EXCLUSIVE: 'AHS' Actress Adina Porter Survives Long Enough to Become the 'Roanoke' Breakout Star

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“I'm a working actor
and I'm really appreciative to be a working actor, but it's another level when
you're a working actor with the likes of Sarah Paulson and Angela Bassett. I
knew, ‘OK, I have to bring my A-game because this is how these people operate
-- especially Miss Paulson,’” Adina Porter tells ET by phone as she waits to
board a flight back to Los Angeles from Vancouver, where she’s currently
filming the CW’s The 100. The
actress, who is probably most famous for playing Lettie Mae Thornton on HBO’s True Blood, is the breakout star of this
season of American Horror Story
opposite Bassett, Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.

While dubbed a newcomer to American Horror Story, Porter’s initial introduction to Ryan
Murphy’s anthology seriescame playing
Sally Freeman, a patient of psychiatrist Ben Harmon’s (Dylan McDermott) on
season one—a character referred to in
the script
as “the most boring woman in the world.” A small role, it was
enough for her to stick out to the casting department, who hired her for various
roles on other shows. “They went back and reviewed what I did on Murder House and they liked it,” Porter
says.

On Roanoke, Porter
plays Lee Harris, a survivor of a possessed North Carolina home discovered to
be in the same location as the disappeared Roanoke Colony. Her story is later
told on the true-crime series within the series, My Roanoke Nightmare, with Bassett as Lee’s re-enactment actor,
Monet Tumusiime. Eventually, all of the survivors -- Lee, Shelby and Matt
Miller (Lily Rabe and André Holland) -- and their “re-enactors” -- Monet,
Audrey Tindall (Paulson) and Dominic Banks (Gooding) -- return to the house to
find out the truth about the horror stories.

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Though she was initially hired for six episodes, Porter’s character
ultimately survived the show’s slashing of its buzzy A-list actors to square
off with Paulson in a Barbara Walters-like TV interview during the finale,
which aired on Wednesday night. (Despite Audrey’s onscreen death, Paulson returned
as her Asylum character, Lana Winters,
in a twist of fate that’s only believable on American Horror Story.)

Assuming the
penultimate episode was the last time she would get to work with Paulson,
Porter offered her thanks to her onscreen partner. “And she said, ‘Well, it’s
not over yet,’” Porter recalls, giving credit to Paulson, who recently took
home an Emmy
for her portrayal of Marcia Clark on Murphy’s other FX anthology
series, ThePeople vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, for elevating her
performance. “I really like that I had an opportunity to be involved with
people where you could not phone it in. You have to be alert every second of
the way -- and with Miss Paulson, every freaking second of the way, because
she'll call you on it if she feels like you're not being genuine in the moment.”

“I feel really good that she liked me. Because I think if she didn't like me, I could have been killed off in episode seven!” Porter jokes.   

FX

As dramatic as the final hour was, it didn’t top the episode
eight scenes Porter shared with Finn Wittrock, who briefly returned as Jether
Polk to cannibalize Lee. Left alone together, Lee makes a drug-induced
confession about killing her ex-husband before seducing Jether in order to
escape. “I wanted the audience to
question whether it was Lee wanting a moment of tenderness before the end -- any
kind of tenderness, any kind of humanity,” Porter says. “We wanted it to be
like two human beings who are totally f**ked up but wanted some kind of
connection.”

Of course, Porter is no stranger to stealing scenes, as she
has done in everything from True Blood
to WGN America’s slavery drama, Underground,
only to be known as “that actor from that show.” If it feels like Porter is
finally getting some due after her notable recurring roles, she doesn’t indulge
it. In a response to a Twitter follower who asked what it was like to
experience all this “major success” with AHS,
the actress wrote, “I'll tell you when I feel like things are a ‘major
success.’”

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“I don’t feel like I’m at this new level,” she clarifies. “I
don’t because I think it takes away from the work. If I find out that the work
is going well, so that means people want to talk to me or I might be able to
get into another audition, all of that is fine and great. But I didn’t know
about the success of True Blood until
season three.”(Yet, she is happy to shed Lettie Mae’s age and bad hair: “I walk
into auditions and people are like, ‘You don’t like anything like her.’ It’s
all about showing people that I’m not that old and redefining myself.”)

“I’m a working actor and I want to stay a working actor and
I want everybody happy,” Porter says happily as she indulges in a celebratory glass
of wine before boarding her flight.