'American Horror Story: Asylum': Lily Rabe on Sister Mary Eunice's end and returning for Season 3
Or will we? You never know for sure on "American Horror Story," but in last week's episode, "The Name Game," Mary Eunice finally lost her battle with the demon that possessed her way back in episode two. Knowing that she couldn't be saved, Monsignor Howard ( Joseph Fiennes), threw her over the Briarcliff balcony and the Angel of Death ( Frances Conroy) comforted the dying Mary Eunice by telling her she would take both Mary Eunice's spirit and the demon inside her.
It was an appropriately dramatic end for one of "Asylum's" best characters, and -- if we don't see her again -- an excellent cap to Rabe's exceptional performance this season.
During a conference call with journalists, Rabe discussed her work this season and confessed she doesn't yet know if she'll be back for another "AHS" installment. (But we're pretty confident about her chances!)
At what point did you know Sister Mary Eunice wouldn't make it out of "Asylum" alive?
I knew that she probably wouldn't have a happy ending. The specifics became clearer as we went along. The way Ryan and I talked about [the death], it really is an assisted suicide. Her situation wasn't survivable even if they had done some sort of exorcism. Whatever was left of that girl was so damaged and destroyed, [death] became her only way out. [Playing the character] was such a wonderful challenge and dance really, to live with both the lightness and the darkness existing at the same time and that losing battle.
And Dr. Arden went with her!
I always thought of it as the perfect ending for the two of them. James Cromwell and I were always sitting around talking about Shakespeare like big theater dorks. We felt like Ryan [Murphy] gave us a beautiful Shakespearean ending. It seemed like the perfect end to their very bizarre and complicated and dark love story of sorts. For him, he really had loved her for so long and been so devoted to her. I can't speak for Jamie, but I feel like maybe [her death] was the last straw for him. Eunice is certainly trying to free herself and get this devil that she has become away from everyone else. It's her most heroic moment. I think taking Dr. Arden away with her is certainly not a bad thing for everyone else who's still alive. There's still a whole lot of stuff to work out and a lot of evil left around, that's for sure.
What was it like shooting their final moments together?
The cremation scene was very, very difficult for me. When I read it I thought, "This is gonna be tricky." It was much harder than I even imagined. I really like when I read a scene and it scares me. That makes me excited. Like singing along [to "You Don't Own Me"]. That was such a thrill. The director gave me the whole room. He had it set up so they could shoot the whole room and I'd have total freedom to do whatever. For the most part I like it when I read a scene that scares me or makes me sweat a little bit.
Speaking of sweat, was there actual fire involved in filming the cremation?
That was added in. There was a lot of smoke. Truthfully I don't know how the special effects people do it. It was rather terrifying but no I wasn't worried about getting burned.
What was the biggest challenge of the season for you?
Some of the murders. In those moments when she was completely taken over by the devil and throwing these actors around, slitting their throats, stabbing them ruthlessly. I've often played the person who is getting raped or murdered or abused, so to actually be raping and murdering and abusing people was a whole different type of challenge. Sometimes I would go home from work and stare at the wall for a couple hours. But I can't complain. Usually what knocks you out working is the kind of thing I want to be doing.
[And] it's sort of a wild thrill to do things that are so -- I've never had the opportunity to do such horrible, horrible things to people.
What kind of preparation do you do to play someone who gets possessed?
The way I approached it really was to figure out, before we started shooting, who Sister Mary Eunice was and not really worry about the possession or the devil. So much of that possession is specific to the person. To play the darkside or underbelly of someone, their shadow taking over, is really about knowing who that person is before that event had taken place. It was more about figuring out who she really was through and through.
How much did you know about where the season was heading, or even week-to-week while you were shooting?
You know a certain amount but there was a lot of mystery. You have to be constantly taking a tremendous leap of faith and just stay present in the moment of whatever scene you're in. You don't know what the next episode is gonna bring. I didn't watch the show while it was airing because it was too hard to be shooting episode 7 and watching episode 3 or however it worked out, my brain was getting scrambled. I had to wait until we wrapped production to watch. In the same way the audience was being surprised we were definitely getting our handful of surprises too.
Did you do anything during filming to break up the tension between takes?
Sarah Paulson is one of my best friends and has been for years. We already have a bit of a laughing problem together. I would say that happened a lot. And Zach [Quinto] 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!
Has Ryan Murphy mentioned anything to you about next season? He seems to enjoy bringing actors back in completely different roles.
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 certainly you want to do something different, that's the joy of what this set-up is.
But you do think you'll be back?
I have no idea! I can't say a word, I'm so sorry. I would certainly love to be back, it's such a great job.