If there was one word we could use to describe Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's smash hit horror anthology American Horror Story, it might be something along the lines of "disturbing" or "visceral" — "polarizing," even. But "rejuvenating"? That's a new one.
Queen of screams Kathy Bates has been a key standing member of the American Horror Story franchise for the past three seasons, even winning an Emmy for her performance in Season 3, Coven.
She recently spoke in a candid interview with CBS regarding both her time on American Horror Story and her long-running battle against cancer; for her, the show was rejuvenating.
It's not exactly a secret that Bates has had a rough time over the past decade. Winning the battle against ovarian cancer in 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and underwent a double mastectomy the same year.
In 2014 she publicly revealed that the aforementioned mastectomy and the removal of 22 lymph nodes had caused the painful chronic condition lymphedema — fluid retention and swelling — in both of her arms. This is a condition she still struggles with daily, as she wore a medical compression sleeve on her left arm during the interview.
But ill health hasn't slowed her down. She's been directing since the 1990s in addition to appearing in a multitude of shows, including her starring role in David E. Kelley's Harry's Law, and the past three seasons of American Horror Story.
But — after surviving both ovarian and breast cancer — when lymphedema first started to afflict Bates, it was more than understandable that the condition took quite a toll on the iconic actress. She told CBS:
"I went berserk, I went nuts. And for a long time after that, I was really, really angry. 'Cause I thought, 'Great. Now I gotta deal with this.'"
Shortly before Bates's mastectomy, Harry's Law was cancelled due to the fact that NBC felt the show's audience was "too old." This, coupled with the personal stresses of undergoing such a procedure, left her feeling more than a little depressed.
With her career and health at a low point, Bates told CBS that she felt too old — that everything was over. But in 2013, she began her Emmy award-winning role as the racist, sadistic, serial-killing socialite Delphine LaLaurie in American Horror Story: Coven, and there she found the confidence boost she needed.
"The work on [American Horror Story] has just rejuvenated my life, my energy, my outlook. I feel like I have something to look forward to."
It's hard to imagine someone with such an indomitable on-screen presence ever doubting herself; but with her big break not coming along until she portrayed Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Stephen King's Misery at the age of 42, she learned firsthand how unkind Hollywood can be to actresses once they hit middle age.
She recalls being told that she wasn't "conventionally attractive" enough to be an actress, that she was too maternal looking to make any kind of breakthrough in her younger years. Though this hurt her feelings, she won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her role in Misery, and cemented her place in popular culture forever.
Despite her struggles both privately and in her career, Bates isn't letting herself be put down anymore and, building upon her celebrity status, she is currently the spokeswoman for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network, raising awareness for the estimated 10 million people in the US who suffer from lymphedema.
"We encourage them to come out of the closet, so to speak, to share their stories, and hopefully find some comfort in realizing that they are not alone... I feel I have to do something about it. And if I can use my celebrity for something real, then that's what I want to do."
And despite the uphill struggle to get here, Bates isn't letting her illnesses slow her down, even managing to find levity in her mastectomy procedure. She recalls shooting a scene for American Horror Story that involved a shot taken from underneath her arm:
"They were saying: 'We're having a problem — there's this shape on the side.' And I looked at it and I said, 'That's my breast! I can take that out!' And they were like: 'Oh, no, we can't ....' I said: 'No, no, it's easy, it's fake, you know?' So I went off and I pulled that prosthetic out, and we got the shot! There's always a silver lining!"
For more information about the Lymphatic Education & Research Network, and how they work to help those suffering from the condition, you can check out their website here.
What's your favorite Kathy Bates role? Tell us in the comments below!