American Horror Story's Lily Rabe on Nora's Heartbreak, Head Wound
American Horror Story
When we last saw the ghost of Nora Montgomery, formerly a '20s-era socialite who maintained her well-to-do lifestyle by feeding her flailing, drug-addicted surgeon husband starlets in need of an abortion, she was telling Ben to man up and protect his baby from crazy Hayden! (At least, he thinks the thing inside Vivien is his...)
American Horror Story's Lily Rabe, who plays the original owner of and oldest ghost in Casa Harmon, tells TVGuide.com that modern-day Nora is more of a haunted, rather than haunting, spirit. Before she gave Ben (Dylan McDermott) his pep talk, her ghost lamented microwaves with Vivien (Connie Britton).
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"It's like getting to play two parts," Rabe says of the difference between dead Nora and put-upon, turn-of-the-century Nora. "Death has changed her. Her suffering has so tremendously changed her." Nora's own baby was killed after of one of the girls she recruited for a quiet abortion confessed to her boyfriend, who in turn kidnapped and dismembered the youngest Montgomery.
Rabe, a Tony-nominated theater actress and the daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh, was brought in to American Horror Story specifically by series boss Ryan Murphy, who wrote the part of Nora especially for her; Clayburgh, appeared in Murphy's film adaptation of Running With Scissors and received an Emmy nomination for her guest work on Nip/Tuck. "He's so innovative. Everything Ryan does changes the face of television," Rabe says. "He's one of those people who, if he told me to stand on my head, I would just do it. I believe all he said to me about this part initially was, 'You're gonna love it. It's a fabulous part. Her name is Nora.' At the time I was playing Nora in A Doll's House, so it also felt like a bit of kismet."
In this week's episode (Wednesday at 10/9c on FX), the aftermath of Nora's tragic past will play out to its bloody end: Dr. Charles (Matt Ross), last seen trying to sew together their dead son, delivers some disturbing news to Nora with equally shocking consequences — and Vivien will learn all about it while on the murder house tour. (About that gaping hole in the back of Nora's head? "You will know exactly why and how it got there," Rabe says.)
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And as for what Nora is after now, both she and Constance (Jessica Lange) have vested interests in what happens to the house and whatever is growing inside of Vivien, all revolving around family matters. Rabe says Murphy's more than made good on his promise that Nora would allow the actress to stretch all her acting muscles, from wicked to vulnerable. "While Nora was awful and even abusive toward her husband because of what happened to them, in the present, she's sort of the most heart-breaking thing," Rabe says. "She's broken. She's been living in pain for literally decades and decades."
Rabe just received raves for her performance in the Christopher Munch film Letters From the Big Man and is currently starring in Broadway's Seminar alongside Alan Rickman. She says even theatergoers want answers to American Horror Story's riddles. "Every night, we go out and sign autographs and everyone's really excited about the play, but then they also really want to talk about American Horror Story. 'Who's Rubber Man?' 'What's happening next?'"
But Rabe says she isn't exactly privy to all the answers either. The actress is still shooting several more episodes. "I get the script, and I'm pouring over it," she said. "I may have a couple more answers than you do, but I also have tons of questions that I'm wanting to figure out myself."
Check out the moment in which Charles breaks his big news to Nora in this week's episode, "Murder House":