In American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, Adina Porter's character, Lee Harris, was literally eaten for breakfast. Now, as the hit anthology's seventh season, Cult, takes off, fans can look forward to a very different kind of character from Beverly Hope — one whose body parts will remain intact as her ruthless ambition drives her forward.
"Lee Harris was a disgraced police officer hooked on prescription pills and not handling it well. Beverly is a career woman," Porter tells Zimbio on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 19. "She puts all her eggs in her career basket. She's grappling with climbing the career ladder and ageism and sexism. What Beverly has to do to rise ahead is the main difference between the two."
Beverly Hope is a journalist covering the events that go down in the lives of partners Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Allison Pill) as Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) plays puppeteer. Not shockingly, though, Beverly is far from neutral in the story.
"I don't think Beverly Hope is gonna win any Nobel Peace Prizes," Porter teases, "but she's making choices day by day and hour by hour, and she's got a reason for them all. Nobody's completely good on American Horror Story."
Cult's premiere was cable TV's second most-watched program of 2017. Still, Porter — who made a one-episode appearance in Murder House, emerged as a season regular in My Roanoke Nightmare, and will come full force in Cult — is mindful of the hesitance viewers might feel toward a political show in a 2017 climate.
"Cult is not liberal. It's not one-sided in that way," she shares. "There are folks on both sides that get bloody and scary. What I really like about AHS, what's the most horrifying, is not the gruesome stuff that happens, but the mind games. If you're interested in watching a chess match to see how someone's gonna get on top and get what they want minute-by-minute, that intrigue is what's exciting about this year."
Even two episodes into Cult's 11-episode season, themes of coulrophobia (clown fear), trypophobia (fear of clusters of holes), agoraphobia (fear of leaving the home), and cleithrophobia (fear of being trapped) have already trumped any sense of political agenda.
"This is not CNN, this is not Fox," Porter continues. "These are political times and so many things are happening right now, but it's not about Trump and Hillary. It's about the head games. I might not run into a savage pig man in the woods, but I'm someone that'll constantly try to get you by figuring out what your vulnerabilities are. In Cult, people play a sword fight with the ammunition of people's vulnerabilities. It's a head trip."
Also, she says, more skin.
"There's more sex," she laughs. "Tune in for that."
Roanoke may have been one of the series' most gory seasons, but Porter says Cult is more an attack on the mind and the psyche.
"It's a different kind of torment," she says. "I'm having the most fun with Beverly Hope as I've had with any character in my life. She goes through some twists and turns, but it's more of the head games. My thighs stay intact and my ears stay on, but other parts of me get stewed."
Lee and Beverly, though formidable roles, are only two examples of the strong women Porter plays on television. Fans will also recognize her as True Blood's Lettie Mae Thornton, The 100's Indra, and Ray Donovan's Vicky. But Porter, a single mom of two, finds these characters more a solace than a challenge.
"I'm a widow. I'm raising two kids on my own, making a living in this business with 95 percent unemployment," she levels. "I never got jobs because of my cute looks. In one way, the roles I play on TV are easier than the roles I play in life. My husband dropping dead was something I did not plan for. I'm just incredibly grateful that I've been given opportunities to find strength through my roles. One of the reasons I love playing Indra is she gave me permission to be badass. When everything went down, I could have gone the victim role. 'Oh, poor me.' I could have retreated and had family members take care of me. Luckily, I live in 2017 in a culture where it's okay to be a single mom. My own life starts to bleed into playing Indra."
And then there are the fun parts. Porter reunited with former True Blood co-stars Alexander Skarsgård and Rutina Wesley at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, a meet-up she describes as magnificent.
"When men are that beautiful, you think they're also gonna be mean, but he's such a sweetheart," she says of Skarsgård, who went home with his first Emmy for Big Little Lies. "He always has been. We did an episode of True Blood, Lafayette's character was on vampire blood and he was hallucinating. He couldn't tell if it was me holding a gun on him, his auntie, or Eric Northman, Alexander's character, so Alex and I had to wear the same dress, and boyfriend looked better in it than I did."
Porter speaks of her time on the HBO mega-hit fondly.
"When you're lucky enough to have a job for seven years, on a hit show on HBO, during the writer's strike and the recession... we were just so incredibly grateful and excited to have work. People didn't take that for granted. It's always wonderful to be working other projects, but when you spend a lot of time with people, it's fantastic when you see each other again. You just get back so quickly to, 'Oh yeah, I know you!' because of all the time you spent together. You've got to enjoy the hugs when you can."
American Horror Story: Cult returns Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. ET on FX.