The All-Stars of 'American Horror Story' - Rolling Stone
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Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: The All-Stars of ‘American Horror Story’

As the fourth season of the popular TV horror anthology premieres, it’s time to bone up on the show’s returning players and MVPs

Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett in 'American Horror Story'.

Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett in 'American Horror Story'.

Michele K. Short/FX

When Ryan Murphy announced at the end of American Horror Story's first season that his show was, in fact, a horror anthology series and would completely change narratives every time out, many of us breathed a sigh of relief: Great, so it won't just be "here's another family in this haunted house" stories ad infinitum. That reaction was then followed by what can only be described as, well, horror: Wait, what about these great actors that had such juicy roles? We want more Lily Rabe and Taissa Farmiga and France Conroy. Do not deny us our Grand Guignol grande-dame Jessica Lange fix!

Thankfully, the fact that we'd get a totally different story every season did not mean that we'd get a totally different cast as well. There have been a number of returning players over the show's previous three-season run so far, with many scheduled to come back for Season Four's upcoming "Freakshow" story. For every departing star (come back, Zachary Quinto) and series newcomer (welcome to the fold, Michael Chiklis), there are several familiar faces from the AHS repertory company that have signed up for another tour of duty.

So, before the FX series lets its "Freakshow" flag fly starting tonight, we've assembled a breakdown of the American Horror Story all-stars you need to know — the two-seasons-or-more MVPs and pinch hitters who keep bringing the thrills and chills.

American Horror Story

Jessica Lange as Fiona.

Michele K. Short/FX

Jessica Lange

Season 4: Elsa Mars
Season 3: Fiona Goode
Season 2: Sister Jude Martin
Season 1: Constance Langdon

Emmy winner, Oscar winner, King Kong's object of affection and the only woman who could tame Tootsie: Jessica Lange needs no introduction. Her recurring roles on American Horror Story — failed actress Constance Langdon on "Murder House," the take-no-guff Sister Jude Martin on "Asylum," and head-witch-in-charge Fiona Goode on "Coven" — have scored her awards and accolades, and Lange’s Season Four role promises more grande-dame freakouts: She's a German expatriate and sideshow ringmistress, struggling to keep her freakshow afloat.

American Horror Story

Kathy Bates as Ethel Darling.

Michele K. Short/FX

Kathy Bates

Season 4: Ethel Darling
Season 3: Madame Delphine LaLaurie

Best known as the obsessive, dirty-bird-hating superfan in Misery (1990), Bates quickly became a Horror-verse fan favorite as the Southern slave owner with a sadistic flare for torturing her help in "Coven" (for which she deservedly won an Emmy). She returns this season in an even hairier role: "Freakshow"'s resident bearded lady Ethel Darling. We just hope Annie Wilkes approves.

American Horror Story

Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau.

Michele K. Short/FX

Angela Bassett

Season 4: Desiree Dupree
Season 3: Marie Laveau

The only woman who could out-Tina Turner the real Tina Turner, Oscar nominee Angela Bassett She made her AHS debut last season as cunning voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, which earned her an Emmy bid for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (her co-star Kathy Bates took home the award). This season, Bassett joins "Freakshow" as Desiree Dupree, a saucy thrice-bosomed sideshow act. No word yet on what, if anything, love has to do, has to do with her role.

American Horror Story

Denis O'Hare as Spalding.

Michele K. Short/FX

Denis O’Hare

Season 4: Stanley
Season 3: Spalding
Season 1: Larry Harvey

Denis O’Hare is no stranger to roles dealing in the odd and occult, as True Blood enthusiasts can attest. (Long live Russell Edgington, Vampire King of Mississippi!) AHS viewers will recall O’Hare’s roles on "Murder House" as the possessed pyromaniac Larry Harvey and the bonnet-wearing, tongue-less "Coven" butler Spalding. His "Freakshow" character is apparently a “collector of freaks” and the nemesis of Jessica Lange's master of ceremonies. One can only imagine how that hot-headed exchange will play out.

American Horror Story

Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters.

Michael Yarish/FX/Everett

Sarah Paulson

Season 4: Bette Tattler / Dot Tattler
Season 3: Cordelia Foxx
Season 2: Lana Winters
Season 1: Billie Dean Howard

The always wonderful character actress Sarah Paulson has been twice Emmy-nominated for AHS roles: once for playing the undercover journalist Lana Winters on "Asylum"; and once for her role as psychic medium Cordelia Foxx on "Coven." But this will hopefully be the year that Paulson finally takes home the gold, given that she has twice as much work to do as her cast mates: she's playing both of the murderous conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler.

American Horror Story

Frances Conroy as Myrtle.

