10 Casting Decisions That Hurt American Horror Story (And 11 That Saved It)

American Horror Story has been delivering the goods for 8 seasons, thanks to some great casting decisions-- and despite some pretty bad ones.

Jessica Lange won't appear in American Horror Story: Hotel

With its eighth season upon us, American Horror Story: Apocalypse, FX's flagship horror series has become more ambitious and more tightly executed than ever, transcending what has come before in order to craft a story which may very well be hard to top. Showrunner Ryan Murphy has pulled out all the stops this time. Not only is the main story the literal end of the world, but this time the show overtly draws from past storylines and characters. The Apocalypse – what a time to be alive!

As television goes, American Horror Story has aged like a fine wine that horror fans are very happy to sip slowly and savor. But it’s important to remember, it wasn’t always this way. Prior seasons made many missteps, which is completely understandable seeing how experimental the storytelling has always been. Among the misses were some key casting decisions.

There were instances where the wrong person was in the wrong role at the wrong time, but just as often, casting decisions not only hit the mark, but hit it out of the park. Murphy has truly used American Horror Story as a lab for actors as much as for ideas. Equal only to the great success of his best casting decisions in the series, the series creator has unabashedly made the those casting choices which maybe he should have second-thought. We’re keeping tabs on both. Enter if you dare!

Here’s 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt American Horror Story Twists (And 11 That Saved It).

21 Hurt: Cuba Gooding Jr. as Matt Miller

It’s hard to deny that, out of all of the ups and downs of American Horror Story, the sixth season, Roanoke, is easily the most uneven and least satisfying of the offerings.

Into the mix was thrown the otherwise reliable actor Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for his film work and was nominated for his performance in Ryan Murphy's true crime outing The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. In this case, however, his energy never really peaked, and his role was unfortunately unconvincing.

20 Saved: Evan Peters as Kit Walker

This one is too easy. Only a bonafide hater of the show would deny that not only has Evan Peters consistently brought some of the best energy on American Horror Story. His performance has actually solidified his career, leading to such Hollywood spectacle stints as playing the super speedster Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His work in the very first season was far more passive than his subsequent work on the show.

It wasn’t until the second season, Asylum, that his gritty turn as madhouse inmate Kit Walker truly made the his mark.

He hasn’t slowed down since, expressing a versatility of characters in seemingly effortless fashion.

19 Hurt: Michael Chiklis as Dell Toledo

Fans of the outstanding actor Michael Chiklis often wonder why he can’t always land better roles. After all, he clinched the lead as Vic Mackey in the brutal police drama The Shield, givingone of the most controversial and memorable performances in TV history in his wake. Since then, his biggest job was unquestionably as The Thing in the first two Fox Fantastic Four movies. As superhero fans undoubtedly know by now, those films simply were not that great, regardless of Chiklis’ efforts.

When the intense thespian arrived in American Horror Story: Freak Show, there was hope for a new vitality within his contribution. Instead, he was sadly underused as Dell Toledo. This was an unfortunate choice which slowed the series down.

18 Saved: Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson

Zachary Quinto as Bloodyface in American Horror Story Asylum

Zachary Quinto was a total out-of-left-field addition to the original American Horror Story season. His performance as Chad Warwick was inspired, but brief. Regardless, the second season, Asylum, was a far better entry than the debut series, and Quinto took his more active role of the criminally insane Dr. Oliver Thredson to town.

Without spoiling the show, his turn as one of the single most evil characters in the history of AHS was completely unforgettable.

Quinto delivered horror just as expertly as he delivered menace as Sylar in Heroes or logic in his iconic role as Spock in Star Trek!

17 Hurt: Stevie Nicks as Stevie Nicks

Much has been made of Stevie Nicks appearance on American Horror Story: Coven, playing none other than herself. After all, the classic rock and roll icon has a reputation for being a real-life witch herself. Since she so rarely steps off the music stage and into the actor’s role, there was great anticipation from fans of both Fleetwood Mac and AHS. What fans got, however, was a disjointed that did little to add to the show’s mythology or the Coven story itself.

Don’t get us wrong – we love Stevie! It’s just that maybe acting isn’t her strength, or perhaps Murphy didn’t make the best of it. In any case, it was less than a memorable appearance, and if anything, distracted from the stronger aspects of that season. Hopefully her appearance in Apocalypse can redeem things.

16 Saved: Frances Conroy as Shachath

In a diamond mine as full of acting gems as American Horror Story, it's tough to to pull out the choice jewels. All of Frances Conroy's roles throughout the series have been incredibly versatile, running from ghostly housemaid to high-powered witch.

Her most solemn role, one of the ones which truly propelled AMS into the sublime, was her turn as a sort of angel of mercy, known as Shachath.

