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American Horror Story: the 15 greatest female characters in the series so far

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Lucy Robson
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American Horror Story Apocalypse Cast

From Lady Gaga’s mesmerising turn as a vampire haunting a cursed hotel, to Jessica Lange as a sinister head nun, we picked the most memorable and iconic female characters so far from American Horror Story’s nine-season run.

Love or loathe Ryan Murphy’s content, you can’t deny that the man’s prolific output, not to mention his ability to draw in huge A-List stars, is seriously impressive. Throughout the years he’s brought us visually stunning and emotionally devastating delights like the groundbreaking, multi award-winning New York ballroom drama Pose, the cult favourite Nip/Tuck, and the excellent American Crime Story, now on its third series, which is currently making headlines for its portrayal of the Clinton impeachment scandal

While all of these FX titles continue to be hugely popular with Murphy’s loyal fan base and critics, the same, sadly, can’t be said of the mini-series, films and documentaries he created as part of the monster deal he signed with Netflix back in 2018, despite enormous budgets and stars galore (think Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman in The Prom, or Gwyneth Paltrow in The Politician).

Reflecting on this, it seems that Murphy’s formula for success lies in his longer running shows, and there is no truer example than his much loved anthology series, American Horror Story, which is still going strong with a dedicated and passionate fan base to boot. No small feet after a decade. 

It’s not that American Horror Story doesn’t fall victim to the same issues other shows in Murphy’s repertoire present, like dragging out storylines, too long seasons and underwhelming or convoluted plots. AHS certainly has all of those tropes in spades, it’s just that, in utilising the same core cast across all of the seasons (Murphy’s trademark), there is so much fun to be had in watching for a favourite cast member to return in a new role, potentially even wackier, wild and more entertaining than the last. 

It’s this genius strategy that seems to make these other elements forgivable to fans, not to mention the fact that some series are still vastly superior to others (we’re still not sure if we can completely forgive him for Freak Show). 

Even in the weaker seasons though, there is no denying that American Horror Story has paved the way for some truly iconic and fascinating characters for his faithful family of actors, especially for the women of the cast.

Whether it’s series staples such as Angela Bassett as a vengeful voodoo queen, Kathy Bates as a severed head, Sarah Paulson as a junkie ghost, or guest star Lady Gaga’s mesmerising turn as a vampire terrorising the hotel guests – it’s fair to say that the women of AHS have had the opportunity to sink their teeth into (sometimes literally) some truly bonkers and brilliant roles.

Thats why, to celebrate the launch of American Horror Story: Double Feature, out in the UK on Disney Plus in late 2021, we picked our favourite female characters from seasons gone by. 

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  • Jessica Lange as Sister Jude (Asylum, season 2)

    Jessica Lange AHS
    Jessica Lange starred in 4 seasons of AHS

    Jessica Lange’s performances on AHS are so magnetic and memorable that it’s hard to believe she has only appeared in  four series of the show. 

    It’s even harder to choose a favourite of her very varied roles, from playing a very nosy neighbour with a dark secret in Murder House (with a cameo in Apocalypse), to Elsa Mars, the ruthless leader of a freak show, who manages to steal every scene in an otherwise very poor series.

    But it has to be her portrayal of head nun turned in-patient, Sister Jude, in Asylum, and that iconic performance of The Name Game that pushes this role to the top of the list.

  • Billie Lourd as Winter Anderson (Cult, Season 7)

    Billie Lourd as Winter Anderson in American Horror Story's Cult season
    Billie Lourd as Winter in American Horror Story

    One of the best and most criminally underrated characters in AHS history has to be Billie Lourd’s depiction of cult member Winter, sister to cult leader Kai Anderson, played by Evan Peters (in his standout performance of the whole show, in our opinion).

    The actors have great chemistry as siblings in Cult, so it’s nice to know that she and Evan are also good friends in real life. So much so that, in a recent chat with Interview magazine (where he was interviewed by Lourd himself), he revealed that her birthday parties were great practice for his now viral drunken scene in Mare of Easttown.

  • Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery (Coven, season 3)

    Emma Roberts
    Emma Roberts has appeared in Coven, Freak Show, Apocalypse and 1984.

