If you’re a real movie nerd, chances are you get as excited when you see a supporting character with a familiar face as you do when one of your faves is the star. Let’s celebrate these heroes!…
Back in the early World Wide Web days, defunct site Fametracker had an awesome column called “Hey, It’s That Guy!”, celebrating character actors and actresses from all your favorite things. So we’re showing our love for that idea every so often in our Friday Five by doing the same, and this week digging through the many terrifying tales of American Horror Story‘s previous seven seasons to single out some of our faves.
By the nature of its anthology structure, every season of AHS has been a cavalcade of familiar faces – some more familiar than others, as Ryan Murphy has definitely assembled a core ensemble of players who return time and time again in different roles – so we thought we’d go in a specific direction for today’s Friday Five. So far only two actors – Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters – have appeared in every season of AHS to date, while many (Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates… the list is massive!) have more than a few under their belts. So, in true “Hey, wait… wasn’t that?!…” fashion, we narrowed our focus to those actors who so far have only appeared once on the show. This isn’t to say they might not yet turn up on this season’s Apocalypse (We’re only three episodes in so far!) – but for now, here are these great folks’ only AHS appearances:
Mena Suvari (Elizabeth Short, Murder House)
One of AHS‘s most intriguing tropes over the seasons has been its habit of drawing real-life figures into the macabre stories involving, largely, fictional characters. One of the earliest examples of this is Season 1’s introduction of Elizabeth Short, the ill-fated struggling actress who became the victim of the (still unsolved, in real life) 1947 “Black Dahlia” murder. Murphy and Co. offer up their own theory as to how Short met her grisly end (it involves residents of the Murder House, naturally), and it results in her ghost haunting the place, too. If at first glance you don’t recognize the striking brunette playing Short on the show, you might be forgiven as you’re probably used to seeing her as a blonde; Mena Suvari was a well-known face in late 90’s films including three of the American Pie flicks and Oscar-winner American Beauty. Since, she’s been seen in recurring roles on TV shows from Six Feet Under to Chicago Fire.
Brooke Smith (Dr. Gardner, Asylum)
Sometimes, the most impactful performances wind up being the briefest – take into consideration the single scene in AHS: Asylum featuring Dr. Gardner. The empathetic, no-nonsense hypnotherapist is offering assistance to Dylan McDermott’s Johnny Morgan to curb his violent impulses. Her increasing discomfort as he describes his killing urges in detail is skin-crawling to watch; needless to say, their interaction does not end well. She’s incredibly effective in just this one scene, which speaks to Brooke Smith’s reputation as one of the greatest character actresses of her generation; on top of numerous TV and film performances, she’s was a regular on Grey’s Anatomy for four seasons. But perhaps her best-known turn to film fans – one that definitely shares some DNA with her AHS appearance – was as Catherine Martin, the brave senator’s daughter who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Lance Reddick (Papa Legba, Coven)
Oh so many spooky supernatural characters have passed through the stories of AHS – some of them formerly human, others representative of forces beyond our world. One of the most instantly recognizable and eerily charismatic of these was Coven’s Papa Legba, the top-hatted spectre of Haitian voodoo who is “the Gatekeeper of the Spirit World.” After voodoo queen Marie Leveau (Angela Bassett) makes a deal with Legba for immortality, he turns up once a year to claim an innocent soul as part of her bargain – basically, if you ever find yourself in a room with both of them at once, RUN. While he’s almost unrecognizable under that elaborate costume and makeup, the rich baritone of Lance Reddick is hard to miss; the actor has long been a fan-favorite of TV nerds for roles including Lt. Cedric Daniels on The Wire, and the unflappable Col. Phillip Broyles on Fringe. He’s also known for guest shots on Lost and Oz, and most recently his turn as the “talented” concierge Charon in the John Wick films. (He’ll be back for #3!)
Patti LaBelle (Dora Brown, Freak Show)
It’s super evident just by listening to the songs (both original versions and amazing cabaret-style covers – we see you, Jessica Bowie!) in AHS that Ryan Murphy is a big music fan. That’s never more apparent than when, from time to time, he casts some major musical names in supporting roles (and even leading ones – HEY, Gaga!) in the show. One of our first picks for this list might have been Stevie Nicks’ Coven appearance, but she’s back this year for Apocalypse! Therefore, for one-off brilliance we’re going with a couple of others; first up being the fierce performance of R&B icon Patti LaBelle as Dora Brown in Freak Show. As the maid to wealthy socialite Gloria Mott, Dora is all business and completely unfazed by the pampered, spoiled antics of Gloria’s son Dandy (Finn Wittrock); Dandy’s transition from irritating brat to serial-killer protege happens pretty fast, meaning that Dora’s time on the show is brief. (She’s his first victim.) But man, LaBelle is outstanding as a woman who isn’t about to be terrorized. LaBelle has also acted on TV in other shows from A Different World to her own short-lived sitcom, Out All Night; as well as in films including A Soldier’s Story and Idlewild.
Rick Springfield (Pastor Charles, Cult)
Speaking of popular musicians in AHS! – boy, did anybody see that Rick Springfield guest shot coming? Sure, the 80’s pop sensation was as famous for his acting (as Dr. Noah Drake on soap institution General Hospital) back in the day as he was for “Jessie’s Girl” when it was the #1 song in America. He definitely had a long hiatus from acting after his bid at movie stardom, Hard to Hold, bombed in 1983; in recent years though, he’s not only returned to General Hospital but made some really unexpected appearances in stuff like Californication, where he basically played a fictionalized, debauched version of himself. And he is undoubtedly less swoon-worthy and more flat-out creepy as Pastor Charles in Cult, a murderous man of God whose vengeance is stopped by siblings Kai and Winter Anderson. (Being introduced to true evil and indoctrinated into killing, Evan Peters’ Kai is forever scarred by the experience… and well, you know what happens from there…)