'American Horror Story' profiles a family in danger


Los Angeles is all about sun, fun, swimming pools and movie stars … but in the mind of Ryan Murphy, it's also about a haunted Victorian-style mansion with a bizarre basement, a bloody past and an equally bedeviled present.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, FX premieres "American Horror Story," the new drama from Murphy and longtime producing partner Brad Falchuk ("Nip/Tuck," "Glee"). Dylan McDermott ("Deep Blue") stars as psychiatrist Ben Harmon, who has come with wife Vivien (Connie Britton, "Friday Night Lights") and teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) to Los Angeles from the East in an attempt to put his family -- shattered by grief and infidelity -- back together.

They take up residence in an elaborate house with a sordid past, including murder, mayhem and mystery, all with a supernatural twist. Unsurprisingly, it was a remarkable real estate bargain.

To make things even more fun, the Harmons have a strange neighbor, Constance (Jessica Lange), who, along with her daughter (Jamie Brewer), has an unnerving tendency to show up in the Harmons' kitchen at will. And there's an older housekeeper (Frances Conroy) who looks like a very different person (Alexandra Breckenridge) to Ben's eyes.

Ben also has a tortured young patient (Evan Peters) and meets a man (Denis O'Hare) who has a strange story to tell about his residence in the house.

And, at least in the pilot -- which, incidentally, is about as far from family viewing as you can get on basic cable -- Ben has a habit of walking around the house wearing nothing at all. This is a bit of a change for Britton, who has just concluded a five-season run with Kyle Chandler playing her husband on "Friday Night Lights."

"I can tell you one thing right now," she says, "you would no more see Kyle Chandler's ... than fly to the moon. I can tell you that right now. It would just never happen in a million years.

"Listen, I'm fine to let Dylan take the flak on the nudity. Go for it. I have no problem with that.""You definitely saw a lot of me in the pilot," McDermott says. "I knew that going in. It was no surprise, but it was definitely what Ryan wanted and part of the character's addiction, if you will. It's not gratuitous; it's part of who Ben is."

Ben's responsible for the adultery that has put a strain on his marriage, but it was a result of events that came before.

"I think he's complicated," McDermott says. "Being a psychiatrist, he knows a lot about psychology, but he's also suffering from his own demons that he has, which come from some of his childhood stuff that's unresolved.

"Even though he became a therapist and really overcame the odds in his life, he's haunted in many ways by his own past. He's trying to resolve that, but sometimes your past is bigger than you are, and right now, it's winning out in his life.

"Although he's struggling mightily to overcome it, somehow it seems stronger than what he is."

It's no less of an emotional struggle for Vivien.

"I mostly just scream and cry," says Britton, whose voice on the phone is hoarse after a particularly intense scene the night before, "and he gets away with murder."

At the same time, her co-star isn't exactly all sunshine and puppies.

"Dylan's a dark guy," Britton says. "He really has a dark side. This is, in a lot of ways, tailor-made for him. I think he's freer than he's ever been as an actor. We're having a really good time, and he's becoming a really great partner in it."

"Oh, come on," says McDermott in response to Britton's assessment. "She's exaggerating. But yes, I do, absolutely. You have to have a dark side."

Ben may have his issues, but McDermott believes he's a man who still wants the best for those he loves.

"You have to like a character to play him," says McDermott, "and I do like Ben. I have a lot of compassion for him, because I know he is struggling so much. The true core of who he is, is trying to keep his family together. That's what he wants more than anything else in the world, and it's slipping out of his fingers.

"He can't seem to hold it, as much as he wants to. In his essence, he's a man who's made some mistakes. He's haunted by those mistakes."

But while the Harmons have problems, Britton is drawn to what keeps them together.

"It's so painful and so difficult," she says, "because it's not just, 'Oh, that guy's an a... .' It's, 'Oh, my gosh, you are someone who I love and who I'm connected to, and I have this very intricate relationship to, and this happened.' "

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