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American Horror Story’s recurring cast members consistently deliver critically acclaimed performances season after season. Here are the best.
American Horror Story is one of the most unique and defining shows in modern television history. Each season dives into a unique horror subgenre and establishes a new premise in which its characters will fight, quiver, and die at the hands of various antagonistic entities. It’s anthological format, wildly creative stories, and exciting twists have vaulted it into a fan-favorite of TV-lovers; however, American Horror Story would be nothing without the consistently stellar performances of its long-recurring cast members.
American Horror Story‘s cast has dominated the Best Actor/Actress (both Leading and Supporting) awards at the Emmys and other major awards shows nearly every season of the show’s decade-long run. Because it’s an anthology series, its cast has the unique opportunity to shine in a new role every season, and this format has produced tremendous results even for supporting cast members. Jumping between various horror genres is one of the series’ greatest strengths as it tells stories that always have culturally relevant underlying themes and symbolism. Although some American Horror Story seasons have obviously been better handled than others, the acting performances have always been solid across the board.
As season 10 recently concluded, along with the series’ spinoff American Horror Stories, revisiting American Horror Story‘s best acting performances gives an interesting look at how far the show has come and what characters were most memorable throughout the series. Here’s American Horror Story’s best acting performances, ranked.
Though Kathy Bates plays many memorable characters throughout American Horror Story‘s seasons, her role as bearded-lady, Ethel, is among the most compelling in the show’s history. Whereas Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars is the leader and brains of Freakshow, Ethel’s sympathetic and courageous presence is the heart. She thrives as an unsullied symbol of this season’s message, that judgement, ignorance, and a lack of compassion are the prevalent evils throughout society.
Denis O’Hare has often occupied a transformative role when cast in American Horror Story seasons; however, Hotel is O’Hare at his most daring and memorable as the transgender bartender, Liz Taylor. In a season filled with sadistic characters, Liz Taylor occupied the crucial role of a sympathetic diamond in the rough, a necessary reprieve for the overwhelming amount of disturbing material, gore, and macabre featured throughout the season. Though Hotel was criticized for its patchy storylines, O’Hare’s performance is a clear bright spot that will coax fans into revisiting the season for years to come.
Roanoke’s documentary turned reality TV show storyline is a unique format that worked relatively well for the season’s complex plot. Despite not appearing in the first half of the season, Adina Porter’s Lee Harris is among the season’s strongest performances. As a former drug-addict and survivor of the initial horrors at Roanoke, Harris is portrayed as an embattled fighter. Throughout the season, her story deepens and becomes more sympathetic with every difficult choice made in desperation or in an attempt to protect her loved ones. In Roanoke, Porter proves she should be an American Horror Story staple for the rest of the series’ run.
Lily Rabe’s innocent-to-a-fault nun, Sister Mary Eunice, is a standout character in one of American Horror Story‘s best seasons to date. Sister Eunice is too good for the corrosive and corrupted asylum that houses murders, Nazis, monsters, and the devil himself. Because of this, she falls victim to the asylum’s horrors, becoming possessed — this is where Rabe’s performance elevates above other series standouts. Rabe’s ability to shape-shift from purity to evil is astonishing and makes for a fully formed characterization of the evils explored throughout Asylum.
A late addition to the American Horror Story recurring roster, Finn Wittrock has quickly cemented himself as a fan-favorite and one of the strongest performers across the talented cast. His first casting as Dandy Mott in Freakshow was his largest role until taking the lead in the series’ most recent season, Double Feature. The two-villain dynamic of Freakshow worked perfectly as a plot twist and statement about the underlying message of the season overall; the more beautiful character, Dandy Mott, is seen as less threatening until “the blood is on the wall,” and Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) is revealed as just another misunderstood “freak.”
American Horro Story: Cult is the politically charged, election-based season that features Evan Peters’ Trump-like cult leader figure, Kai Anderson. Manipulative, unpredictable, and downright terrifying, Peters brings the character to life with his eccentric and violent performance. Though this season departs from the more supernatural terrors usually explored by American Horror Story, it’s realistic and poignant understanding of horrors that can reach every corner of the country is a startling statement from the show’s producers. Peters waves those fears in the audiences faces with a Joker-like countenance and the dyed hair to match it.
Angela Bassett’s American Horror Story debut as the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, was a role made for the veteran actress. First an antagonist to the witch’s Coven, Laveau is forced to team up with them against a greater threat to all magical beings. Bassett’s portrayal of the tormented Laveau is rich and sympathetic enough to steal the spotlight from more prominent characters in the season. Since Coven, Bassett has been a staple in future seasons, and her role as Marie Laveau is a huge reason why.
Jessica Lange won an Emmy for portraying Supreme Witch Fiona Goode in American Horror Story: Coven. Lange’s most powerful character throughout the series turns to villainy as her powers falter, and she loses her grip as the head of the Coven. Lange is best at keeping characters nuanced through the changes they endure throughout a season and her consistent effort to be both convincing and sympathetic made Fiona Goode the most memorable of her long list of A+ American Horror Story characters. Lange has been missed since leaving the show in season 4, but fans are holding out hope for a return sooner or later.
Lana Winters is a role that will define Sarah Paulson’s career for the foreseeable future — not because she hasn’t had standout roles since (there are plenty), but because she captivated audiences so strongly in her first American Horror Story lead. Playing an investigative reporter, Paulson is unintentionally admitted to the Asylum and must face its evils from within, simultaneously unraveling the mysteries occurring around her. Paulson’s performance solidified Asylum among the best seasons of American Horror Story and opened the door to many more starring roles in subsequent seasons.
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