If we had to sum up American Horror Story: Roanoke, we'd only need one word: insane.
The super-secret season morphed from a documentary series to a reality show to whatever you call that bats--- finale, which told the dramatic conclusion of Lee Harris' (Adina Porter) life through YouTube videos, a primetime news special, a paranormal investigation show and so much more — and American Horror Story accomplished all this in only 10 hour-long episodes.
But if you thought Roanoke was a rollercoaster as a fan of the show, imagine being one of the actors who were as in the dark about Ryan Murphy's master plan as we were. Even Adina Porter, who played the only major character to live to see the season finale, didn't originally know Lee was going to live past Episode 6, let alone become the show's main hero and villain!
For an inside glimpse into how Roanoke kept its secrets under wraps — plus Porter's thoughts on Lee's turn to the dark side and attempt at redemption — check out our full interview with the actress below!
How much did you know about Lee and the plans for the season when you first signed on?
Porter: I had no idea. No one had any idea. I auditioned and didn't hear anything for two weeks. I thought the audition went really, really well and I was surprised I didn't hear anything, and then after two weeks they were like, "You're it!" ... They signed me up for six episodes with an option for four more, so I had no idea.
How did your perception of Lee change over the course of the season?
Porter: It changed when I began to see what Angela Bassett was doing as the reenactment [actor] of Lee, because when we were doing Episodes 1-5 I was by myself with the crew and the director doing the monologues, or as we would call it, the talking heads. So I never got to see what the reenactments were like and what Angela's take was on the character. I did my segments by myself too, so I didn't see what [Lily Rabe] or [Andre Holland] were doing either. And then when we got to all work together in the house, Roanoke Season 2, that's when I thought, "Oh, OK. That's how she sees Lee. And that's how Lee's being introduced and interpreted by the world." When everything was put all together I even thought, "Oh god, I hope people don't think I'm overacting," because I felt that my interpretation, when I was going to be reliving the moments and telling the story to the camera, I didn't feel very removed. I felt like things had just happened, so they were very alive in me. I felt like other folks were a little bit more reserved. I was afraid people would think I was overacting.
A big turning point for Lee was when she ate the boar's heart, causing her to become possessed and go on a killing spree. What do you think drove her to that decision?
Porter: I think she was fed up. The way I played it was once an addict, always an addict. I wanted something from the outside to be able to make me feel powerful, dull whatever pain that I had. So my motivation for eating that heart was, "It has to be better than the best coke. It has to be better than the best prescription drugs. It has to be better than the best drink. Take me to this better place."
Lee takes full responsibility for killing Mason, but what about the murders she committed in Return to Roanoke? Does she feel any guilt or responsibility for those?
Porter: I think many killers do think they're justified in what they do and that, "It wasn't me." So maybe it wasn't first degree [murder], maybe it wasn't second degree, maybe it was manslaughter or under the influence... And if I don't have to take responsibility for those particular murders because of circumstances, what jury really can judge me? I was chopped up, tortured! You do a lot of things when pushed to that level. My thinking was like, "Hey, just give me a break. [Lee's] better for her daughter than her in-laws."
Do you see Lee offering to die and stay with Priscilla as her way of repenting?
Porter: The way I thought of it was not everyone's a really great mom and not everyone's the best mom for their child. And my temperament, the way I handle things, [means] Lee wasn't the best mom for a live daughter, but the coping skills she has [and] the skill set she has could serve a ghost daughter better.
Now that Lee is a ghost, do you think she'll run into other victims from the show? Maybe reunite with Matt or even have an awkward run-in with Monet?
Porter: Whoa, gosh. I didn't think of that... You know, it's possible! I know the Butcher and the villagers, that's their land, so they're going to be there. I hadn't thought about that. Maybe Monet wants to get the hell out of there and go be with her people. Or maybe Monet is decent enough that she gets to go to heaven and doesn't have to stick around in purgatory or the in-between life!
The reason Lee sacrifices herself is to protect Priscilla from the Butcher. Did Ryan Murphy give the cast any background on why there is such an antagonistic relationship between the Butcher and Priscilla?
Porter: No! No, he didn't. We didn't get any background about that, no. Given the circumstances that I put together to make things work, the time that Priscilla lived in, being a little girl, she wasn't very much valued. I saw that when they were starving and trying to figure out how to make it through the winter, the men would get more rations than the girls. That was my thinking: she just wasn't very valuable.
The finale changed formats multiple times within the hour. What do you think was the effect of seeing Lee's story play out through all these different perspectives?
Porter: To be honest with you, I have not seen the whole finale yet. It's a blessing that I've been working so much, so that I don't have time to watch things. And then at the end of the day when I want to relax, watching myself isn't what I want to do... At 10 o'clock [on Wednesday] I thought I could sit and watch the finale, but I could also go to bed and tomorrow I can be with my kids all day and be a halfway decent mom and not be tired. So I did that. I will watch the finale, but I haven't done it yet.
What do you think Ryan Murphy was trying to say this season about voyeurism, violence, the media and reality TV?
Porter: My first thought, and I don't know what he was trying to say about violence in the media, but what rang out to me was this "fame at any cost" reality TV is not really what it is cracked up to be... Roanoke and the actors either wanting a job or wanting more screen time, the real people thinking that somehow or another putting a camera and sharing with the world all that they are going through will somehow or another help them through it, the real people making a lot of money from sharing their dirty laundry, their drama, being very narcissistic... I appreciate that take that Ryan Murphy and the writers were talking about: "You want fame at any cost?" That was the comment he was making on reality TV, in my humble opinion.
The finale ended up being very timely because we just elected a president who is a reality star.
Porter: And that's another reason I haven't been able to watch the finale. I want to be happy about the really good work and happy about other people seeing my work, but I still feel crappy about our election. And with people not really knowing what the future's going to be because he hasn't really laid out any plans — it's just we've got to follow him because he says he's famous and he says he's successful because he's on a TV show. It just blows my mind.
The finale didn't wrap up everything in a nice bow. A lot of questions were left unanswered and the last shot is of the Butcher preparing to march against the cops and Flora. How did you feel about it ending that way?
Porter: Back in the old days, the stars never died in the show and everything was always wrapped up in a nice, little bow, but that's not television that we do these days. I'll leave it up to Mr. Murphy to see how that goes. My first thought is that maybe the police force has to be a little more responsible now because their dirty laundry has been exposed. That's timely, isn't it? The police activity is exposed by cameras. And the line where the young people who wanted to make a documentary about going back to Roanoke and talking about "racism is scary" and "[the patriarchy] is scary," and it's very timely with what's going on with our election. I don't think Mr. Murphy planned that out, but that makes it a lot more interesting, the backdrop of what's going on.
Ryan Murphy announced plans for a Murder House-Coven crossover season. Would you want to make a return as your Murder House character? And if so, what would you like to see Sally get up to?
Porter: Oh my goodness! I did not know that. I would love to return! My character, when I auditioned for her, I don't even know if she had a name. She was described as the most boring woman in the world. And to explore being someone whose husband can't tolerate listening to her voice go on and on and on, but [who] still wants people to notice her and be heard. But ooh, what could happen? I'll leave that up to his hands and his creative mind. But I would most definitely love to return.
What did you think of the American Horror Story: Roaonoke finale?
Gif via Vanity Fair