Michele K. Short/FX

Frances Conroy

Season 4: Gloria Mott
Season 3: Myrtle Snow
Season 2: Angel of Death
Season 1: Moira O'Hara

Francis Conroy is best known for her SAG- and Golden Globe-winning performance as the Fisher matriarch on Six Feet Under, and this season she'll likely be channeling some of Fisher’s aloof tenderness for her role as "Freakshow"'s Gloria Mott, a painfully demure socialite and mother of bat shit-crazy Dandy Mott (played by AHS newcomer Finn Wittrock). Conroy has been a returning cast member since the show’s inception, playing the aging naughty housemaid Moira O'Hara on "Murder House," the Angel of Death on "Asylum," and the enigmatic witch Myrtle Snow on last season’s "Coven."

American Horror Story

Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice.

Michael Becker/FX/Everett

Lily Rabe

Season 3: Misty Day
Season 2: Sister Mary Eunice McKee
Season 1: Nora Montgomery

Bringing some serious theater chops and an impressive pedigree (her father is the Tony-winning playwright David Rabe; her mom was the late, great Jill Clayburgh) to the Horror-verse, Lily Rabe has been one of the show's best utility players: Her roles as "Murder House"'s ghostly former owner and "Asylum"'s emotionally disturbed nun have been series highlights. And her performance last year as a Stevie Nicks-obsessed white witch in "Coven" prompted multiple on-screen cameos by the rock icon, who performed several of her songs on the show.

American Horror Story

Emma Roberts as Madison.

Michele K. Short/FX

Emma Roberts

Season 4: Maggie Esmerelda
Season 3: Madison Montgomery

Last seen getting hot and heavy with James Franco in the screen adaptation of the actor/director/writer's short story collection Palo Alto, Emma Roberts joined the American Horror Story rep company last season as the drug-addled, foul-mouthed Hollywood wash-up Madison Montgomery. Fans will be happy to know she's back for "Freakshow," Maggie Esmerelda, playing a con artist and fraudulent fortune teller.

American Horror Story

Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie.

Michele K. Short/FX

Gabourey Sidibe

Season 4: Regina Ross
Season 3: Queenie

The face (as well as the heart and soul) of the Oscar-Nominated Precious, Gabourey Sidibe won a legion of new admirers with her AHS role Queenie, a "Coven" witch who has a penchant for projecting her pain — literally. Fans will be happy to know that Sidibe is part of the cast of this season's "Freakshow" as well, though her role has been kept relatively mum for now.

American Horror Story

Zachary Quinto (R) as Dr. Thredson.

Prashant Gupta/FX/Everett

Zachary Quinto

Season 2: Dr. Oliver Thredson
Season 1: Chad Warwick

Folks may know him as the evil Sylar from the NBC hit Heroes or as everyone's favorite Vulcan, Spock, from the rebooted Star Trek films. But for AHS fans, Zachary Quinto will always be the spooky, spectral murder victim from "Murder House" and the rapist with an Oedipus complex from "Asylum" (for which he was nominated for an Emmy). He's left a lasting, haunting impression on viewers, to say the least.

American Horror Story

Taissa Farmiga as Violet.

Ray Mickshaw/FX/Everett

Taissa Farmiga

Season 3: Zoe Benson
Season 1: Violet Harmon

Following in her older sister footsteps, (she actually played a younger version of her sibling Vera Farmiga's character in the latter's directorial debut Higher Ground), Taissa Farmiga is best known for her roles on AHS roles as the brooding teenage Violet Harmon in Season One's "Murder House" and on Season Three's "Coven" as a wholesome witch with an unfortunate affliction (i.e. her lady bits are deadly). She's sitting Season Four out, but her stellar performances on the show helped land her roles in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013) and a soon-to-be released Warren Beatty project.

American Horror Story

Evan Peters as Kyle and Tasissa Farmiga as Zoe.

Michele K. Short/FX

Evan Peters

Season 4: Jimmy Darling
Season 3: Kyle Spencer
Season 2: Kit Walker
Season 1: Tate Langdon

In past seasons, young actor Evan Peters has run the gamut of tormented high-school shooter ("Murder House") to alien-abducted mental patient ("Asylum") to a frat boy Frankenstein ("Coven"). And this season's "Freakshow" will add an even more interesting character to his gallery of misfits: He's cast as “Lobster Boy,” a character whose duality teeters between a peaceful caretaker of the circus freaks and a highly unbalanced depressive. Uh-oh.

phRyan Murphy at the 4th Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California on June 19th, 2014.

Ryan Murphy at the 4th Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California on June 19th, 2014.

Kevin Winter/Getty

Ryan Murphy

Showrunner, Seasons 1-4

The man whose twisted mind has brought you the haunted mansions, insane asylums and bitchy witches of the past few American Horror Story seasons, Ryan Murphy has managed to do for TV horror anthologies what he did for high school musicals (Glee) and surgical melodramas (Nip/Tuck): reinvent and reinvigorate a form you thought was well beyond the rigor mortis stage. We have no freakin' idea what he has in store for us regarding the new AHS season's "Freakshow" storyline — but we are sure it will scare the beejesus out of us several times over. We're ready. 

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