    Emma Roberts knows how to give us a queen bee who we love and hate in equal measures.  

    Her turn as mean, chain-smoking witch Madison Montgomery in Coven is a big fan favourite, so much so that not only she was brought back from the dead for Apocalypse – she was also given her own series, Scream Queens, which is reported to have been based on her season 3 character.

  • Lady Gaga as Countess Elizabeth (Hotel, season 5)

    AHS season 5 takes inspiration from the alleged spooky events rumoured to have occurred at the infamous Cecil Hotel, the subject of the recent controversial Netflix docuseriesCrime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel.

    There are many scene-stealing characters in this series, including a cameo from Naomi Campbell, and Denis O’Hare as loveable and complex hotel bartender Liz Taylor, but it’s Lady Gaga as the alluring (and ridiculously glamorous) Countess, who is mesmerising in one of her first ever acting gigs, that we still can’t stop thinking about.

  • Stevie Nicks as herself (Coven, Season 3)

    Coven American Horror Story female stars including Stevie Nicks and Emma Roberts
    Best American Horror Story characters: Coven

    Surely Murphy’s best work in pulling a huge iconic celebrity guest was managing to get Stevie Nicks on board for cameo appearances in both series 3 and 9. 

    In her acting debut, Nicks appears as herself (who else), a musical witch who is idolised by the rest of the coven. And who can forget her haunting performance of Gypsy, in a bunker for the 1% of the population who manage to secure a place at the end of the world in Apocalypse

    Don’t even get us started on her teaching Lily Rabe’s character, Fleetwood Mac super fan Misty Day to twirl in a shawl, in truly iconic Stevie Nicks style. 

  • Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau (Coven, season 3)

    Angela Bassett at the 100th American Horror Story episode party
    Angela Bassett has starred in several AHS series, as well as directing episodes.

    The Oscar nominated actor and director Angela Bassett gives truly masterful performances across the various seasons she has been involved in, whether it’s in an acting role, playing a three-breasted performer in Freak Show, or behind the camera (to date she has directed two episodes from the Cult and Roanoke seasons).

    But it’s her spellbinding role as Marie Laveau, the revered and vengeful voodoo queen of New Orleans in Coven that is most popular with fans and critics alike, thanks to ability to steal every scene she appears in – an impressive feat considering Coven is one of the most star-studded, as well as one of the most popular with fans.

  • Jamie Brewer as Nan (Coven, season 3)

    Jamie Brewer as nan in American Horror Story, Coven, season 3
    Jamie Brewer in American Horror Story

    Jamie Brewer made her TV acting debut on the original season back in 2011’s Murder House as a nosy (and creepy) neighbour. Since then she has played a ventriloquist’s doll, a cult member and clairvoyant witch.

    Brewer is incredibly popular with the AHS fandom, especially for her role as Nan in Coven, a smart and kind-hearted witch enrolled in Miss Robichaux’s Academy, who is truly one of the most likeable characters across all of the series. 

  • Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon (Murder House, season 1)

    The Dirty John actor, who recently starred in Emerald Fennell’s Oscar winning Promising Young Women, is another who pops up throughout Murphy’s canon of work, with roles on 9-1-1 and American Crime Story

    In the very first season, Britton was nominated for an Emmy for playing a woman beginning a new life at a very creepy house, where she is haunted by a mysterious entity in a gimp suit. 

    This is sadly her only American Horror Story appearance, although she does appear again briefly as Vivien in season 7, the Coven/Apocalypse crossover, it’s without doubt one of the best of the franchise. 

  • Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters (Asylum, season 2)

    Sarah Paulson attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
    Sarah Paulson has starred in many of Murphy's series, including Ratched and AHS.

    Paulson’s working relationship with Ryan Murphy goes way back to the early 00s, when she appeared in early episodes of Nip/Tuck. It’s no surprise then, that she refers to him as her “creative husband” and continues to appear across his cannon of work (and every season of AHS bar one). 

    In AHS she has played everything from a pair of conjoined twins, to supreme leader of a witches coven, a drug-addicted, punk-rock ghost, an ambitious medium and a cult member. 

    It’s her role as journalist Lana Winters, who unwittingly becomes an in-patient herself when attempting to investigate dark goings on at an asylum that is an absolute must-watch for us. 

