Franka Potenete took the time to chat with us about her role as Anne Frank on American Horror Story: Asylum. She will also be returning for a second season of Copper on BBC America. If you haven’t caught an episode of Copper, you have plenty of time to catch up before the new season comes out next year. It really is a show worth checking out. Franka’s portrayal of Anne Frank on American Horror Story: Asylum was phenomenal. I really hope that Ryan Murphy brings her back next season. It was an honor to get a chance to speak with her during the press call. Do not miss a single episode of American Horror Story: Asylum, Wednesday nights on FX.
Lena Lamoray: I loved seeing you on the show and I’m looking forward to season two of Copper, brilliant work all around.
Franka Potente: Cool, yes.
Lena Lamoray: Can you talk about working with James [Cromwell] and Jessica [Lange]?
Franka Potente: Yes. What do you want to know? I would refer to when I went to work I would tell my husband I’m going to take some acting lessons now. I think in the beginning, it was a little bit intimidating. I remember my very first day of work was only scenes with Jessica and I think I had about 20 pages of lines. So, I was very, very nervous. I didn’t want to mess up.
Generally, she did well, but … still happens after 60 years on the job, and she was very sweet and kind and very focused and really embraced working with me and was so great in the scene that it felt really good. I really felt like we worked together. We made it happen and really brought something to the table. James is just awesome. He is a very curious man, a very knowledgeable man. He loves to talk with you and talk about … and Germany and all these things, so I had an awesome time with the two of them.
Lena Lamoray: Can you share with us what it’s like being on the set of American Horror Story: Asylum?
Franka Potente: The set is pretty eerie, which is great for an actor because we basically we need to step on and the mood is already created. We say our lines and that’s that. That’s definitely half the magic. They show cool and creepy, even if they’re not lit or anything, the cool statues that they have, that’s all like a proper staircase and everything’s very solid and well built. So, you get to really play with everything that’s there. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw it, I was like if you’re a Catholic, kind of intimidating and dark and strict and regal, very impressive.
More Press Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: How did you first get involved in this part?
Franka Potente: I got asked to take a general meeting with Ryan Murphy. So, I went to the Paramount lot and met him in his very nice office, and I didn’t really expect anything until he went right ahead and was talking about a really awesome, cool part that he had for me. And well, he writes for … American Horror Story, Glee, which one of your shows is it, and he didn’t tell me too much. There was really no script at the time, but I was a fan of the first season of American Horror Story, and of course, I said I would be part of anything that he was envisioning for me.
Q: How did it progress? What point did you find out that you would be Anne Frank?
Franka Potente: That was something that he kind of explained to me without going into detail. Honestly, I think I got the script maybe a week before, and that’s when I really found out how it would come about and what was going on with her and all these things, but yes, very secretive and it makes sense. I totally appreciated that because if you watch a show like this, you know all these scripts … and stuff like that and with guests that come in and just kind of have more extreme character that stirs things up, you don’t want to know. With internet and everything, stuff gets out so easily that they kind of have to do that. They have to be so secretive about their scripts, and it would have kind of sucked if people had known like waiting for what was coming.
Q: Can you just talk about what projects you have coming up?
Franka Potente: Well, I’m a series regular on a BBC America show that just finished its first season called Copper, and we just got picked up for season two, so that will be six months of my year next year. So, I’ll be going back to Canada shooting that, and besides that, I’m a writer. I’m a published writer. I’m working currently on my finishing, hopefully soon, my first novel. So, it’s a very different world. So, that’s what I’m doing whenever I don’t shoot a movie or a TV show.
Q: You worked with Kurt Sutter when you did The Shield. How is Ryan, in terms of working styles, similar or different?
Franka Potente: These are of the two mentioned amazing creators in general, I have worked with much on the day. … that day, they are kind of the masterminds, but when it comes down to the work that you do on set daily, they’re not there all the time. They’re in the background. They probably see everything that we do but not firsthand on set, especially with Ryan. He just started this new show, The New Normal, so you can imagine, this man has three huge shows, Glee also running on a Paramount lot. So, I ran into him once when I was on my way to lunch and that was like the only time I really saw him while I was shooting this. So, you feel their presence more in the creation than them constantly being there.
Q: Did Ryan say initially why he thought you would be right for it, what performance he had seen that made him think about it or was it just your general work overall that made him think of you for the role?
Franka Potente: I like to think so. I don’t know. If you’re in America, you’re looking kind of for that age, weight, frame. You’re looking for someone who potentially has a German-such accent. This was me and maybe one few other people. So, I don’t know. He would have to answer that question.
Q: Can you talk about the fight scene with James?
