Ever since American Horror Story: Freak Show began releasing promo images, fans have wondered how actress Sarah Paulson would play conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler. Now, in the wake of the show’s premiere last night, Ryan Murphy has given a new interview to The Hollywood Reporter in which he explains that.
The complicated production involved taking a mold of Paulson’s head and making separate prosthetic heads for Dot and Bette. When Paulson is filming as one twin, she wears the prosthetic of the other, which is able to move electronically. And because Paulson also prefers not to have someone reading dialogue off-camera, she has to prerecord her dialogue for each scene, so that she’s always acting against her own performance. Murphy added, “She literally has to do scenes with herself, which is insane. It’s absolutely crazy.”
The twins have very different personalities and Paulson has say over even tiny details about her characters, like whether or not they wear nail polish on “their” side of the body. “To Sarah’s credit, it’s an amazing feat,” Murphy explains, “She’s playing two people with different attitudes, different facial expressions, and she has different backstories for them both. She has to be left-handed, she has to be right-handed. She had to learn how to walk in a special way and did a lot of research on that.”
While most actors on the show take about five hours to film a given scene, it takes Paulson 12 to 15 hours to complete a scene with the siblings. Not only does Paulson have to shoot close-ups, medium shots, and a master recording as both twins, she also has to spend additional time for green screen, over-the-shoulder shots, and so on.
Murphy has nothing but praise for his leading lady, gushing, “It’s been fascinating to film and edit. We both love it and it’s one of, if not the best thing, Sarah has done. It’s absolutely the most challenging thing I’ve ever seen any actor do ever. She really went for it. It’s thrilling to see somebody embrace something so hard.” Although conjoined twins are historically played by two actors connected at the chest, Murphy “really wanted Sarah to be both roles” because he thought it “would be more challenging.”
Hollywood actresses beware: Paulson and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany (who similarly plays multiple characters with the help of complicated special effects), may soon monopolize every female role on TV.