As an expression of passing, she arrives as a benevolent entity, helping humans facing their last moments to gently cross over to the world beyond. It is a somber character, to be delicately played, and Conroy’s performance was pitch-perfect.

15 Hurt: Chloë Sevigny as Dr. Alex Lowe

It’s hard to be as critical of an talented actress as talented a Chloë Sevigny. During her long and storied career, she went from a stunning debut in Kids to earning a Golden Globe in Big Love. Indeed, her previous role in American Horror Story: Asylum as Shelley was nothing short of insanely awesome among a wealth of powerful performances.

Unfortunately, her role as Dr. Alex Lowe in the AHS Hotel season was, like much of that story, uninspired. To be fair, this was the series’ first outing without Jessica Lange, probably the single most important force in the previous five seasons. It was tough all around and it took AHS a couple of years to come back into its full power.

14 Saved: Cody Fern as Michael Langdon

Possibly the toughest act to follow in terms of characters appearing on American Horror Story would be Michael Langdon. Debuting as an infant in AHS first outing, he closes that season as the personified arrival of the End Times – pretty much the prophesied dark angel destined to lead the world into flames.

When it was time to cast AHS: Apocalypse, the adult version of the Son of the Beast had to be perfect.

Cody Fern could not fit the bill better. His balance between creepy and alluring is brilliant. His placid façade expertly expresses the concealed rage and evil just beneath his surface. He’s terrifying, attractive, clever, and effective. This performance may well define the future of the series.

13 Hurt: Naomi Campbell as Claudia Bankson

Naomi Campbell in AHS

Here’s another bit of superstar casting which simply does not live up to its potential. Turning supermodel Naomi Campbell into the editor of Vogue magazine makes so much sense on paper, but it just doesn't work on screen. Claudia Bankson arrives early on in the messy Hotel season and, like many characters, is dispatched of quickly, almost fading into the background as a very forgettable ghost.

The many ways this fashion iconic could have made a splash in her performance as a fashion magnate seemed limitless, yet ended up as being rather limited in her two episodes of screen time.

12 Saved: Lena Dunham as Valerie Solanas

Many fans were justified in wondering just what was Girls star Lena Dunham doing in American Horror Story: Cult. After all, she wasn’t ever known for providing scares as much as self-aware guffaws.

Ryan Murphy expertly cast her as Valerie Solanas, the real-life mentally disturbed Andy Warhol uber-fan who attempted to eliminate the famous pop artist.

It was really a coup of casting.

Dunham had it in her to frenetically play a violent lunatic. There’s only so much space between laughing like crazy and laughably crazy, after all. All the angst and madness of the character landed squarely on the screen, mentally scarring many a viewer.

11 Hurt: Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka

We don’t want to take away from the pairing of Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears as the spirits of the departed gay couple on American Horror Story season one. Both were pretty good at it, but here’s a tale of what could have been: real-life couple Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka were the first in line for the role.

Harris’ geek credit needs little introduction. Between his classic Starship Troopers role and his hilarious Harold and Kumar romps, genre fans can only drool dreaming what he and his hubby would have brought to AHS. Full disclosure: it was Harris who turned down the role, so we can’t blame Ryan Murphy for this one!

10 Saved: Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie

After the conclusion of American Horror Story’s second powerhouse season, Asylum, it was fair for fans to wonder what the next level up would be for the series. The answer came in the brilliant bit of casting Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie in Coven.

Chillingly portraying the real-life notoriously villains 19th century madame, Bates gleefully returned to her horror roots.

She had previously won an Academy Award for her iconic role in Misery. By literally getting her hands very dirty, Bates fearlessly jumped into the AHS mythos, making it even cooler and scarier than ever. She won an Emmy for her efforts.

9 Hurt: André Holland as Matt Miller

Here’s another actor we really don’t want to stomp on, but once again, it may be the season to blame for the performance. In American Horror Story: Roanoke, the story-within-a-story angle grew thin quickly, and all the jarring plot twists in the world couldn't save it.

Holland plays the “real life” version of the character Matt Miller, relaying his version of macabre events. Unfortunately, the drab and convoluted season could not be buoyed by the very best of acting, much less Holland’s uninspired turn. To be fair, there wasn’t very much to care about in this particularly unanimated tale, so the Moonlight actor just simply may have not had enough to work with.

8 Saved: Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau

Angela Bassett as Marie LaVeau in American Horror Story Coven

Let’s talk about adding a touch of class to a show which already had a plethora of talent.

Angela Bassett isn’t just an outstanding actress-- she exudes a type of charisma captivates people long before her natural beauty.