Franka Potente: I said to my husband because when you watch the show, the way it’s edited so fast and this and that, I don’t know it’s probably a minute and a half, and we shot that scene—it probably took us like six, seven hours and both James and I go to the floor a lot. … people involved. I remember the next day, I went to her and I was like please tell me, you have bruises today on you, and James was like yes, totally. So, it’s crazy because we were sweating. It was awesome, but it was a lot of work, and you do have to plan these things. You can’t just—he’s a tall and strong man. You can’t just grip someone by the hand and push me anywhere. So, some people did coordinate that. I remember coming onset like okay, let’s do rehearsal and I was like wait a minute. What do you mean, what’s going on here because it read very violent in the script? I was like yes, you know, … on here and this goes there and I remember there was this cart that—you can barely see it because it’s so fast. They just pushed me into this cart and it’s like scalpels and stuff on it. One time, if we get tired or never the same, and it fell on top of me and all these things, but there’s so much adrenaline going in scenes like this, you get a rush from it like from the motion and working and I remember the take … like James spit on me and stuff, and it was like stuff happens. It was really cool and at the very end, poor Chloë Sevigny was behind that door, go in there and sees it. It was like half a day of work, that whole thing for sure.
Q: Was Chloë right there, or was that a separately shot part?
Franka Potente: We broke it up. I think one shot was just separated like her, but then it had more to do with the gun and me shooting him in the leg and the prosthetics for that. We broke the scene, I think at some point, it was kind of like the last half of the scene would lead up to me opening the door and seeing Chloë.
Q: How many different expressions did you have to practice to get the one that you got to? The reaction to it was perfect.
Franka Potente: I honestly I didn’t see much of her before I opened the door. I knew she was there. They had to wheel her in because of the nature of her prosthetics and all that stuff. She couldn’t even walk. So, I knew she was there , but I kind of avoided seeing her because I knew it was not going to be pretty and I kind of saved that so like the … she was like …, but it was horrendous. I was like bluh. In my mind, I was just like come on. Just let your face move and breathe and just take in what you see. … it was kind of gross. ….
Q: The ambiguity of the characters, how they come in as like they’re unjustly put into the asylum and then as we learn in this next episode that maybe that’s not the case, maybe there is some justification for them being there. So, what’s your take maybe on that switch for the audience as well as an actor playing out the role?
Franka Potente: Well, that’s the fun of it of course. It’s kind of the Hitchcock moment of is it possible and then you feed the audience in … so that you feed them some seemingly plausible reasons, and within all that madness, anything is possible and this is what I think is great. You have to keep in mind, this is a title sequence. What that does to you invites you into a world which the texture of it is like a nightmare, and that’s so well done, and then, we’ve already seen glimpses of an alien. We’ve seen weird creatures in the park and all these things and there’s a lot of things that seems to move around centuries. So, anything is really possible, and I think if you keep watching the show, you’re open to anything, which I think is beautiful. That’s what horror or suspense or this kind of supernatural environment, that’s what you want. Otherwise, it’s a different show, and I don’t know who bloody face is. For the other characters, I don’t even know because we didn’t even know, I’ve seen them now, but I didn’t know the scripts before my shows and I don’t know the lines after. I have ideas about it, but I really don’t know. The cool thing is I think the actors don’t even know. I knew the outcome of my character, and obviously, Anne Frank is proven historically, even though there’s a tiny question mark, maybe a little window, she did not survive the concentration camp because she died of typhus or something. But I love the idea and this is what movies and movie magic are about that what if. What if she was still around? She would be my age and what would she be like, and to kind of indulge in that for a little bit until we learn well, too bad it’s not Anne Frank. It’s someone who took over that schizophrenic episode. I know actually a lot of women I guess at the time that did that, but for that moment, to indulge in the possibly, that’s what movies are made of, any movie for that matter.
Q: Did you do any personal research on people who were admitted into asylums or try to take in some kind of extra study on the asylum-type atmosphere?
Franka Potente: I actually, many years ago, for a German film that I did with Tom Tykwer, The Princess and the Warrior, I actually worked at an insane asylum for two weeks. I have very vivid memories of that awkward time. On the other hand, this is set in the 60s, so I think it’s very, very different. They averaged a lot of almost experiments that the contact with patients were very new at the time and stuff was very different. So, I’ve spent quite some time that was very intense many years back in an institution like that. But on the other hand, it’s always nice to have a fresh take on it. This is at the end of the day, a normal person that she of course thinks she’s not insane, but that’s the one thing especially that I remember that truly about insanity is that nobody who is insane runs around thinking oh my God, I’m really insane. So, you have to play into that as normal as possible. Everyone else is insane but the insane person. Then, you take it from there to be honest, and in this case especially, the setting that’s already there does a lot. If the series was just about this one case, I would have to put a little bit more work into it I think as for mood and all that kind of stuff, but it’s so loaded at episode four already with all the creepiness and all these things that, to be honest, I don’t have to play into that. It’s already there anyway. Does that make sense? I’m sorry. That was a long answer.
