Oct. 17, 2012 at 2:59 PM ET
Gone is the Harmons' haunted Murder House. In its place, Briarcliff Manor, an asylum for the criminally insane that's being operated by Jessica Lange's Sister Jude, who makes "American Horror Story's" Constance Langdon look like a lovely woman.
After the deaths of Vivien and Ben Harmon (Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott) in the freshman run of the FX drama, series co-creator Ryan Murphy revealed that the series is an anthology -- meaning it will reboot itself every season with a handful of returning actors playing completely different roles.
Season two's new haunting kicks off Wednesday with Lange front and center as a deranged nun who rules Briarcliff with an iron fist. Subtitled "Asylum," the second season cuts back and forth between present day and 1964, where "Glee's" Murphy and Brad Falchuk will explore social mores of the era including views on homosexuality, interracial marriage, sex addiction and more.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the cast at the Hollywood premiere for "Asylum" to get the scoop the second season and has created a handy guide looking at the new and returning faces, what's different and teasers as to what viewers can expect down the line.
Who she was: Constance Langdon, the worst neighbor and mother in the world who wound up raising Vivien's (Connie Britton) devil baby.
Who she is now: Here, Emmy winner Lange plays Sister Jude, a nun who rules Briarcliff by any means necessary. "She's haunted and driven by the demons that are nipping at her heels the entire time," Lange previews. While she respects Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), she clashes with just about everyone else in the asylum -- especially unwanted guests.
Cryptic teaser: With a mad scientist, aliens, Nazis and mysterious creatures in the forest outside the asylum, where does Sister Jude rate? Nowhere. "You'll see ultimately that Sister Jude is the ultimate heroine here. She's going to end up the most admirable; she's the most human of the group," Lange tells THR.
Who he was: New to "AHS."
Who he is now: Cromwell plays Dr. Arthur Arden, the not-so-good doctor at Briarcliff. "Think of him as a pig farmer on a bad day. He's like a mad scientist, mad -- nuts! -- in every way," he tells THR. "I think he thinks there's a method to the madness; I think he's delusional." Cromwell not only is the top doc at Briarcliff, but he also has one of the best gigs on the rebooted series: putting Lange's Sister Jude in her place.
Cryptic teaser: "People who desire power are trying to fill a whole of experiential powerlessness so they really feel bereft, inadequate and overwhelmed and they cover it with violence and inhumanity and a lack of compassion." OK, so that's not that cryptic as to what to expect from Dr. Arden.
Who he was: New to AHS.
Who he is now: Fiennes plays Monsignor Timothy Howard, the almost stereotypical cliché of the happily unaware priest -- at least on the surface. He has a vision for Briarcliff that may not be in line with his colleagues, including Sister Jude and Dr. Arden. "He feels that his work should be continued within by bringing light to where there is suffering," Fiennes says. "The institution itself should be a place where those who are thrown away to the gutter -- the rejects of society -- have a place to be relocated spiritually, mentally and physically. From his point of view, it's a great place but curiously people aren't quite who they purport to be."
Key to escape: None. The ambitious Father Timothy is there by choice.
Cryptic teaser: Father Timothy has definitely crossed paths with Sister Jude before Briarcliff, Fiennes says, but he doesn't know anything about her. "He's happily clueless and thinks it's a wonderful institute run by a wonderful nun and an amazing genius doctor. With all of us, whether you wear a habit or a priest's collar, you're a fallible human being with conditions that go along with that. That's not to say you're evil, it's to say you're born human. There's a forgiveness in terms of her life before she walked into the Catholic church."
Who he was: Chad Warwick, an aspiring gay dad who ultimately was trapped in the Harmons' house of hell.
Who he is now: Quinto counterbalances Cromwell's Dr. Arden as Dr. Oliver Thredson, a psychiatrist with logic, reason and -- most importantly -- compassion on his side who's more serious and grounded than Chad. "He comes at things from a very clinical perspective; he's the most contemporary thinker but he's still a psychiatrist in 1964," Quinto says. "He gets assigned the job of evaluating one of the patients in the asylum and then gets exposed to some of the environments that make him concerned about the well-being of some of the other patients," Quinto adds, setting the stage for a smack down with Sister Jude. "He has a sense of morality and compassion and Sister Jude doesn't, so hopefully that would win."
