AHS: For Sr. Mary Eunice, Death Was "Her Only Way Out"

By Karen Moul

American Horror StoryAs American Horror Story: Asylum draws to a close, one of the most shocking moments has been Sr. Mary Eunice’s fall from the top of the staircase. With just a little push from Monsignor O'Hara, the good sister and the devil fell together to their deaths.

 “I think the way that she dies [is] more of an assisted suicide,” explained actress Lily Rabe, “a consensual death with the Monsignor. And I think that she’s certainly trying to free herself and also get this devil that she has become away from everyone else.”

In a way, Sr. Mary seized control, if only for a moment. Rabe feels that “it is her most heroic moment and also her only choice at that point.”

Will Rabe return to AHS for season three? She won’t say.

 “I have no idea,” claims the actress. “I can’t say a word. I’m so sorry. I know it’s such a boring interview sometimes with us at American Horror Story, I just can’t say a word.

“I would certainly love to be back, that’s for sure. It’s such a great job.”

Rabe recently spoke with journalists about her experience playing a possessed nun and working with such a talented cast. Check out the transcript of that conversation and don’t miss the final episodes Wednesdays on FX.

FX Conference Call
American Horror Story: Asylum
Lily Rabe

January 8, 2012

Lily Rabe as Sr. Mary EuniceQUESTION: How far in advance did you know what your character’s fate was going to be? Did you have an idea about that from the beginning?

LILY RABE: I had some sense, yes, I knew that she probably wouldn’t have a very happy ending, so I did have a sense and then as we went along the specifics of how that was all going to happen became clearer as we went along.

QUESTION: Absolutely. It almost seemed like that scene was a relief. What was it like for you to explore the light and dark sides of a character like Mary Eunice?

LILY RABE: Yes, I think the death scene, the way Ryan and I talked about it it’s really an assisted suicide. Her situation really wasn’t survivable in the sense that even if they had done some sort of exorcism or something at that point, we felt that whatever might be left of that girl was so damaged and destroyed and that death became her only way out. Yes, playing that through once the possession happened, that was such a wonderful challenge and a dance really to live between with both the lightness and the darkness existing at the same time in that battle and then that losing battle.

QUESTION: Were there any scenes that involved other people that the subject matter or anything about it made you dread them coming up when you saw them?

LILY RABE: The cremation scene was very, very difficult for me. When I read it, I thought, “Oh, this is going to be tricky, it’s going to be a little tough,” but it was much harder than I had even imagined it would be. But other than that, I really like when I read a scene and it scares me. That makes me excited.

Lip synching, or not really lip synching, singing along with the ear bud or whatever, it was such a thrill and the director gave me the whole room. He just had it set up so that they could shoot the whole room, and I could really have total freedom to do whatever and that’s really so much fun, so for the most part I really like when I read a scene that scares me and makes me sweat a little bit thinking about doing it. That’s usually a good sign to me.

QUESTION: In the cremation scene, were you feeling heat on your feet? Was there actually heat going on near you or is that added afterwards?

LILY RABE: No, no, there wasn’t real, the fire wasn’t hot, that was added in. There was a lot of smoke. Truthfully, I don’t know how those special effects people do it, but it was rather terrifying the situation, but no, I wasn’t worried about getting burned.

QUESTION: What did you find in the process when you took on the role, when you first talked to Ryan about it, what did you find the most difficult part of the whole role? You play it really perfectly, so what part was the toughest for you?

LILY RABE: I think some of the murders, in those moments where she was just absolutely, completely taken over by the devil and throwing these actors around and slitting their throats and stabbing them ruthlessly and all of that. I’ve been the victim a lot, so I’ve often played the person who’s getting raped or murdered or abused. And so to actually be raping and murdering and abusing people is a whole different challenge and one that it was very difficult at times and sometimes I would go home from work and just stare at the wall for a couple of hours. But I can’t complain, because whatever knocks you out working is the kind of work that I want to be doing because it’s always those challenges that are the most exciting and the things I hope to get to keep doing in my work.

