A Minute With: Taissa Farmiga on troubled witches in 'Coven'

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Taissa Farmiga has made a name for herself playing troubled teenagers and in "American Horror Story: Coven" she returns to familiar territory as a complex young adult, but this time she has special powers.

Farmiga, 19, was thrust into the spotlight in the first season of FX's anthology thriller series "American Horror Story," where she played Violet, the troubled teenage daughter of a couple tormented by the supernatural presences in their house.

Farmiga also starred in this summer's "The Bling Ring" about a gang of teenagers who rob celebrities' homes.

In "Coven," premiering on Wednesday, Farmiga plays Zoe, a teenager with a powerful and destructive ability, which she discovers with tragic consequences. She is shipped off to a school for witches in New Orleans, overseen by headmistress Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) and her demanding mother, Fiona, played by "American Horror Story" Emmy-winner Jessica Lange.

Zoe and her new classmates, played by Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sidibe and Jamie Brewer, learn to embrace their powers as modern-day witches, navigating a world where being burned at the stake is no longer as big a threat as cameras and social media.

Farmiga talked to Reuters about returning to the series, tackling sexuality and taking tips from her Oscar-nominated elder sister, Vera Farmiga.

Q: How does it feel to return to the "American Horror Story" franchise, and what's been the biggest change for you?

A: I was there at the very beginning then I took a little break but it's nice to be back with the crew and cast and just to be on this crazy show. I love it. It feels nice.

The character is very different. The tone of this season is very different. For me, I'm a little older, a little more mature, I play a character who is in a different stage of her life than Violet was, it's just different hurdles.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in "Coven"?

A: Dealing with Zoe's sexuality that's attached to her character, dealing with her special abilities, just trying to figure out how she would deal with it, trying to get into her mind. It's a crazy thing to have to deal with because when you're not able to get intimate with someone, it makes you think about your future, it kind of makes you nervous and upset.

Q: Witches have long been a popular subject, from literature to film and television. How did you and creator Ryan Murphy want to portray the lore of witches in "Coven"?

A: One thing Ryan said to me when he was talking about the story and how it was about witches and witchcraft and the history of it in America, he said he wanted it to be very real. He didn't want it to be over the top or crazy. He wanted it to be just natural and real.

Q: There's been a resurgence in witch lore on television recently, such as ABC's "Once Upon A Time" or Lifetime's "Witches of East End." Why does the topic resonate with audiences?

A: There's something about the supernatural and having powers to make things easier. It's trying to let your imagination run wild. Being able to move things or read people's minds, it's appealing to people, it's weird and special.

Q: Your older sister Vera has had her own success with the horror genre, in this year's film "The Conjuring" and playing Norman Bates' mother in A&E's television series "Bates Motel." Have you two swapped advice about tackling horror?

A: Usually I'm the one calling her. She's always there for me and she's got so much for experience. It's so lovely having someone like that there for you. I love watching her on "Bates Motel," she's so incredible and I get so inspired.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Eric Beech)

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