American Horror Story cast promises S2 is 'as extreme as possible'

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Jun 25, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT

Think season one of FX's American Horror Story was over the top? Well, when season two premieres tonight under the title of American Horror Story: Aslyum, you'll find there are whole new levels of "extreme," "shocking" and "terror" to explore, said stars Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson in an exclusive interview with Blastr. And no, this one doesn't have ghosts.

[Spoiler alert!]

"There aren't ghosts of the supernatural kind," said Paulson, who plays a very different character than she did last season when she was psychic Billie Dean Howard.

"No, there's no ghosts this year," confirmed Quinto, who played ghost Chad Warwick in season one. "And all of us that are coming back to the show from last season are playing totally different characters, which is one of the most appealing aspects of this season for me. To be able to explore totally different landscapes with these characters is really exciting."

In fact, this season has a completely different story, as well. Asylum takes place in 1964, and according to the synopsis for "Welcome to Briarcliff," tonight's season-two premiere: "Welcome to Briarcliff Manor, a notorious insane asylum which is home to the deranged serial killer Bloody Face. Lurking in the shadows of this 'sanctuary of healing' are terrifying evils that blur the boundaries between reality and insanity."

Season two sees the return of stars Jessica Lange as Sister Jude, Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson, Paulson as Lana Winters, Evan Peters as Kit Walker, Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy, who are joined by the new-to-the-series Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan, Clea DuVall, James Cromwell, Franka Potente, Mark Consuelos, Lizzie Brochere, Joseph Fiennes and Chloë Sevigny.

"This season is much more of a psychological terror and preying on all of our fears as humans about being left, being unwanted, unloved, and disenfranchised. So it's got, I think, a much more ... I don't know. It taps into a kind of universal fear that we all have. I think that makes it all the more terrifying for me. It's not just about things that go bump in the night," said Paulson.

"I think the ghost element in the first season brought with it some element of humor and even, in certain respects, a sort of campy nature as well as also there being really grounded, scary parts to the last season. But I feel like this season's a little bit more rooted, like she said, in the psychological and the idea of what's real and what's not and in the desperation of the characters. Some of them are really trapped inside of this somewhat archaic asylum. This dangerous world of misconceptions and misunderstandings. So I think it's just a little bit more rooted in the horror of it this year," said Quinto.

Quinto plays "a psychiatrist at the Briar Cliff Sanitarium who comes in to evaluate one of the patients there and right off the bat has a bit of a conflict with Jessica Lange's character and the institution as it's established there. And that's the point of entry for my character, and things go crazy from there," he said.

"When we meet him he's incredibly thoughtful, I would say, compassionate. He's definitely very different from stuff I've played in the past in terms of the ground under his feet. And that's something that's really cool for me. This is a world, although supernatural things happen in it, this character is much more grounded in reality than, for example, the character I played on Heroes or Star Trek," said Quinto. "So I prefer the simplicity of this character. For me, it's really attractive. Of course, it's only an illusion, I think, that will go many different places as the season unfolds."

As for Paulson (American Gothic), she sees her character as someone who "is a little bit subject to the time, and very, very horrible things happen. And it has everything to do with the fact that it's 1964," she said.

"What's great and unique about my character is that she is completely a victim of the time period. That will be very clear, what I mean, once you see it, but my circumstances are very dictated by the conflict I have. The trouble I get into is very much dictated by the year, by the time period, by the 1964 time in terms of&8212;and this I think goes for a lot of the people on the show—that I think the time period plays so heavily into the horror of the show, because it just really makes you see how far we've come as a country," said Paulson.

"In 1964 you had very little power. People could put you away for the simplest things. Things that just would never happen now. So there is something so terrifying about that. And not being in control of your own destiny in that way. I don't know. It's very, very scary to me," she said.

Quinto and Paulson, who are friends independent of the series, see American Horror Story as something unique on television—a repertory company for actors where they can come in to play different characters, the star one season and a supporting player in another.

"I think it's a whole other level of storytelling," said Quinto. "The great thing is [the viewers] don't need to have seen the first season to have any kind of investment in this one. This is a completely independent story. It's something that's found its groove in terms of a company of writers and actors and directors. A lot of people have come back to the show this year, and so I feel like it's an elevated version of what we started to find last year. Because last year nobody knew if there was going to be an audience for this show, if the work was going to translate. And I think that obviously the 17 Emmy nominations from the first season of the show have proved that we're onto something. So I think this is taking that momentum and really carrying it onto a new story, into a new world and to a new level."

"It's very hard to, I think, to make an impact quickly like that, where it's very clear who your character is. You need to do that in a first episode. You need to let everybody know who everybody is right away so that they know what they're strapping in for. And I think they do it really brilliantly. And also they just do a lot of sick s--t," she said.

Paulson admitted when she read one episode recently "it was like, 'Oh, my God! This is crazy!' I'm like, 'What kind of sick #@$!s are behind this stuff?' Truly. And that's what's so exciting about it. To me it's the greatest part about it, is that I just love knowing that I'm a part of something that people are going to be so excited about, that they will be tuning in to going, 'I don't know what's going to happen. I can't wait to see what's going to happen.' You always hope that people feel that way when they watch some television thing that's serialized, but it doesn't always work out that way. People get bored and they turn it off. But I don't think that's going to happen here," she added.

"It's really bold and it's really shocking and really as extreme as possible, and that's really exhilarating for me. Every week they just top themselves. [The episodes are] incredibly well-written, really smart and really shocking. I think the audience is going to be in for some real scares," said Quinto.

American Horror Story: Asylum airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Are you ready for some real scares?