'AHS: Double Feature' Star Lily Rabe Talks Doris' Demise and 'Death Valley' Character (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Back for her ninth installment, Lily Rabe once again shines as Doris Gardner in American Horror Story: Double Feature. In the first half, “Red Tide,” the actress plays a pregnant, struggling interior designer who moves with her husband and daughter to isolated Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they find themselves terrorized by the hidden horrors of the town.
In the latest episode, “Gaslight,” Doris is finally pushed to her limits and Rabe opens up to ET about her tragic demise while also teasing what’s next for the second half of the season, “Death Valley.”
[Warning: Spoilers for the first five episodes of American Horror Story: Double Feature.]
Needing a place to go where Harry (Finn Wittrock) could work on his screenplay, the family ended up at the beachside home after Doris won a design contest and was given permission by the owners, the unseen Browns, to give the place a makeover. Excited to finally have a chance to prove herself, it quickly became that her career ambitions came second to Harry’s as his struggle to write drove him to take a mysterious pill that unlocked his creative genius but also turned him into a vampire.
Meanwhile, Doris and her taste for beige are left terrorized by the creatures that lurk outside their home and her bloodthirsty husband and brutally honest daughter, Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who also took the pill to advance her violin skills. And it’s not long before Harry’s agent, Ursula (Leslie Grossman), shows up to figure out how to expand her client’s unlocked potential despite Doris’ hesitations.
“I really loved the structure of this season, not only the Double Feature element, but the intimacy of the season and the fact that there are so many scenes between two people or three people,” Rabe says of filming “Red Tide,” which due to COVID-19 safety measures, required them to minimize the number of people on set.
And when it comes to working with Wittrock specifically, she credited the fact that they’ve known each other outside the franchise for so long for creating a “tremendous amount of trust” on set. “It was such a wonderful thing to be able to go into the season,” Rabe says. “I love acting with him because he’s not someone who plays it safe and he takes risks and that’s always the most exciting thing to me.”
She adds, “Having that safety with your screen partner, especially when you’re doing things that can be really scary, that’s the greatest place to be.”
And in “Gaslight,” that includes Doris opening the episode by finally giving birth to their second child, who quickly becomes the target of both Harry and Alma, who want nothing more than to feed off him. Ursula then tricks Doris into believing her baby wasn’t in danger and that neither her husband or daughter harmed him.
“This idea of her giving birth. And then right after that, basically waking up to a reality that is not reality, and being fooled by the people that you love and trust more than anyone in the world is so horrifying to me,” Rabe says.
From there, it’s one long tragic demise for Doris, who is unsure what is real or not and who to fear or who to trust, until she’s coerced into taking the pill. And it’s only then that she discovers that she doesn’t have any taste or talent for interior design, which Denis O’Hare’s character calls “Pottery Barn hell,” and becomes one of the town’s soulless ghouls.
“This is so other to me,” Rabe says of playing “someone who lives or dies by the number of followers they have on their social media account.”
She adds, “I thought that was so delicious to dive into. You know, she’s utterly committed but she has incredible self-doubt. Everyone, of course, doubts her talent, but no one more so than her.”
Having fun playing with those layers, Rabe says, adding with a laugh that she found subtle, dark humor in the character and Doris’ “monologue about minimalism that she gets to scream about without any sort of minimalism to the way that she’s talking about her minimalism or a monochromatic color schemes.”
When it comes to the “fall that she takes” and what happens after Doris takes the pill “is really so harrowing to me,” she says. “That kind of psychological torture is the most horrible to me. While it’s also the most compelling to watch and compelling to play.”
She also loved the physical transformation that came with it, wearing a bald cap and making over her body, adding, “The physical life of the episode for Doris was something as an actress that ran towards. The arc of that and the challenge of that and the difficulty of that is something that I loved getting to do.”
While Rabe’s time on “Red Tide” has come to a tragic end, she’ll be back for the second half, “Death Valley,” which moves the story from the sea to the sand as it tackles the terrors of aliens in a Roswell, New Mexico-like setting.
“My favorite thing about this show is getting to come back and tell the story of a different person each time. And this year, I got to do it twice,” Rabe says.
While she can’t say who she comes back as, even though there have been various rumors about her playing a historical figure, “there really is no kind of Venn Diagram of much similarity between the two people,” Rabe says, noting how Doris and this upcoming character “are very, very different from one another.”