Spoilers below for anyone who isn't caught up with American Horror Story: 1984 through its penultimate episode.
It feels like FX's summer camp excursion only just began, but somehow American Horror Story: 1984 has already reached its finale. The episode "Final Girl" marks the end of Angelica Ross' first year working on Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's horror anthology, and it has been an exciting whirlwind for the actress, who first teamed up with the duo for the acclaimed drama Pose. This is not exactly her genre of choice, either.
Speaking with CinemaBlend ahead of the AHS: 1984 finale, Angelica Ross talked candidly about how the slasher-infused season changed her perspective on horror, among other things. (More on that below.) When she first took the role of "Nurse Rita / Donna" Ross noted that she wasn't aware of all of her character's big reveals, but that the bare-bones info she knew about influenced her to do some research into serial killers such as Richard Ramirez, now played in American Horror Story's universe by Zach Villa. Here's how Ross put it:
I did. And it wasn't something I wanted to do, I'll say that for sure. Because I did know that Donna was some sort of psychologist, and she was studying serial killers. I got a little bit of that piece in the beginning. So knowing that, I did start to study that and follow certain people's work. And it was creepy; it was unnerving. It was not easy to do, that's for sure, especially for someone that does not like horror, that does not like to live in that space. So I wouldn't say it was easy to put myself in that space, but once I got in the space of horror and started to tell these stories with this group of people who were bringing all their skills in front of and behind the camera, I started to see things a lot differently. And I started to see how Ryan Murphy likes to tell different stories, and make social commentary, and to use horror to do it. So I've been game. It's changed me, I would say. It's definitely changed my perspective on horror.
For Angelica Ross, her discomfort with elements of the horror genre were lessened by the pedigree of actors and crew members surrounding her during the production. She has, of course, spent quite a bit of time with dedicated co-stars such as Emma Roberts and John Carroll Lynch, and several others who are quite familiar with the American Horror Story way of life. And it's clear their influence paid off, as Ross looked completely comfortable playing the twisted psychologist Donna throughout the season.
In fully developing her AHS role, Angelica Ross found a pretty specific way to appreciate the slasher genre that very clearly inspired American Horror Story: 1984. In her words:
What I love most about horror – especially about A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th and all these different slashers – what I love most about those types of movies is that it gives the audience a voyeuristic experience of what I would do if I was in that situation. 'I would have went left,' or 'I would have slid under that thing, too.' You know, some people try some kung-fu stuff in the movies, and some people try that at home or whatever, but look...at least we like to think that if we were in that situation, that's what I might possibly do, and that I might survive.
Of course, that feeling comes from a deeper and more personal place for Angelica Ross, who is the first trans actress to hold two different series regular TV roles. Being a black trans woman in the U.S. isn't exactly a cakewalk, as one might imagine, and there were several elements within American Horror Story's narrative that sparked some reflection for Ross.
Angelica Ross spoke to that after I asked if it was disturbing to be researching serial killers while also acting opposite a fictionalization of the real-world Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez. I think it's safe to say Ross won't be stanning Zach Villa's Satan worshipper anytime soon.
Oh yes. I mean, I just hate it. Honestly, it's hard to say, because I love Zach. Zach is great, but I hated his character. I hated Richard Ramirez. I felt just a lot of different feelings about serial killers, and he's a real serial killer, and...there's just a lot of things going on. But I realized that I like to look at the world with rose-colored glasses. And as a black trans woman, I've kind of had to settle with the fact that I can't walk alone a lot. I have to check the backseat. I have to do these things in order to stay safe in today's society, in this world. You don't want to think that these things exist, but there are boogeymen out there.
As ridiculous as the Richard Ramirez character comes off at times, especially once Dylan McDermott's Bruce entered the picture, the character is still based on one of the most disturbing killers in America's storied history of them. So seeing him in action on a daily basis, along with lots of other macabre moments in this season, couldn't have been the most comforting job perk for Angelica Ross.
When I asked Angelica Ross what she thought fans were most excited about going into the finale, and here's what she told me:
I think that the fans are really excited about Brooke and Donna teaming up as this unlikely Thelma & Louise girl duo that all of a sudden, prison changed Brooke, and she's this badass from a Guess? Jeans commercial. And then you got Donna who's straight out of a Van Halen music video or what have you, and they are ready to kick butt. And I've seen so many posts and fan-edits [videos] where they are just loving the time the friendship that they brought together. So I think that they're gonna be really excited about them going back to the camp, and rooting for them both to survive. But the episode's called 'Final Girl,' you know what I mean? It's a whole thing [with the horror genre], but I'm glad that we've so far been able to turn some of the things on their head, with the fact that Donna is actually alive for the last episode. [Laughs.] The fact that she even made it to the last episode, I think, is historic.
As Ross said, Ryan Murphy's AHS creative teams have long been upending genre expectations, but American Horror Story: 1984 is perhaps this franchise's clearest distillation of subverted horror tropes. While this series has kept its main female characters alive in seasons past, rarely have characters embraced the "Final Girl" stereotype as strongly as Emma Roberts' Brooke has, though things have been ramped up a notch. But could Angelica Ross' Donna defy the odds by making it through the end?