published Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Will Emmy-winning Leslie Jordan bewitch audiences in new role as warlock?

Jessica Lange, left, as witch royalty Fiona in "American Horror Story: Coven," swoops into New Orleans to save the Salem bloodline when Season 3 premiers Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX network.
Jessica Lange, left, as witch royalty Fiona in "American Horror Story: Coven," swoops into New Orleans to save the Salem bloodline when Season 3 premiers Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX network.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Leslie Jordan has a recurring role in three episodes, possibly four, during Season 3 of "American Horror Story: Coven."
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Leslie Jordan’s characterization of cynical socialite Beverley Leslie charmed audiences of “Will & Grace” and led to an Emmy Award.

Will he hold audiences spellbound as a warlock on “American Horror Story: Coven”?

Jordan has joined the cast of FX’s acclaimed drama for its third season, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. The actor says he is signed for three episodes in a recurring role as a member of the Coven’s council, with the possibility of a fourth. His first appearance will air Wednesday, Oct. 30.

“I thought for sure I was there as comic relief,” he says in a phone interview. “But I’m not. They won’t allow me to be funny. My character wears all black. I remind myself of [fashion designer] Karl Lagerfeld because they’ve got me in gloves and a hat.”

Jordan is an alumnus of Brainerd High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He played Emma Stone’s newspaper editor in “The Help” and currently stars in “Southern Baptist Sissies,” the new movie from writer/director Del Shores.

The actor couldn’t divulge much about his “American Horror Story” character or Season 3’s plot because of numerous confidentiality agreements all cast members have signed. But he did note that creator/producer Ryan Murphy wrote this part specifically for him.

“My manager pointed out that I haven’t had to audition for a part in seven years since I won the Emmy. A lot of my scenes are with the fabulous Miss Jessica Lange and with Gabourey Sidibe, who was Precious in the movie ‘Precious.’ Gabby is just the funniest thing — she could care less about about what anyone thinks about her.

“Jessica Lange is such an amazing actress that I forget I’m in the scene and find myself just staring. But more importantly, she is very accessible on the set and friendly with everyone,” he describes.

While Jordan would reveal little about the plot of “American Horror Story: Coven,” Internet spoilers have.

The season centers on a finishing school for female witches in New Orleans operated by Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), daughter of Jessica Lange’s supreme witch Fiona. Episodes will delve into the secret history of witchcraft, mingling that with the history of New Orleans.

The premiere episode begins more than 300 years after the Salem witch trials. Witches who escaped Salem are being mysteriously attacked in New Orleans, where they now live. To protect their bloodline, young girls Sidibe, Emma Roberts, Jamie Brewer and Taissa Farmiga have arrived at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in New Orleans.

Lange’s arrival at the school ignites a turf war in the Big Easy between the witches and their rivals, the voodoo practitioners.

“There are two formidable clans of witches in New Orleans,” the show’s Executive Producer Tim Minear told Entertainment Weekly. “The voodoo witches were there first, and the Salem witches fled to the South from the persecution of the North, and these two factions are ancient enemies.”

Actress Angela Bassett told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s fall previews that she has been cast as Marie Laveau, a Creole voodoo queen based loosely on an actual 1800s resident of New Orleans.

“We put a foot and a half of dirt down on Royal Street to make it look like the 1830s,” Jordan describes of the sets created for scenes that jump between the 1830s, the 1970s and present day.

The witches angle is the third plot switch that “American Horror Story” has featured since debuting in October 2011. While using several of the same cast members in each season — Lange has been the lead actor in all three seasons — the story has changed from a present-day haunted house in Los Angeles for Season 1 to an insane asylum in 1964 for Season 2, subtitled “Asylum.”

Lange won an Emmy in 2011 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, while actor James Cromwell won an Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his performance as a Nazi war criminal and sadistic doctor in 2012’s “Asylum.”

Jordan says Murphy, who also created “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” has included many of the legends of New Orleans in the season’s plot. For example, Kathy Bates, Oscar winner for “Misery,” has been cast in the role of Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, a legendary socialite-turned-serial killer so sadistic that her reputation hasn’t diminished in nearly 180 years. Online history reveals that when LaLaurie’s home burned in 1834, rescuers found bound and tortured slaves inside. The public backlash caused LaLaurie to flee to Paris, where she remained until her death. Her home was later restored and still stands on Royal Street as a city landmark.

Others newcomers in the Season 3 cast are Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

“Patti LuPone turned around and gave a little bow to me on my first day,” Jordan chuckles with obvious delight, “and Christine Ebersole and I go all the way back to ‘American Dreamer’ 30 years ago.”

In interviews, Murphy has compared Ebersole’s role as the Glinda the Good Witch antithesis to Lange’s evil. LuPone plays a religious zealot who is a next-door neighbor to Paulson’s school. She’ll go head-to-head with Lange and Paulson before the season ends.

“Once again, like in ‘The Help,’ I find myself completely surrounded by fabulous female talent,” says Jordan.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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