QUESTION: Are you doing any stage? I had a great chance to catch you on the Shakespeare in the Park rep stage.

LILY RABE: Oh, I’m so glad.

QUESTION: You were just fantastic.

LILY RABE: Thank you so much. I loved doing it so much.

QUESTION: And so what are you doing next?

LILY RABE: Well, there is some stuff coming up. I will definitely be doing a play in the near future, for sure.

SCIFI VISION: This was a show that I couldn’t even watch last year and loved it this year.

LILY RABE: Oh, I’m so glad that you loved it.

SCIFI VISION: I did and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about Dr. Arden’s relationship with Sister Mary Eunice and his decision in the end to kill himself. Who is that a victory for, if anyone?

LILY RABE: Oh gosh, a victory, I don’t know, I don’t know. I never thought of it. I always thought of it as the perfect ending for the two of them. It seemed so fitting and of course we were always talking about, James Cromwell and I were always sitting around talking about Shakespeare like big theater dorks and so we felt like Ryan had given us a beautiful Shakespearian ending in a horror story Shakespearian ending.

But I think it seemed completely the perfect end to the very, very, very bizarre and complicated and dark love story of sorts. I think for him he really had loved her for so long and been so devoted to her; and I can’t speak for Jamie, but I feel like that was maybe the last straw for him.

SCIFI VISION: Yes, when I watching it I was thinking has Sister Mary Eunice freed him from this horrible life or is this the devil’s destruction of him in the end.

LILY RABE: Right, I think in the way that she dies, which is certainly I think I said this earlier more of a an assisted suicide, a sort of consensual death with the Monsignor. And I think that she’s certainly trying to free herself and also get this devil that she has become away from everyone else. I think it is her most heroic moment and also her only choice at that point. But I think that, yeah, having taking Dr. Arden away with her is certainly not a bad thing for everybody else who is left alive, although there’s still a whole lot of stuff to work out and a lot of evil left around that’s for sure.

QUESTION: I think the logical question is will you be back in season three? Have you started talking to Ryan about it? I know that you can’t probably say, but what kind of character do you think you would like to play? I know that he goes through the actors and asks a little bit what they’d like to do next and tries to give them something different than what they’ve done before.

LILY RABE: Yes, well, he certainly succeeded in that this season with everyone so brilliantly and I’m sure he will of course do that again. I don’t know. I think Ryan’s ideas are usually better than mine, but yes, I don’t know. I don’t know, but certainly [sometimes] you just want to do something different. That’s the joy of what the setup is.

QUESTION: But you do think you’ll be back?

LILY RABE: I have no idea. I can’t say a word. I’m so sorry. I know it’s such a boring interview sometimes with us at American Horror Story, so that I just can’t say a word. I would certainly love to be back that’s for sure. It’s such a great job.

QUESTION: I really enjoyed how you embodied the devil in Sister Mary, I’m wondering how did you approach it because I feel that the combination of comedy and horror and I’m wondering if the director guided you on how to play the devil in your character?

LILY RABE: Yes, the truth is the way that I approached it really was to figure out before we started shooting. The most important thing to me was to really figure out who Sister Mary Eunice was and not worry about the possession or the devil because to me so much of what a possession is is specific to the person. So that to play the dark side or underbelly of someone or their shadow taking over, it’s really about knowing who that person is before that event has taken place of this dark thing taking over. So it was more about figuring out who she really was through and through.

QUESTION: What was it like working with Joseph Fiennes for this role?

LILY RABE: Oh, I had such a wonderful time with Joseph. He’s such a wonderful guy and so generous and so much fun to act with. We didn’t have so much to do together at the beginning of the season, but we ended up having so much to do in those last few episodes and I had a great time with him, I think he’s so special.

QUESTION: And how did you two practice the end stunt for Sister Mary Eunice?

LILY RABE: They let me do the whole thing. I was on wires and I actually got—my stunt double was someone I had worked with before and they talked to me a couple weeks before shooting it and asked me what I thought; and I said let me do as much of it as I possibly can and they let me do the whole thing, the throw and the fall and all of it, so that was a lot of fun. I really like that kind of thing.

