American Horror Story, Sandra Bernhard
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Credit: FX

Playing a Satanic pastor was almost too easy for American Horror Story's Sandra Bernhard

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Nov 7, 2018, 10:00 AM EST

Michael Langdon's plan is coming together.

Throughout American Horror Story: Apocalypse, audiences have seen Langdon (Cody Fern) work to enact the apocalypse in the name of his father, Satan. Episode 8, "Sojourn," saw Langdon allied with a Satanic church led by Sandra Bernhard's Hannah, a pastor who dresses all in red and urges her congregation to be the worst people they can be. Only then, she says, can they truly usher in the Apocalypse.

Showrunner Ryan Murphy created the Hannah role with Bernhard specifically in mind, and, Bernhard told SYFY WIRE, Murphy told her she had "carte blanche" to do whatever she wanted. From there, transforming herself into Hannah was simple enough, especially given Bernhard's career. For years, Bernhard has built herself up as a one-woman maverick, starring in self-titled comedy series, countless television shows, and, most famously, as Nancy Bartlett on Roseanne. Tapping into Hannah's mindset simply required Bernhard to look to her years of experience.

"I sort of made it a performance," she says.

So, with Murphy's blessing and a general understanding of what this Satanist pastor was supposed to be — "big, over the top, and very crazy," Murphy told her — Bernhard went to work.

"I definitely tried to deliver and bring the fun and the madness of it," Bernhard says. "I feel like he was trying to capture just the total chaos of our times, and sort of weave it into all these different characters. I think they're all a reflection of what's going on politically and culturally right now. And I think that's kind of his genius."

Though Hannah's time on the series was short-lived — Bernhard says she won't be returning to fawn over Michael again — the actress threw everything into the role.

"It wasn't hard to get into the headspace at all," she says. Most of all, Bernhard played into the contempt Hannah feels for her congregation. "They're failing at preparing the world for the Antichrist's arrival," she thought. "They're making me sick to my stomach."

"I've been around enough people who are fervent and crazy and feeling like [religion] controls their lives in the world," Bernhard says. "So there's plenty to draw on.

"There's a lot of very charismatic, religious, crazy people out there who really go way out there [while in their religious community], and then their private life is, I'm sure, whatever," she says. "But maybe they're all crazy. I don't know. I tried to infuse Hannah with that — just bizarre… insanity because I just really felt like, 'Where else can you go on American Horror Story?' You're not gonna downplay it."