Rather than get lost in the embarrassment of acting wealth that American Horror Story: Coven had going for it – Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Bassett – the role of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau fit right in. It was this trifecta that proved that AHS had the chops to manage loads of A-listers filling the screen at once. Bassett is sorely missed. Yes, we loved you in Black Panther and Mission: Impossible – Fallout, please come back to AHS!

7 Hurt: Wes Bentley as Det. John Lowe

Wes Bentley in American Horror Story

Here’s another unfortunate reminder of just how uneven and lifeless American Horror Story: Hotel truly was. Wes Bentley, whom fans loved in films like The Hunger Games and Interstellar, was thrown into a role which was simply tough to care about.

Detective John Lowe has a compelling story – a cop on the trail of a serial criminal whose son is abducted during the investigations. And yet, it’s really hard to care too much about him. Is it his convoluted character arc? Is it the ambiguous moral position he evolves into? It really doesn’t matter, as this is an unengaging performance from an actor we’ve seen much better from. It was a real step back from his turn as Edward Mordrake in Freaks.

6 Saved: Jamie Brewer as Nan

One of the really cool things about Ryan Murphy is the bold chances he takes in his casting decisions. Sometimes his choices are a home run, and sometimes they strike out, but casting Jamie Brewer, an actress with Down syndrome, was a brilliant call.

The stage actress made her TV debut in season one, but in Coven she filled the role of a powerful witch, which she played beautifully.

This wasn’t only an inspired and successful casting decision, but the type of sharp and courageous action which truly distinguishes American Horror Story amidst genre television and "peak TV" alike.

5 Saved: Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott

Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott in American Horror Story

Before Finn Wittrock danced into our hearts in La La Land, he creeped us the hell out as Dandy in American Horror Story: Freak Show. The deeply disturbed spoiled rich kid character fluctuated between the golden trappings of high society and some absolutely nasty acts of evil.

Wittrock’s acting was almost Joker-worthy once he got the Twisty the Clown outfit going!

Also, Dandy’s final fate is one of the more unforgettable exits in the series – and for a show that explores just about every terrible nightmare you can have, that’s saying something. It’s an almost comic role that could have easily been unconvincing and laughable, but Wittrock walked that fine line and delivered a truly brain-scarring performance!

4 Hurt: Matt Bomer as Andy

If there's one particularly difficult role in American Horror Story: Freak Show, the role of Andy, the man-of-the-evening whom Michael Chiklis’ character Dell falls for, comes to mind. After all, there is a fine line between a seedy bar stereotype and a well fleshed-out human being.

While Andy was meant to explore Dell’s orientation, he comes across as a hackneyed version of a young gent working in a house of ill repute. In the end, he becomes nothing more than fodder for the Twisty the Clown’s horrific penchants, even if it was really Dandy Mott’s doing. It’s a shame, but Matt Bomer has plenty of other accolades, even if this role wasn’t the best for AHS.

3 Saved: Lily Rabe as Aileen Wuornos

Lily Rabe is another American Horror Story company player to be reckoned with. Having appeared in ever season except for Cult, she truly conjured up a defining performance in Coven.

It was her turn as the infamous real-life lethal lady Aileen Wuornos that made the biggest impact.

Hotel was one of the least compelling seasons in the series, and yet Rabe’s performance as the notorious Wuornos was nothing short of stellar. Those fans who could be forgiven for zoning out in many of the episodes can be equally shamed for not snapping to attention when this spirited outing hit the screen. Thanks for making our dull stay at Hotel a little more amenable!

2 Hurt: Dylan McDermott as Dr. Ben Harmon

In the early days of American Horror Story, there seemed to be no limit to what could happen on the show. Playing one of the leads as Dr. Ben Harmon was the very stiff Dylan McDermott. While he was perfect in his years on The Practice, his matter-of-fact demeanor didn’t fit in well with a series which would soon be more well-known for histrionics than for understated performances.

He proved to be a better fit as Bloodyface and Lana's son Johnny Morgan in Asylum, though he will be reprising Harmon to some degree in Apocalypse. Hopefully he can take his Asylum training and put it to good use.

1 Saved: Jessica Lange as Constance Langdon

As mentioned earlier, there is likely no single actor whose casting on American Horror Story could be more assuredly called an unsurpassed success story. Jessica Lange is an iconic actress with multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards-- some of which she won for her roles in American Horror Story. Her very first turn as Constance Langdon was the single uncontested performance of that first season.

Lange instantly became the face of American Horror Story. 

Her subsequent roles as the cruel nurse in Asylum, the ambitious witch in Coven, and the ringleader in Freak Show were the standouts of their respective season. Fans are celebrating her return in Apocalypse.


Who's your favorite actor in American Horror Story? Let us know in the comments!

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