American Horror Story - Connie Britton
Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) © 2011 FX

After a long run portraying Tami Taylor in the critically acclaimed series Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton has faced her aversion to the horror genre to star in F/X’s new hit, American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. She plays Vivien, the wife of a psychiatrist, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), who following a miscarriage and her husband’s infidelity, moves from Boston to Los Angeles, with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) to begin a new life. Unfortunately, they buy an old house which they discover is haunted by a multitude of ghosts, one scarier than the other, which threatens to destroy their lives.

When you first got the script for this did you have any misgivings about doing it?

American Horror Story - Brad Falchuk, Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott
Co-creator/executive producer/writer Brad Falchuk and cast members Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott answer questions at the TCAs © 2011 FX

I wanted to do something that was really, really different from what I had just been doing. So when I sat down and talked to Ryan, which was early in the process, he basically presented it to me saying, ‘This is going to be like nothing you’re ever done before.’ Not only that, but it was actually going to turn what I’d just been doing on its ear a little bit, so, going from this wonderful marriage on TV to this completely damaged marriage [was great].

To me that was interesting, and it just seemed like a great gift and a great opportunity for me. I loved Ryan’s sense of collaboration about it. And so, I just felt really fortunate to dive in even though it felt really risky and scary.

And I have to say working in horror that it’s a lot less scary when you’re actually doing it. But there have been moments that I get really creeped out or I go home at night, and it’s a little creepy, I do have to admit that I tried to watch the episode this week at night by myself, and I couldn’t watch it, which is pretty sad considering that I had shot it!

Your character seems to be the only character that has it together.

I think what I was interested in was that she is somebody who’s been very strong and together in her life. And she’s watching her world crumble around her. And I like the idea of somebody like that falling apart and seeing them in conflict with themselves in the midst of disaster.

I like to play different things as an actor, but one common denominator is I do like to play women who are empowered in some ways, even when they’re going through crisis or when they’re going through conflict or difficulty. So, that’s been the fun part and the challenge for me with this character, and it’s also fun to see her falling apart a little bit.

How do you play some scenes that are so over-the-top?

American Horror Story - Connie Britton
Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) © 2011 FX

When I first read the pilot and talked to Ryan about it, I thought it was very serious and dark. And I was actually talking to my cousin about it, and she said, ‘Oh, if it’s a Ryan Murphy show, there’s definitely going to be tongue-in-cheek [moments].’ I’m like, ‘No, not in this show.’

But I’ve come to discover that that is, I think, a trademark of their shows. And what I found is Dylan and I are the grounding characters of the show, but what’s really fun, to me, is I find that I can play the scenes very straight and very real, and they just end up being comedic because of the way they’re written. And the best kind of comedy is the kind you don’t have to work very hard at. It just happens out of the circumstances.

How much did you know about the characters and their back stories going into this show?

I think we actually didn’t know very much, but what was fun was it felt like we were going forward with Ryan and Brad. So, it feels constantly as though we are discovering who these people are, which is, to me, really fun and kind of adds to the mystery of the whole thing.

Why do you think the audience for this show increases every week?

I attribute that to Ryan and Brad. Even when we were shooting the pilot, I was still very unclear about what the show was going to look like. And what I think is so brilliant about what Ryan and Brad do is that they have a very distinct vision that is so outside the box of anything we’ve ever seen before, and they have such a great talent for bringing that into fruition and that’s what they’ve done. And I think audiences, even audiences where it isn’t their natural inclination to like a show like this, are really drawn to and really appreciate being challenged and seeing something that they’ve never seen before.

Do you have any favorite ghost stories that are involved with this house?

I just love how it all evolves each week, and I love that there are so many ghosts in this house that we just have no idea. We could never count them, really. And they create this culture in this community, in this house, that we have stumbled upon. I just think that’s really fun. I think it’s fun that we’re watching these people stumble upon this crazy world.

Have you had any real life supernatural experiences?

I’m not a big believer in ghosts. I don’t really walk around in fear of ghosts. But I have definitely had an experience with ghosts, which was in Italy. I was staying at this really amazing, old Tuscan villa. It was my friend’s house.

I woke up in the middle of the night and heard all kinds of moving around upstairs above me and furniture moving and voices, and I thought that some plumbing must have exploded. I asked them about it the next day, and they said, ‘Oh, no. Nobody was up at night. Nothing was moving. Nothing was happening.’ And then, it came out that they were very aware that the house was haunted, and they told me all kinds of stories and the various ghosts that they’ve experienced while they’re there. I’ve been back several times, and I never, ever can sleep at night when I stay there!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.