Lily Rabe as Sr. Mary EuniceSCIFI VISION: I know you talked about the cremation being one of the most difficult things that you’ve done this season. What were some of the high points for you this season?

LILY RABE: Oh gosh, well, everything else, everything else was the high point. It was one high point after another. I think I could never pick, but I had so much fun.

My relationship with Jessica, I would say, with Sister Jude, I thought that all of the scenes were really an incredible thrill to play and to figure out and especially the ones where Eunice comes out of, is reached by Jessica for a moment and there are flashes of her still being inside there.

Because the truth is in all of it, I felt her there even when she was being completely overpowered and so those moments of release were really special to get to do and I have to say I also had a lot of fun. The murders were - I don’t know if fun is the right word, it’s sort of a wild thrill to play to do things that are so—I’ve never, I’ve never had the opportunity to do such horrible, horrible things to people.

SCIFI VISION: What have been some of your favorite horror films and programs to watch?

LILY RABE: Oh, my favorite, I think it’s Don’t Look Now and The Shining is also one. I’ve never really watched a television show, a horror television show with any kind of consistency, but I do love to be scared and I love there are some of those movies that it’s amazing to me how you watch them over and over and they’re still so terrifying every time.

SCIFI VISION: Even religious horror? Even demon possession, religious horror kind of stuff? I can’t watch it at all, you’re the only religious horror type thing I’ve ever been able to watch.

LILY RABE: I don’t know how to answer that question. I guess if you mean like—

SCIFI VISION: Some of us can’t take demons.

LILY RABE: Oh demons, I guess, well, it just depends on the film I would say.

QUESTION: You were talking about the Donald Sutherland film, right?


QUESTION: Okay, yes, of course, what other one is there? So I’m sorry, this is kind of personal question, are you Catholic yourself?

LILY RABE: No, I am not.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, okay, because it brings up a whole lot of the Catholic thing and how the Catholic church works and stuff like that. I’m a Catholic or a lapsed Catholic, whatever you want to say. So I think that’s what brings more authenticity to it because the Catholic church is very much about demons and possession and all that kind of stuff or it used to be, so I think it brings kind of an authenticity to it. Did you study a lot about Catholicism or the whole demon possession all that stuff?

LILY RABE: I did, yes, in part of researching before and during that was definitely something that I did. I was very interested in learning about and there’s so much information out there and stuff like that.

QUESTION: Earlier somebody had mentioned Ryan and I was thinking purely as an actor or actress that the whole thing that he’s trying to come up with this repertory kind of deal where every season, using the same actors over and over, I it’s very much theatre-like.

LILY RABE: Yes, it’s like repertory theatre, yes, it’s terrific fun.

QUESTION: And did you find that particularly appealing and did he use that as a way to sweeten the deal?

LILY RABE: Yes, it’s incredibly appealing because it’s this wonderful opportunity to work with the same group of people, the same actors, the same crew, the same creators, I’m just saying creator or the same writers and creators and to be able to have this home that you get to come back to, but then be playing a different character. I have to say it’s just an actor’s dream come true; and that you can, there are people who go away for a season and come back, do a few episodes, do the full season. There’s so many ways for it to exist and it’s really a thrilling company to be a part of and that is how Ryan thinks of it, using the model of the rep theatre company. I think he’s such a genius to be doing that.

QUESTION: It’s an incredible idea and to me as a viewer, I think that’s the most appealing to see Dylan come back, it’s just an incredible thing.

LILY RABE: It’s incredible, yes, yes, yes. I certainly don’t know of anything that’s been done like it in television before. Ryan seems to constantly be pioneering so many things.

QUESTION: I have to talk to you about you and Jessica because to me a lot of people like to mention a lot of actresses as the greatest American actress alive, but I think Jessica is the greatest American actress alive.

LILY RABE: She’s unbelievable.

QUESTION: What was it like working with her?

