This week, FX’s American Horror Story: Apocalypse finally (finally) returned to Murder House, the setting of the show’s solid first season, and American Horror Story staple Sarah Paulson made her directorial debut with the landmark episode. Variety talked to Paulson about what it was like to direct for the series, and while she doesn’t use this exact language, it sounds like the experience was a bit of a pain in the ass. For starters, series mastermind Ryan Murphy had originally asked her to direct the eighth episode of the current season, but a week before production started on “Return To Murder House,” Murphy asked her to take that episode—the sixth—instead.
This was her first time directing anything, so Paulson only had a week to prepare for the gig. In that week, she had to take a nine-hour course that is required by the Directors Guild for first-timers, and she decided to rewatch the entire first season of American Horror Story in order to learn some of the aesthetic rules of the show and figure out how she could establish “immediate visual recognition” for viewers. One example is that the old episodes always made a point to show the ceiling of Dylan McDermott’s character’s office, so she made an effort to maintain that.
Paulson told Variety, that she had to shoot 72 scenes for the episode, up from 28 for the last episode that had been filmed, so it seems like Murphy purposefully threw her in for a tough one. Plus, Paulson appeared in the episode as her season one character, medium Billie Dean Howard, and having to direct while acting really freaked her out. “It was really overwhelming,” she told Variety, “and I think the only way I was able to do it was to just focus on the day at hand.” Paulson also notes that she had Ryan Murphy behind her with a megaphone saying “You can do this!” but she could’ve been speaking metaphorically there.