience that was considered too old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself at a low point in her life. It was not until American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy offered her the role of Delphine LaLaurie in AHS: Coven that Bates found joy in her career once more.

“I credit Ryan for not only rejuvenating my career, but rejuvenating my spirit,” Bates said. Delphine was a layered, vicious character Bates could sink her teeth into while also allowing her to surround herself with other amazing actresses like Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett. Meanwhile Bates’ Freak Show character, Ethel’s spirit has been even more complex. For these reasons, Bates would not hesitate to return for a third installment of FX’s anthology series.

“I think Ryan really appreciates older actresses,” Bates said. “He’s rejuvenated our careers, and he’s put us in front of the public at our best. We have a younger fan base now, and that’s all the reasons why I would come back. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I can’t wait to hear what the next part he might propose would be.”

On Ethel and Her Untimely Demise

In Ethel, Bates found a character she could relate to her. Bates noted she emphasized with Ethel’s “authenticity and her strength, her struggle.” Bates one wish for the character is that she might have went out in the world dressed as a man just once to experience the world in a way that would not have left her feeling as if she were an outsider. Sadly, Ethel lived and died in the Freak Show.

As for Ethel’s death at the hands of her close friend, Elsa (Lange), Bates noted it was a “bittersweet” end. Upon reading it in the script Bates’ revealed: “I thought, okay, there it is in black and white. I thought, well, it’s been a good run and we’ll see what happens next; you never know with American Horror Story.”

Bates’ On That Epic Final Scene

Ethel and Elsa’s final scene together (at least for now) was as gothic and grandiose as anything American Horror Story has ever done before. Bates reflected on shooting the scene with Lange and how it was evocative of Greek theater.

“When we got the script, and we actually had a couple of meetings with the director on it to talk about the scene itself and how we were going to approach it because on the page it looks like Greek theater; it’s one monologue after another monologue after another monologue. With these kinds of arguments, in real life, it would be people talking over each other and all of that kind of stuff. It wasn’t constructed like that, so we couldn’t approach it from that direction. We did a lot of talking about what was going on in the character’s minds and where they were coming from and would this be enough to — I know one concern from Jessica was, would this be enough for her to turn around and kill Ethel.”

For Bates, the end result was akin to watching”two Greek gods fighting.” If that is the end of Bates’ Freak Show journey, fans must admit the actress when out in an unforgettable way, and there is always next season and a new character on the horizon as long as Murphy continues finding inspiration in the indomitable Ms. Bates.

American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 8 Blood Bath (1)

American Horror Story: Freak Show’s finale airs Wednesday, January 21st at 10pm ET/PT on FX.

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