LILY RABE: I had an amazing time. She’s an incredible actress. She’s got an unbelievably, an amazing work ethic. She’s generous. She’s present. She’s everything you could want in a team partner and also she’s a really great woman. She’s a lot of fun and I felt very close to her very quickly, very comfortable with her and safe and that’s always, especially when you’re doing difficult things, feeling safe with someone is what I have with Ryan and that’s what I have with some of the cast. And to have it with Jessica, especially with what we had to go through together and put each other through, was invaluable.

QUESTION: Is there any way you prepare for this season’s role?

LILY RABE: Yes, a bit, I hope I’m not repeating myself, but most of the preparation before once Ryan - I said yes to him before I knew who I was playing. He called me and I was doing a play in New York and he said can you come back this year and move out to LA for five months and I said yes. And then he said all right, I’ll call you soon and tell you about her. And then learning about Sister Mary Eunice and of course, learning about the institution and what her role there was and her relationship with Sister Jude and learning about her history, which I know the audience doesn’t see it until maybe halfway in.

But knowing that she’s sort of stunted, something has been stunted [or] stopped in her, so she hasn’t really totally developed into a woman. So figuring out who that innocent soul was, that pure girl and why she is the way she is, all that stuff was lots of time to sit in my apartment and worry and prepare and do all of those things.

QUESTION: Anything about your role that you added, that wasn’t scripted for you?

LILY RABE: Oh gosh, I’m not sure how to answer that question. I think a lot of it was collaborative in the sense that yes, sometimes there’s a certain amount of freedom and there were things that I think would happen because the writers are writing the show as - it’s not like the entire season is written. I do think the writers and Ryan were, it was definitely a collaboration in a certain sense.

QUESTION: One of the things that I noticed this season is that you just seem to be having so much fun playing Sister Mary Eunice, especially once you went into full devil mode; and there are some pretty touchy scenes in there. Is there ever a point where you’re like, “This is too far,” or were you just like, “Give me more of this material or let me go to town?”

LILY RABE: Yes, I think if you’re going to do the show, you just jump off the ledge and you don’t expect you’re going to have any parachute or anything opening. You just have to jump and know that that’s a part of the thrill of it and there will be somewhere soft to land, and you’re not going to at the end of the day and because you’re in such good hands. But I think part of the thrill of being on that show is just diving in completely. So no, I never, things would scare me or make me really nervous, but nothing ever felt like this is too far or this is something I don’t want to do. I never had that feeling about any of it.

QUESTION: Sister Mary Eunice was in a lot of different storylines this season, was there any one that was your favorite?

LILY RABE: My storyline with Jessica was perhaps the most powerful to me because I think it’s the most tragic in a way because it’s actually the one that involved the most love, even though Jessica’s Jude is very cruel to Eunice in the beginning. I always believed that that cruelty was coming out of a place of love and a place of seeing Mary Eunice, seeing her potential and knowing that she wasn’t living it.

And so in a way, where we started and where we ended up, that to me is probably the one that was the most powerful; but I have to say my relationship with James and with everyone, everyone I got to work with. I even had a great side plot with Spivey. Mark Conseulos is so amazing and it was such an abundance of amazing actors that you get a chance to work with while you’re doing the show.

QUESTION: I’ve loved James Cromwell since I was a kid. I watched Babe a million times, so I was just wondering what your process together was. I think it’s a really interesting relationship…between those two characters.

LILY RABE: Yes, we both love to talk about acting; we love to talk about theatre. He’s a great storyteller, too, so I always loved when we had days on set together. I think it’s such a specific and bizarre special tone, that love story and it’s a very strange thing to call it, but that is how I felt about it even though it isn’t necessarily mutual or straightforward. But I loved working with him and it was great with the directors and with Ryan and the writers and James to figure out what was happening with them. And there was so much heartache between them in different ways.