Cryptic teaser: Once Kit is brought into the asylum, the good doc's interest will be piqued as he attempts to determine his sanity. "The whole world becomes about what is sane, what is insane, what's real, what's evil. How every character goes through and processes that determines a lot of interaction and connection," Quinto says.
Who she was: The sparsely seen Medium Billie Dean, who first hinted at what was to come in season two.
Who she is now: Paulson here plays aspiring reporter Lana Winters, who first heads to Briarcliff for a story but winds up being admitted against her will. "My character is one with great integrity where being gay doesn't define her but she doesn't want it to be ignored. She's a reporter and she wants to be taken seriously and it's interesting to see that in that time period," Paulson says.
Key to escape: "Herself. It's her tenacity, her hope and belief ultimately in the goodness of humanity, which is immediately contested when she meets Sister Jude, who's batshit crazy," Paulson says.
Cryptic teaser: "When you get to episode four, there's something happens to my character unlike anything that's ever been like it on TV," she says.
Who he was: Peters played Tate, the serial killer-turned-Rubber Man rapist who was trapped inside Murder House, where he fell in love with -- and was dumped -- by Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
Who he is now:In "Asylum," Peters switches gears from a murdering rapist to the recently committed Kit Walker, a new inmate at Briarcliff Manor. "Kit's a good guy. He's a hero this time and the bad things are happening to him," Peters says.
Key to escape: "He's got a couple people he's in cahoots with trying to get out. His biggest hope is himself and believing in his sanity," he says.
Cryptic teaser: Like season one, flashbacks will help tell more of Kit's back story, including his family life.
Who she was:The newcomer did not have a role in "AHS" season one.
Who she is now: The French actress plays Grace, an inmate at Briarcliff who is resigned to living her life locked up.
Key to escape: "Definitely Kit because he wants to escape. I don't think she believed in escaping before he came. She's resigned that that is all there is to life, that, 'I'm here, might as well stay here,' " she says."But trouble comes when you have hope, and I don't think Grace has hope in the beginning."
Cryptic teaser: "You'll hear more about her back story, she has a crazy one," she says.
Who she was: Moira, the good maid loyal to the Harmons and Murder House.
Who she is now: Unclear. "She's part of everyone's lives in this: She's helpful, she comes when people need her. She's like Moira in a way; she has ties to everyone," Conroy says.
Cryptic teaser: "I've read some very graphic moments that take you to a very strong place," she says. That definitely sounds worse than a do-gooder maid who appears as a young sexually aggressive maid.
Who she was: The baby hungry Nora Montgomery, the original woman of Murder House who spent the bulk of the season sporting an epic gunshot wound to the head.
Who she is now: Rabe plays Sister Mary Eunice, who's as simple and naïve as her character's name sounds. "There's a lack of sophistication and she has a lot of good intentions: she wants everything to be OK and people to like her," Rabe says. "It's a hard place for that to happen." Sister Mary Eunice goes to great lengths to win over Sister Jude, but that's challenging considering good doesn't always go over well with someone who's as demanding and controlling.
Cryptic teaser: "She loves being at Briarcliff -- in the beginning. You will learn a lot why she's there and what the nature of her relationship with Sister Jude is," she says. "She cares very much about her job there and it is certainly the place for her at the beginning."
Who she was: New to "AHS."
Who she is now: Sevigny plays Shelley, a sex-crazed inmate at Briarcliff who enjoys Sister Jude's punishment a little too much.
Cryptic teaser: Shelley gets around both sexually and around the creepy asylum, with a habit of winding up in the right places to become the eyes and ears of the establishment.
Who it was: Last season's big bad, Rubber Man, is out the window.
Who it is now: Prepare to meet the vision of your future nightmares in the mysterious Bloody Face -- whose identity is among the scores of question marks left hanging from the season premiere.
Cryptic teaser: While the identity remains a mystery, it's one of 19 people in the cast -- including those listed above as well as Clea Duvall, Franka Potente, Britne Oldford, Fredric Lehne, Naomi Grossman, Devon Graye and Gloria Laino. Have a guess?
"American Horror Story: Asylum" premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX.
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