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How American Horror Story: Double Feature's Lily Rabe Feels About Playing Twisted Mothers Of (Sometimes) Evil Kids

lily rabe's doris in a hospital bed on american horror story: double feature

Spoilers below for the latest episode of American Horror Story, titled "Gaslight."

While some of the characters popping up in American Horror Story: Double Feature seem to be having a blast at any given moment, from Evan Peters' crooning playwright Austin Sommers to Leslie Grossman's dot-connecting agent Ursula. But Lily Rabe's Doris has largely been mired in various levels of misery, thanks in large part to her bloodsucking husband Harry (Finn Wittrock) and Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and in smaller part due to her pregnancy. Episode 5 earned its "Gaslight" title by taking Doris over the edge of maternal discomfort, with Rabe telling CinemaBlend it was perhaps the "most painful" and "terrifying" episode she's filmed yet.

When I spoke to the American Horror Story vet ahead of the episode's airing, I brought up how her matronly characters in this franchise tend to have some pretty messed up children, going back to Murder House's Nora Montgomery. (One could even argue that Doris' breastfeeding was something of an ironic callback to the Season 1 moment when the Infantata was feeding just a little too deeply on Nora.) Here's how Lily Rabe responded to the Nora and Doris connection:

Oh, gosh. Well, I love them just the same. [Laughs.] A mother's love. No, certainly that's true. But both of them, their love for their children is ferocious and beyond measure.

Considering how much post-partum trauma Doris deals with in Episode 5, and how her characters have dealt with their motherly roles in other seasons — I'm thinking a lot about 1984's Pamela Voorhees-esque Lavinia Richter here — I asked Lily Rabe if taking on those kinds of roles changed at all once she had children with partner Hamish Linklater. Here's how she responded:

It's a great question. You know, sure, of course. Of course it has. But I also... I'm trying to think of the first thing I played after having my first child, but I was a stepmother before I was a mother. I also think there's something sort of built in that, even if you haven't had children, as a woman, as a human, whether you're actually a parent in life or not, there is something there that always felt incredibly accessible to me. Even before I'd had kids of my own. So playing Nora, and loving that baby, I knew that love. I had access to that love, even though I hadn't had the miraculous and impossible-to-describe experiences of getting to do it in my life.

While we didn't talk about whether a mother's love naturally extends to the point of taking a pill to become a creativity-lacking vampire, Doris was worn down enough in the episode to the point where Alma's constant suggestions likely felt like the only true next step in the process. And I mean, she threw up in bed, and on all of her designs. That's just gross. Obviously not grosser than trying to stab her far-less-evil infant out of desperation and hunger, since that takes all the cakes. And they're probably blood cakes.

As it turns out, Lily Rabe is able to separate her art from her real life, and isn't so affected by what kinds of characters she portrays, as far as troubled mothers go. But when I asked if she was more sensitive about watching those kinds of horrifying stories, she said:

I think there are things. It's interesting. Not necessarily to play — I haven't had that experience — but to watch. And listen, so many of the things that I've played as an actor, or that I want to play, or that I'm drawn to, it is 'facing the most unimaginable horror.' It's such a part of what we do as storytellers, and so certainly there are things that I'm sure have become more and more painful to do, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop wanting to do them as an artist. I will say there are certain things that I probably watch less of. I have a slightly lower threshold, maybe, in things that I choose to watch. I still, you know, I watch anything I want to watch, but I think my threshold for certain things probably has gone down. And let's just be honest, there are less hours in the day to watch things. But it's nice to watch a comedy once in a while. [Laughs.]

Thankfully, Lily Rabe never has to worry about becoming a pale, hairless, talent-free vampire roaming the streets of Provincetown, Massachusetts. For all that she might have in common with Doris by way of looks and parental status, she's definitely overflowing in the talent department. And I cannot wait to see what she'll get to take on in the back half of the season, titled "Death Valley."

With one installment left to go in the "Red Tide" section of American Horror Story: Double Feature, new episodes drop on FX every Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. ET, and will be available to stream via FX on Hulu on Thursday mornings. While trying to figure out where the season is going next, check out all the new and returning shows hitting the 2021 Fall TV schedule.

Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.