Q: What kind of things creep you out?
Franka Potente: I used to be very afraid of flying, which sounds like … now, but it would creep me out and make me very tense and very uncomfortable to the—physical … and the sweating or even crying, and I was very, very scared of dying and all that stuff, but I’m not anymore because now I’m traveling with a small child and I really realize that certain fears, I like the luxury. They need to be indulged in order to exist, so to be honest with you, these days I don’t have much time to indulge in any kind of fears and stuff like that, but I’m not very good with watching scary movies, horror movies, all that kind of stuff for that matter. I’ve certainly seen, for example, The Exorcist, the classic, but I don’t know. I’m not very good with watching that kind of stuff.
Q: Have you seen any of American Horror Story?
Franka Potente: Yes, of course. I’ve seen season one and I can do that, but even just a title sequence from season one, I remember was so—I don’t even know what the word for that is. It’s really … kind of a mix between you are almost repulsed by the music. There’s something about it that’s like really ugh, and now, we’re four episodes in and we still like TiVo everything, but normally the stuff that we TiVo, we would like fast forward over the title sequence, but we don’t do it with this one. We always watch it because it sets the tone. If you commit yourself to watching something like this, you want to be creeped out. I saw some stuff online where people are like this is so gross. It’s so creepy, and I’m like, what do you think you’re watching. This is not a cooking show or something, a book club. You watch this because—people watch this because it’s like this weird and … naughty feeling of I’m watching these sick things and there’s sick stuff on this show, but people are intrigued and I think they feel bad at the same time, I can’t believe I’m watching this, the scene of…and puking. Oh my God, people went crazy online about that scene. What a great scene that is. People were almost offended, but I think that feeling comes from it’s almost like a weird feeling of I can’t believe I just watched that and I have to watch. I can’t look away. That’s what this plays into, what makes this great attraction of it too I think.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about working with James Cromwell and with Jessica Lange and what that was like?
Franka Potente: James Cromwell is awesome. He’s very hardworking. He always knew his lines and he’s very responsible like maybe that’s the wrong word, but when you work with him, he always …. He always made sure the other person is okay. He thinks about the scenes a lot and what makes sense how to shoot them and all these things. He’s very involved in that, and he’s very personal. He loves to talk about theater and books he reads. He recommended museums to me and all these things, which is delightful. Of course, it’s very nice. You feel very welcome when someone especially on the … likes to be your friend for the time being, while you work, very nice.
Q: How about Jessica Lange?
Franka Potente: She’s amazing. She is very, very focused. Different, more quiet from my experience. I did see her joke around with people and stuff, but overall, she seemed very focused and doesn’t become … so much. She was very sweet. After my first day of shooting, I was very nervous. I had like a lot of lines that I felt like she was very protective of me, like when there was noise and people weren’t focused like she would ask them to be quiet kind of on my behalf because she knew, she could feel that I was nervous and I thought that was really sweet and really nice of her and I really enjoyed working with her. I really felt like she was good with eye contact and stuff like that. She’s not like letting you hang there.
Q: What do you hope happens with your character in Copper for season two?
Franka Potente: I hope that I get a little bit more stuff to do to be honest. It was a little bit more stuff, but I don’t know where that went, maybe it didn’t make sense in the overall storyline or morale of the hero. I’m not really sure. She’s such a fun character being this brothel owner at the time, not having so many boundaries. So, I would love to explore that a little bit more and have her be like more of an active part in what’s going on in the men’s world, like in the tough business and all these things. There was one episode where she killed someone. She was like cutthroat and this side, I would like to see a little bit more.
Q: How have your family and friends responded to the season or have they had a chance to see the scenes that you’ve been in at all?
Franka Potente: I had a few—in Germany, obviously, they haven’t seen it. People were very excited that I was on the show. A lot of people that I know watch it and I got a lot of stuff online like what’s the …. I think people are generally excited, and this includes me. If you happen as an actor to be on a show that you like anyway, it’s like a special treat. It’s really nice and even when I watch things that happened with my friends, on a show that I like anyways, it’s always kind of awesome. You’re like oh my God, that’s… He’s a new girl. That’s so fun. It makes it … special or something.
Q: I was just curious if you knew the story of why Ryan decided to incorporate Anne Frank into American Horror Story this season? It’s a timely character for the time period of the show, but why in particular Anne Frank?
