Performance of the Week #8: Kathy Bates
American Horror Story: Coven
I remember watching Misery, the movie based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, for the first time many, many years ago. I remember instantly loving it for a variety of reasons, but if there was one element that impressed me more than any other, it was the performance of Kathy Bates. She terrified me. She stepped into the shoes of the deranged Annie Wilkes and she managed to embody the very element of evil in such a phenomenal yet eerily unnerving way. The best human monsters are the ones who appear as the very opposite at first glance, and she captured that part of Annie’s character perfectly.
Fast-forward many years to 2013 and she’s stepped into the latest season of American Horror Story as the infamous seventeenth-century serial killer Madame LaLaurie. Famous for brutally torturing and mutilating her slaves over a sustained period of time, LaLaurie is a special kind of monster. She makes no efforts to disguise her brand of evil behind closed doors. She revels in causing the most horrific pain to her victims. Annie Wilkes instilled fear by inflicting terrible pain to her victim whilst honestly believing she was doing it out of love, whereas LaLaurie just likes watching people suffer at her hands. They’re two different kinds of evil, yet fundamentally the same.
At this early stage in Coven’s life, it’s safe to say that LaLaurie scares me. Kathy Bates has the unnerving ability to step into the shoes of an evil character and absolutely dominate with her performance, which she wholeheartedly does in “Bitchcraft.” LaLaurie moves from appearing convincingly normal to smearing blood on her face and imprisoning another of her slaves in her torture chamber in a matter of moments, all of which give Bates the perfect platform for demonstrating just how skilled she is at portraying monsters. Her facial expressions, her mannerisms, the way she can capture everything her character is about with a simple expressionless stare into a mirror–she’s so good at playing bad that it’s unnerving to watch yet captivating at the same time.
Madame LaLaurie’s scenes are few and far between in “Bitchcraft,” basically book-ending the middle contents of the episode, but they’re also some of the most significant. Not only that, but in a show with a cast as incredible as Coven’s, it’s unthinkable to imagine one person standing out amidst a sea of outstanding performances, yet Bates does just that and with so few scenes. She makes me fully believe in LaLaurie’s evil. She makes me believe that this character enjoys inflicting awful acts of punishment on people for no reason other than the fact it satiates a part of her mind that craves sadism. And to be able to make me believe all of this in a handful of scenes is a testament to Bates’ unrivalled power as an actress.
New Girl – “The Captain”
When you allow Jake Johnson to stand and babble at his fellow co-stars, or simply get confused and start uttering strings of words with no coherent value, he’s one of the finest comedic performers on the air. He’s hilarious and charming, endearing and adorable, and in “The Captain,” he gets to be all of those things at the same time. He and Zooey Deschanel share an electric chemistry that makes their scenes together always an utter joy to watch, and I continue to live in hope that Johnson will one day get the Emmy win he rightfully deserves.
Downton Abbey – “Episode Three”
Anna is one of Downton’s most innocent characters, so to see her brutally assaulted and violated off-camera is incredibly hard to watch. Rape on television is always hard to watch, irrespective of who it’s happening to. But Froggatt is exceptional in the scenes where her character endures such horrifying brutality, even when she’s not visibly on screen. You can say what you like about the storyline itself, but you cannot deny Froggatt’s power in those few scenes.