When it was revealed the Nov. 7 episode of American Horror Story: Asylum was called "I Am Anne Frank: Part 1," we naturally assumed the story would have something to do with Anne Frank. Little did we know viewers would actually meet the historical figure, played by Run Lola Run actress Franka Potente.
Anne Frank stirred up quite a few problems in Briarcliff after she claimed Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is a Nazi war criminal, seemingly confirming the belief Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has that the resident physician is a monster. During a conference call with Potente earlier this week, she talked about her experience working with those two prolific actors.
"At the beginning, it was a little intimidating. I remember my first day of work was only scenes with Jessica. I think I had about 20 pages of lines, I didn't want to mess it up," Potente recalled, describing Lange as "sweet" and "kind." "It felt really good. It felt like we worked together and made it happen and really brought something to the table."
She added that Cromwell “is a very curious man, a very knowledgeable man. He just talks with you about France and Germany, so I had an awesome time with the two of them."
Potente took a bit of a beating from Cromwell during their fight that ended with her character shooting Arden and then discovering a mutilated, legless Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) behind a closed door in his laboratory. She said shooting the scene was even more intense than watching it unravel on television.
"When you watch the show, the way it's edited so fast, it's probably a minute and a half but when we shot the scene it took like six or seven hours, and oh, wow," Potente recalled. "Jamie and I went to the floor, there were no stunt people involved. I went to him the next day and said, 'Please tell me you have bruises, too.' He said, 'Yeah, totally.' It was awesome, it was a lot of work."
Speaking of Sevigny, life is definitely getting worse for our favorite resident Nymphomaniac. The actress told us last week that Shelley was going to undergo a pretty major transformation, and she definitely wasn't exaggerating.
"Honestly, I didn't see much of her before I opened the door," Potente said. "They had to wheel her in because of the nature of her prosthetics and all that stuff, she couldn't even walk. I knew she was there but I kind of avoided seeing her because I knew it was not going to be pretty, and I kind of saved that for the reaction. So when I opened the door, it was horrendous. I was like, ‘Ugh.’ In my mind I was like, ‘Let your face do it, just breathe and take in what you see.’ I only had to half act it. It was kind of gross."
Potente isn’t a stranger to filming in mental institutions. She and her Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer made a film called The Princess and the Warrior that required her to work in an insane asylum for two weeks. She said it's still "awkward" for her to portray characters forced to be in those situations.
"This is set in the '60s, so it's very different. The experiments that they conduct at the time with the patients were very new. But I've spent quite some time that was very intense in an institution like that," she said. "It's always nice to have a fresh take on it, this is at the end of the day a person. Nobody who's insane runs around thinking, 'Oh, my God, I'm insane.' You have to play against that and be as normal as possible."
Of all the historical figures present in the 1960s, it's interesting that co-creator Ryan Murphy chose to bring Anne Frank back from the dead for American Horror Story: Asylum. Potente said she wasn't sure why specifically Murphy wanted to incorporate that character, but she is pleased with the results.
"He wanted to have aliens and Nazis," Potente teased. "He created a playground where anything is possible, so why not bring back Anne Frank and have people believe, or not, for a second that it is her? I think it's fun in this medium that we have, same in books, you can create anything out of nothing, and the strong the environment around it is the more you can do with it."
She continued, "What would Anne Frank be like if she was alive? What's the story? What's driving her? What would she be like as a person? Amongst aliens and insanity and all this stuff, it's a very tempting thought. But why it had to be Anne Frank? I have no idea. I think that's maybe something he was interested in personally and thought, 'Why not?' What if she came back and she was the one pointing at Arden saying he was a Nazi? [Murphy’s] not messing around. It couldn't anyone, it has to be Anne Frank."
American Horror Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.