Most TV characters live in a house, work in an office, or hang in a bar that makes a nice backdrop -- but these settings often don't offer a whole lot of character to a scene. But when Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk created "American Horror Story," they clearly put their mind to making use of every square inch of their film frame. They cast the best actors, hired the best costume and lighting teams, and they built the very best sets.
But as frightening as the Murder House in the first season of "AHS" might have been, it pails in comparison to the horror of the "Asylum." In recent conference call interviews, series' stars Zachary Quinto, Lizzie Brochere, and Chloe Sevigny talked about how important the environment is to helping them do their jobs.
Briarcliff Mental Institution was based on real asylumsThe current installment of the shock show is set in Briarcliff Mental Institution in 1964. Murphy pulled inspiration from a string of dilapidated buildings mostly on the east coast. Ultimately the exterior was based on the Old Orange County Courthouse, which then influenced the inner workings of the facility.
In a video posted on the series' Facebook page, production designer Mark Worthington explained that it took a crew of roughly 100 carpenters, 10 plasterers, and 15 painters to build the interiors. The design features largely Romanesque architecture with hints of Victorian flair.
Zachary Quinto praises the production design teamThe show's most dastardly bad guy, Zachary Quinto praised the work that Worthington and his team have done. Old Bloody Face himself noted, "They've done such an extraordinary job of creating this immensely oppressive, overwhelming environment, which does have actual characteristics depending on what part of the set you're shooting in."
Quinto called the fruits of their labor "a gold mine of information and opportunity for action and activities along the way. It's just such a full environment that we work in."
Lizzie Brochere says the sets make the sceneLizzie Brochere plays a patient named Grace, who is 1964's answer to Lizzy Borden. She described the impact that the dark and gloomy setting has on developing a beat in the show. She recounted one of the first days shooting in one of the asylum's key locations: "It makes the scene… When you're in that hallway with all the solitary cell doors, ooh. You have no question of where you are. It's such a particular asylum. It's such a designed asylum. You can feel the whole weight of the metaphor that it represents."
Chloe Sevigny says not having the right set can affect a performanceChloe Sevigny, who plays the show's resident beleaguered nymphomaniac, went so far as to concede that sometimes the set can become so important that not being able to shoot exactly where they want can impact her performance.
She recalled a scene in which she tussles with Carl the orderly in the stairwell area; the moment was originally meant to take place in an area that wasn't available for filming. The actress was concerned that the new location resulted in a stunt that seemed too contrived.
Sevigny noted, "For me, it was difficult. I kept arguing with them saying I don't see how she could be such a shot to have that happen so conveniently. So the set can help working for you in that way."
Tune in to " American Horror Story: Asylum " every Wednesday night at 10 PM on FX.
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