Ryan Murphy sure made us wait for it. The Coven witches didn't make their first appearance until the very end of the third episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse, and so it wasn't until Wednesday's installment, "Could It Be... Satan?," that we actually got to spend any time with our favorite witchy women. And boy, oh boy, did the return of Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) not disappoint.
The highly meme-able former movie star turned checkout clerk in her own personal hell is probably one of the most iconic characters American Horror Story has ever produced. So to get to see Madison back in action, offering the Antichrist (Cody Fern) a handjob, yelling at poor clueless Mallory (Billie Lourd) and just generally existing was such a treat, particularly knowing that we have so many more episodes of her acerbic wit to indulge in.
Returning to the role of Madison was also a treat for Roberts, who in addition to Madison has played Maggie Esmerelda in Freak Show and Serena Belinda for an episode in Cult. TV Guide spoke with the actress about what it was like reprising her Coven role for Apocalypse, why this role is so special and whether Madison has — gasp — grown at all in the five years since we saw her last.
You've played a few other fun characters in American Horror Story, but would you say that Madison is your favorite?
Emma Roberts: I would say Madison is my favorite. I mean, it was so unexpected getting cast on the show because I was such a huge fan of it. I've seen every episode. I was obsessed with Ryan Murphy. Out of the blue one day he called me and said, "Would you be interested in doing this fun role playing a witch who's an actress?" And I was literally silently screaming on the other line. And it was only supposed to be for a couple episodes and now here we are, reprising her for a second time. Coven, to me, I loved it. I would watch a million seasons of Coven. It's so fun.
Why do you enjoy this role so much, and why do you think fans connect so strongly with Madison?
Roberts: For me, I grew up obsessed with everything like witches. The Craft and even Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Hocus Pocus. I don't know, I just feel like there was lots of witch movies and TV when I was growing up, so to me, there was something really fun and nostalgic about it. And I think the way that Ryan put this modern twist on Coven that season was ... nothing I'd seen before. And I think fans love it because Madison is the most unapologetic ... person. And I think everybody loves seeing that because they don't know what she's going to do next. They're like, "Is she going to be nice? Is she going to be mean? I don't know."
"Surprise, bitch" became an iconic meme and catchphrase the first time you said it in Coven. What was it like getting to do that again in Apocalypse, especially now that you're aware of it being this huge meme and callback for the fans?
Roberts: Yeah, it was so funny. I remember after the first "Surprise, bitch," I went to work and everyone was like, "Have you seen? Have you seen?" And I was like, "What?" And they're like, 'Surprise, bitch' has gone viral!" And I was like, "What?! Really?" Because for us, when we read the scripts, the things that we think are going to be viral aren't, and then the things that we don't look at twice, all [of a] sudden become memes everywhere. We're always trying to guess what's going to be a meme and we never seem to get it right, so I'm dying to see what becomes a meme this season. Doing "Surprise, bitch" a second time, I mean, it's funny. I was practicing at home and I was like, "Oh my god. Do I remember how to do it still?" [Laughs]
Madison was in hell for at least a few years. Did she learn anything during her time there? Has it changed her at all?
Roberts: I think that this season, you guys will be surprised to see that Madison is changed. She's woke a little — or so she likes to think. I'll let you guys be the judge. But she definitely thinks she's changed by her experience.
We only got to see a brief glimpse of Madison and Coco together so far, but they both have such strong personalities. What can you say about what their dynamic will be like — will they get along or are they too similar for that?
Roberts: I'm still waiting for Madison and Coco to have their big scene together because let me tell you: There's no one I love more than Leslie Grossman and no one I think is more of a genius than Leslie Grossman, especially this season. She genuinely makes me laugh out loud. I read the scripts and then I watch it and it's like I haven't read it because she's so amazing. Leslie and I both have been waiting for our big moment together. Hopefully they'll give it to us.
It was also great seeing you back with Sarah Paulson, Gabourey Sidibe and some of the original Coven witches. What was it like getting to reunite with all your former co-stars and getting to return to these roles together?
Roberts: It was so fun! When I walked into the hair and makeup trailer and saw Sarah, Gabby and Taissa [Farmiga], I felt emotional, because Coven was such a special time for us. It was five years ago and we were all living in New Orleans and we just had no idea what we were creating down there. We were like, this is fun and people really loved it and it was just a great time in our lives. We all hung out all the time, ran around New Orleans together. So seeing them definitely made me feel so happy but also I was like, "Oh, I wish we could go back to Coven!"
When Madison first arrived at the Outpost, she was with Cordelia and Myrtle. Where's Zoe right now?
Roberts: I can't. ... All I'll say is pay very close attention this season. Even I have to pay very close attention when I'm watching because some things aren't as they seem.
Madison's first encounter with Langdon was absolutely hysterical. How much fun did you have with Cody in that scene?
Roberts: I had so much fun. And Cody, I loved him on Versace so much and I was so excited that he was now coming to American Horror Story. We were laughing so hard in between takes on that. And also just folding the towels over and over again, the towels falling all over me. I was like, "Wow. This is a great hell for Madison, for sure."
In addition to all the Coven characters returning, it's also a Murder House crossover. What was it like getting to explore the sets and characters from this season that you weren't previously a part of?
Roberts: Murder House is my favorite. I was so obsessed with Murder House. I remember watching the pilot live on TV when it aired and I was like, I'm hooked on this show. So to get to shoot at the Murder House was so fun and cool. And I was like, "Who wants to give me a Murder House tour?" It was really cool to get to be there. The house is definitely spooky, but the show made it much spookier than it is in real life, I'll say that.
Charles and Nora Montgomery were past owners of the Murder House. Are we going to explore their potential familial connection to Madison Montgomery this season?
Roberts: I don't know. You'll have to see. I know I remember someone said that. They were like, "Montgomery, Montgomery." And I had forgotten. So yeah, that's a prequel connection. Everything's connected in American Horror Story, as you know. It's all connected.
Madison's fashion is just perfection. What was it like getting to dress up in all those amazing clothes?
Roberts: When I came back, I was like, "Where are all of Madison's clothes?" Because they put all that stuff in storage. And we couldn't find it! It had disappeared. So we were like, "Oh god, we'll just buy new stuff." But I was so sad because I was like, I need Madison's Prada boots. I need those black Prada boots. And so finally, after a week, they were like, "We found the box!" And it was so fun getting to open all of her old clothes and in the first scene, the "Surprise, bitch" this season, I'm wearing a dress that I wore in the hospital on Coven. So that was really fun to get to do a little re-wear. I was like, "Now it's not a re-wear; now it's vintage!"
Seeing you and Billie Lourd interact definitely gave me major Scream Queens vibes.
Roberts: I know! Billie is one of my favorite humans and I was so excited to get to work with her. That was one of my first questions, was if I'd get to work with her. We had so much fun on Scream Queens. And this season, I'm loving the stuff we get to do together. It makes us nostalgic for Scream Queens.
How does Madison and Mallory's dynamic compare to Chanel and Chanel No. 3's?
Roberts: It's totally different. ... I think there's a little wink of Chanel and Chanel No. 3 in the first episode, but they're very much different characters and the dynamic is different. I don't know if Chanel would like it, I'll say that.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.