Franka Potente: I have no idea. I think that he wanted to have aliens and Nazis—and what’s the third thing that he wanted in the show? I think that the great piece about this that … created a playground where anything’s possible so why not bring back Anne Frank and have people believe or not for a second that it is her. I think we talked a little bit before, but I think it’s fun in this medium that we have like …, you can create anything out of nothing. The stronger the environment around it is, the more you can do with it. The pure thought, like what would Anne Frank be like if she was alive. If she had survived, what’s the story, what’s driving her? What would she be like as a person amongst aliens and insanity and all this stuff? It’s a very tensing thought, but why it had to be Anne Frank, I have no idea. I think maybe something that he was interested in personally and thought why not. What if she came back and she was the one pointing at “Arden” saying he was a Nazi? He’s not messing around. It couldn’t be anybody. It had to be Anne Frank.
Q: Will we see you again this season?
Franka Potente: I’m not sure. You can never be sure. I hope so. We’ll see about that. I can’t say that at this point. She got a lobotomy and Anne Frank is gone. So, that’s that. To me, it’s … lobotomy, it’s potentially interesting in the setting too, but at this point, I have no idea. It’s kind of sad. When I read the review, I was like oh no. I kind of thought of me—I kind of wished for a second … only with the first … they’ll think maybe it is Anne Frank. Let her linger a little longer and be Anne Frank. I kind of liked that idea. It’s like with a lot of historic figures, you sometime think like what if they weren’t dead. … mixed about this remote island where JFK hangs out and all these people that are gone, like what would they be like now? If you put them into new historic context, how would that work? It’s a very intriguing thing to think about.
Q: How much do you think the revelation at the end of the second episode about Anne being right about “Arden” will affect the rest of the season?
Franka Potente: That’s going to be interesting. He’s obviously protected by the Monsignor and other people. So, I have no idea where this is going to go. I think James… So, we just got the confirmation that he is a Nazi, and he’s already involved in so much horrible stuff. So, I have no idea. It’s going to be very interesting what they do with that.
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you?
Franka Potente: Probably my first day with Jessica in a way because I had so many lines. I really just wanted to be good. I wanted to earn her respect. I just wanted to—I was starting with all these lines and it’s always the same. … anyway lines are lines. The magic is in between the lines. You want to say the lines right, but you want to get to the point where you can play with the scene partner and you just want to go beyond that and it worked for me. We had a great day, but I didn’t know her, so I was a little bit afraid. Physically, the whole stuff with James was demanding. We had this huge fight scene for hours and hours and hours. It’s so little in the episode, but man, we were like beating each other up for like five, six hours. So, it was strenuous. It was fun too, but you have to be very focused with these scenes. You can’t just push each other around. He’s not …. He’s very tall, so and the same goes for me. He’s strong. He can’t just toss me around like that. So, we were trying to be very focused about it, but at the same time wanted to be really raw and dangerous. So, I think those two things were very demanding, but I remember now the second episode, I think I’m like crying and screaming almost every scene. So, that always falls beyond what we can imagine. You do your lines at home. You’re trying to imagine what the scene is going to be like and it’s always the reality on the day. It’s always a little bit more than you can imagine.
Q: It’s been easy for you to move from film to television and back and forth. Do you have a preference, and also, how do you choose your projects? Do you have a criteria or a certain set of rules before you take on a role?
Franka Potente: To be honest, television is so, especially in America, which is my only television experience really, is so elaborate these days. There’s not so much of a difference in the process like when you’re really at work, when you’re on the set, and especially with American Horror Story, they blended really well and they have so many like remote cranes, like all the whole nine yards and they play with it. They have all the toys and they play with it. The directors are really good. They really work with you. So, I don’t really—I’m not really on the set thinking oh my God, this is television. It’s very different. Something like the Bourne Identity even to be honest with you. So, I don’t think there’s so much of a difference. You get all the film actors, movie stars are doing TV and I don’t know. It doesn’t really feel so much like that different, and well, choosing projects is really like almost like a big buffet. I’m not going to lie. The buffet was maybe a little bit bigger a couple of years ago…. there are not that many movies anymore it seems or there are not that many parts for all of us out there in movie land. A lot of stuff happens with TV now. So, this, for example, this was a no-brainer for me. I loved the first season, and it’s always such a treat to be part of something that you know you like anyway. It was really like sure. There are a couple of shows that I watch where I’m like I wouldn’t think twice. It has less to do with the acting job itself. It’s more like exciting to be part of something that you like anyway. It’s like yes, you’re kind of like a fan. I remember it was very much like that when I worked on The Shield years ago. I loved that show. When I worked with them, I would hang out on set when I wasn’t even working. I would call my colleagues by the character’s name. I was in heaven. It was like Christmas. I would take pictures with them. So, it’s like a different kind of thing. So, that’s really like being lucky, I think if you get a job like that, and otherwise, of course, you always hope for something that you can sink your teeth into or maybe there’s a director whose work you like anyway or it could be an actor where you’re like oh my God, I could work with this person. Sure, I’ll do it. There are so many reasons out there, and for me, it’s about limiting now because I am a regular on a show that shoots six months out of the year so I’m a little bit limited time wise anyway, so yes.