They didn’t want the same thing, but I think her loss of purity, what that purity meant to him and of course to her. I think as she [was] having a first-time experience of what it is to feel powerful or sexual or free in a certain way. And then of course that gets totally out of control, but what is a person losing when that stuff happens or what are you gaining? And asking all those questions that were really fun to get to do that with someone like James.

QUESTION: You don’t always get to know everything that’s going on the show, or see the whole script or anything. Or sometimes you shoot something and you don’t know how it’s going to come together. Was there anything this season that really has surprised you or threw you for a loop, and probably in a good way, but when you saw it, finally the episode come together?

LILY RABE: Well, there was a certain amount of course in terms of points of things that are going to happen to you; but there was a lot of mystery and you have to be constantly taking a tremendous leap of faith and just staying present in the moment of whatever the scene is, because you don’t know exactly where that turn is going to end up or what the next episode is going to bring. You have these landmark things that you know about, but within the nuance of the storylines. There was a certain amount of mystery.

I didn’t watch the show while it was airing because it was too hard to be shooting episode seven and watching episode three or however it worked out. My brain was getting really scrambled, but I had to wait till the season had wrapped because in the same way that the audience is being surprised, we were defFX photoinitely getting our handful of surprises, too, that’s for sure.

QUESTION: Is there anything, maybe one thing in particular that you were surprised to learn about yourself as you delved deeper and deeper into this character?

LILY RABE: About myself, Lily Rabe, or about what happened to the character?

QUESTION: No, about yourself personally.

LILY RABE: Oh, oh, yes, well, that always happens when you have a great job, you do have to confront constantly, always parts of yourself that you may or may not want to know about or have anything to do with or spend any time with. So yes, that definitely happened. I will say one thing. I didn’t quite know just how much I was going to love singing and dancing in front of a camera. I knew I would like it a lot, but I didn’t know that I would think it was like the most fun I’ve ever had.

QUESTION: It was awesome. I certainly hope to see some more of that.

LILY RABE: And I knew I liked stunts, too, but I really, really like doing them, so I sure would love a job where I was on wires all the time. I know some actors don’t like them, but I think it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

QUESTION: The asylum itself can almost be looked at as a character on the show. What was the atmosphere like on set to work in an environment like that?

LILY RABE: Right, it is sort of a dark world to live in, but I think the thing that made it still so wonderful and a place that I was excited to drive to work every morning was because of the people and the crew. It was a very close group of actors and the writers are very, it’s an amazing group of writers.

I think Ryan has a way of when he’s at the helm he’s one of those people who just creates a great work environment. I think it’s so much about that person. The leader really has to set the tone for something and make everyone feel safe and he does that in such an incredible way and so everyone, although we were maybe working crazy hours and shooting crazy things, it was always a really nice place to go to work.

And for me it was the first time I’d ever been, I’ve never done a show as a regular before and it reminded me a bit of doing a play in the sense that you go to the theatre every day and you have your dressing room. And you have the crew and the actors and so I loved that feeling of actually having this family every day. That was new for me and very special.

QUESTION: Was there anything that you guys did to break up the tension in between a scene that would be particularly intense?

LILY RABE: Sara Paulson is one of my best friends and has been for years. We already have a bit of laughing problem together, so I would say that that happened a lot. There was often a lot of that and Zach was learning the banjo and I was learning the guitar, so there were also little musical breaks, although he’s much better at the banjo than I am at the guitar at this point.

QUESTION: Were there any moments where you had a hard time dealing with the characters because of the things that pyschologically happened as a role?

LILY RABE: Is the question did I ever have times that it was hard to deal with the character because of the psychological heaviness of the role? Is that correct?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, yes.

LILY RABE: Yes, but it came with the territory in the sense that I feel that with all the great jobs or all the really, really great parts, you’re usually going to dark and scary or painful places and that’s just part of it. Although it could be difficult in some way, it comes with, it’s part of the job description I feel, so it’s nothing I would ever want to say was a negative, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel great.

To me it’s still part of the job description of getting to play a wonderful role and having to go through things like that. So I’m always very grateful for that even if it means I’m going to go have to collapse in my bed for a little while or whatever.

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