  • Joan Collins as Evie Gallant (Apocalypse, season 8)

    Another excellent guest-star turn comes from non other than veteran actor and true icon, Dame Joan Collins. 

    The Dynasty star makes a very welcome appearance in two brilliantly fun roles in Apocalypse. First up, she’s Evie Gallant, who gets a space in a bunker after surviving a nuclear holocaust, thanks to her grandson, a hustling celebrity hairdresser played by Peters. 

    Spoiler alert, like most characters in American Horror Story, Evie doesn’t make it past a couple of episodes. But that’s OK, because she pops back up as Bubbles McGee instead, the super-glamorous Hollywood actor who is secretly a witch.

  • Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice (Asylum, season 2)

    Lily Rabe recently starred in The Undoing alongside Nicole Kidman, but she is best known for her roles on American Horror Story, which she’s been involved with since the beginning.

    That being said, Rabe often feels like the unsung star of the show, who isn’t showered with Emmy nominations like many of her co-stars. While she may have small roles in many of the seasons, whether she’s a dead socialite haunting Murder House, or the ghost of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Hotel, her brief appearances are no less lacking in impact. 

    Many fans would describe her turn as Stevie Nicks obsessive Misty Day in Coven as her best role so far, but for us it’s her menacing role as Sister Mary Eunice in Asylum. Without giving away spoilers – it’s her role in the latter part of the series which is probably the scariest performance to date. 

  • Adina Porter as Lee Harris in Roanoke, season 6

    Adina Porter
    Adina Porter has started in main series of AHS, including Roanoke and Cult.

    Adina Porter’s turn as a TV news broadcaster turned cult member in season 6 may have earned her a very well deserved Emmy nomination, but we want to talk about her scene-stealing role in Roanoke. 

    Because, while this season of AHS may have proven to be one of the least popular with fans (not to mention co-star Sarah Paulson), Porter’s deranged depiction of ex-policewoman Lee Harris makes it deliciously entertaining.

  • Kathy Bates as Agnes Mary Winstead / 'The Butcher' (Roanoke, season 6)

    A testament to her impressive versatility as an actor, it has to be said that Oscar winning icon Kathy Bates, of Titanic and Misery fame, has by far and away the most bonkers roles across the American Horror Story 9 season run.

    Whether she’s playing a talking severed head, a murderous colony leader, a fed-up human hotel clerk, sick of being bullied by the supernatural guests, or a satan-worshipping robot, it’s hard to imagine she hasn’t had great fun playing this Motley Crue of characters. 

    Again, it’s almost impossible to choose the best, but, if we were pushed, we would have to say it’s her role in Roanoke, as an actor playing the ghost of the lost colony leader in a TV documentary, who may or may not also be possessed by said colony leader.

  • Francis Conroy as Moira O’Hara (Murder House, season 1)

    Francis Conroy may be best known for her work on cult 00s TV series Six Feet Under, or for her more recent portrayal of Joaquin Phoenix’s character’s mother in Oscar-winning movie The Joker, but its her many, many wacky roles in American Horror Story that have stayed with us the most.

    A true character actor, even Ryan Murphy admitted in an interview that Conroy was the actor required to be most versatile across each of the series in terms of appearance, voice and role – which is really saying something with this set of characters.

    Whether she’s playing senior witch Myrtle Snow in Coven, or the angel of death in Asylum, she is guaranteed to steal any scene she’s in. For us though, her most memorable role to date has to be the ghostly but loveable maid Moira O’Hara in Murder House and Apocalypse

  • Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas (Cult, season 8)

    Lena Dunham’s guest appearance on the Cult season was criticised because apparently her accent wasn’t believable enough. 

    That aside, her depiction of real-life radical feminist Valerie Solanas, the woman infamous for attempting to murder Andy Warhol in 1968, is truly enthralling (and frightening) – we only wish she could have appeared in more episodes. 

American Horror Story: Double Feature will land on Star on Disney Plus in October 2021.

Images: Getty

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Lucy Robson

Lucy Robson is an digital writer for Stylist.co.uk, who enjoys chasing trends and writing about books, film, TV and other lifestyle and feminist news.

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