‘American Horror Story’: Kathy Bates promises ‘Hotel’ cycle is scarier than bed bugs

Kathy Bates as hotel manager Iris in the fifth season of FX's "American Horror Story."

Kathy Bates as hotel manager Iris in the fifth season of FX’s “American Horror Story.”


In the last two years, Kathy Bates has lined up quite the list of credits by way of “American Horror Story.”

She’s played a 19th century slave killer made immortal through voodoo magic in “Coven.” There was last year’s bout in “Freak Show” as a bearded lady and mother to a son with lobster-like hands. This season, dubbed “Hotel,” she plays Iris, the hotel manager who does crossword puzzles in her spare time and is mother to Donovan -- the lover of Lady Gaga’s character -- played by Matt Bomer.

“Iris, on paper, seems more run-of-the-mill, I know, but she so is not,” Bates told the Times during a recent sit-down.

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“American Horror Story: Hotel,” which premieres Wednesday on, is the fifth cycle in the Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuck anthology series, and Bates’ third go-round. As the title suggests, the latest season is set in a mysterious hotel, in downtown Los Angeles.

In addition to Bates, Bomer and Lady Gaga, the cast also includes Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Chloe Sevigny, Finn Wittrok, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson, Wes Bentley and Max Greenfield.

We spoke to Bates about being first on the call sheet and if things can get more frightening than the sight of last season’s Twisty the clown -- her answer has us pulling out our night light.


Is this season just going to devastate the hotel industry? Am I going to find myself canceling my upcoming hotel stay?

It may indeed. It may indeed. At the very least, it will have people looking under the hotel bed, in the closet, behind the shower curtain. Let me tell you now, it’ll scare you more than bed bugs. I guarantee it.

Why was that not the tag line for this season?

Is it too late?

I think so! When and what did Ryan first tell you about the character you’d be playing this season? And let’s point out, you’re headlining the season.

I know! I’m No. 1 on the call sheet. That was very nice. The only thing he told me, in the early stages, was her name and that she would be running the hotel. And … wait. what else did he tell me at the first pitch? I can’t remember. Oh, darn it. But it was very minimal.

What can you tell me about what your character’s relationship will be like with that of Lady Gaga’s character? She plays the hotel owner -- and your character’s son is her lover. That can’t be a totally peachy situation.

I can’t tell you! It has to be a tricky dynamic, don’t you think? But I didn’t shoot a lot with her in the first few episodes, so I don’t know for sure yet.

OK, tell me this: what hooked you with this season? Or do you just dive in without looking?

What hooked me? I’ve always been hooked. I’m in the koi pond with this show; I’m not going anywhere. This character has been a bit of a difficult character to get my hook in because she doesn’t wear a beard or speak with a Baltimore accent. She doesn’t come from 1830. It’s a kind of character that you can go into so many directions, and I find myself — and this is the real secret — I find myself going back to movies and actors and performances that I’ve loved.

For example?

Gena Rowlands in “Gloria.” I think it came out in 1980. I watched that while trying to wrap my mind around this character. Great part. And I’m trying to find Iris in that. That was a good one to choose. Oh, wait, this is kind of strange, but my favorite guilty pleasure is “Meet Joe Black.” Oh, god, I love it. I have seen it so many times, for many reasons. I love the scene in the hospital with the lady from Jamaica. It’s just brilliant. But I was watching that for Anthony Hopkins, you know? Just in terms of craft and phrasing. I had a really difficult scene a couple of weeks ago that I wish I had done differently. I was like, “Oh, shoot!” I keep looking for inspiration to help me find this woman. That’s all I will say.

Talk about the crossword component. This has to take on an eerie quality on a show like this.

I forgot about where that came from. I’m actually a sudoku person. I’m all about them. I will say this, someone who does crossword puzzles, they do it usually to wait, to kill time. So that’s all I can say about that. I think Iris is waiting. She also has to keep the hotel running smoothly — all the things that go on in the hotel, the events, whatever, the way of the hotel, she has to do all of that and keep that going.

There’s a lot of pretty men this season--

Very. I must say I flirted with Wes the other day.

Did you? Wait. Was it you flirting or was Iris flirting?

It was Iris flirting! Honey, I’d be too shy. I would say her style is sort of like Mae West, only modern day. She doesn’t hold back, that Iris. I’ll leave it at that.

What was it like not having Jessica on set? Did it feel like something was missing?

Oh, I miss her. I miss her terribly. I’ve known her for a while, but we got to be very close because of this show. Going to work with her was always just a kick for me. And I said this to her ... it’s like playing jazz — I mean, I would imagine; I don’t know how to play jazz. But I feel that she’s like jazz, in the way that she performs. I miss that.

Early on before she left, I told her what my role would be. We texted each other congratulations for the Emmy nominations. She’s such a movie star. They don’t make people like that anymore.

When I spoke with her, she talked about how invigorating her time on the show had been because it opened her up to a whole new audience and had her doing things she didn’t expect to ever do. What’s your view on what the show has meant to you — particularly after your experience with“Harry’s Law”?

Well, yeah, I was doing “Harry’s Law” for NBC and that was canceled. That summer, I had a double mastectomy. I really felt … I felt like something was over. I didn’t know if it was just my career. And you know, no one wants to think that. It’s a hard thing to face. I just really — I decided to shake it off by sitting shiva for “Harry’s Law.” I invited everyone from the show. I don’t know. Harry’s Jewish. I always wanted to be Jewish, I don’t know why. Any way, so that was a lot of fun. We actually did that on the first weekend of the Creative Emmys — I didn’t even know it was that weekend. One of the makeup ladies came in and said, “You just won an Emmy!” I had won it for playing Charlie Sheen’s ghost in “Two and a Half Men.”

Soon after, I had seen Jessica on the show, and I thought, “wow, this writing is fantastic and she’s doing an amazing job with it.” I mean, she is a badass on each season. Like, can we all just accept and acknowledge that? So, I saw her for drinks one summer when I was in New York and I told her, “please, please, talk to Ryan and ask him if I can come and do something on his show.” And sure enough, I had a meeting with him and everything just changed overnight. I got so excited about work again. I forgot about all my woes. I just threw myself into the character. I didn’t know Ryan. I had to sort of figure out how to work with him. I was so intimidated. I mean, his imagination is just mind-boggling to me. He really rescued me from the blues.

Do you like deepening your roots in the horror genre? Obviously, “Misery” is a classic -- but that was more of a psychological frightfest.

Oh, I love it. It’s fun. It’s like when you were a kid. It’s the same kind of thing. You get to play and pretend and play evil characters. That’s what it feels like to me. I feel like we are a bunch of kids dressing up and playing these different parts. Yes, it’s more complex than that. But that’s the initial feeling. It’s like, “OK, what fun do we get to have this year?”

Is this one I’ll need to watch with the lights on if I want to sleep well at night?

You can try. I don’t know how much help that will be. You know, my dreams have become much more cinematic since being on the show, which has been interesting. I had one about Jessica, which I won’t describe to you. Let’s just say there were 15 Jessicas in a row.

I feel like that dream should be the basis of next season’s storyline. Before I forget: Is there anything scarier than Twisty this season?

Oh, yeah.


Really. And I don’t know — where it comes from will just shock the ... out of you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy


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