But she's not Anne Frank, in the end. She's a woman named Charlotte who's suffering from postpartum psychosis, neglecting her colicky baby and concerned husband to build an obsessive scrapbook wall about Arden/Gruper's war crimes -- and it's not until Charlotte's husband arrives at Briarcliff to claim her that you realize just how much credence you've given a story that's obviously impossible. How did Potente choose to play a character who's obviously delusional, but has to convince the audience that maybe, just maybe, she's telling the truth? "The thing that comes with insanity, or possible insanity, of course the person doesn't look at themselves saying, 'Oh my God, I'm insane. I'm not really Anne Frank, but I'm pretending to be.' I wanted this girl to be very convinced that she was Anne Frank." And Potente wanted the audience to come with her on this trip. "I want them to believe, or at least I invite them to believe for a second, to make room for the possibility that I am Anne Frank."
Potente added that "you don't have to do much" on "AHS" as far as acting insane, generally, because the environment the show has created does a lot of the work for you: "It's creepy, and there's aliens, and creatures, and all these things … the music, the way it's edited, there's so much going on. If I thought of ways to act crazy, like if I create the eye twitch, stuff like that, it would be really annoying, because it's overloading what's already there." Not to mention the "amazing extras," whom Potente credited for helping to create that oppressive Briarcliff atmosphere. "If they weren't paying attention, if they weren't doing their thing even if they're not on camera, you feel that," she said.
But "AHS" has its serious challenges for actors. It's decided -- by Arden, who is a sadist anyway and whom Anne/Charlotte has shot in the leg -- that the best treatment for Anne/Charlotte's condition is a transorbital lobotomy. The procedure is difficult to watch, even though the audience knows it's fake, because it involves an icepick and a mallet, and Potente didn't love it either. "I'm kinda nearsighted, so anything that goes on around my eyeballs, I'm not a huge fan of," she said, adding that she can't even deal with the eyelash curler in the makeup trailer. But James Cromwell, who plays Arden, "had proven to be a very reliable, wonderful man" who helped her feel okay in the scene, even though she's strapped to a gurney with a pointy object near her eye.
If you've ever watched TV before, you might be forgiven for thinking that someone, anyone will surely save Anne/Charlotte before the lobotomy gets underway -- Sister Jude, who seems to believe her accusations against Arden, or maybe Shelley, crawling out for vengeance. Alas, it's allowed to proceed: another tricky moment for Potente as an actor, for a couple of reasons. First, it's just tough to play a lobotomy patient: "It's such a hard thing, even if you read the medical information, to really wrap your head around it, like, 'Wait a minute, so they remove or numb parts of the brain and parts of your soul -- your personality, your beliefs, your emotions are really really gone?'"
Second, it becomes clear that, while she may not remember it, Charlotte is probably right about Arden. Does she know that on some level? Did the lobotomy really erase everything? "I had wanted it to be that there was almost like a whiff, like a smell of memory" left, Potente said, but she wasn't sure how to play it. "I kind of just wanted to be really blank, and just play someone who is in limbo, between faint memories of something that's undefined, and the present that doesn't seem to make sense either."
By the end of "I Am Anne Frank, Part 2," you might still think there's a chance Charlotte really is Anne Frank -- that doubt, that "whiff," may linger. Or you might think the entire plot is just too absurd, even for "AHS." But as Potente observed, "That's the awesomeness of telling stories."
Watch a recap of "I Am Anne Frank, Part 1" right here:
'American Horror Story' airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.