The Untold Truth Of Lily Rabe

Lily Rabe studied acting at Northwestern University, made her name on the stage in plays by Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw, and picked up a Tony Award nomination for her role as Shakespeare's greatest heroine, Portia, in "The Merchant of Venice." But she's now best known for scaring the living daylights out of viewers, or having the living daylights scared out of her, in Ryan Murphy's ever-expanding anthology series "American Horror Story."

But despite consistently rivaling fellow regular Sarah Paulson as the show's MVP — standout performances include possessed nun Sister Mary Eunice in "Asylum" and free-spirited hippie Misty Day in "Coven" — not much is known about the actor herself.

Indeed, although she's not averse to the odd high-profile interview, she very much prefers to let her considerable talents do most of the talking. From her famous parents to fashion interests to fitness routines, here's a look at Lily Rabe's untold truth.

Lily Rabe comes from a showbiz family

Lily Rabe was perhaps always destined for a career in Hollywood. After all, her mom, Jill Clayburgh, was a celebrated actor who landed consecutive Oscar nods for her turns in "An Unmarried Woman" and "Starting Over." Her father, David Rabe, is an esteemed playwright and screenwriter whose works include box office hits "Casualties of War" and "The Firm." And her younger brother, Michael Rabe, has made a name for himself with roles in "Homeland" and "Big Dogs."

The "American Horror Story" regular never tried to hide the fact that she hailed from a showbiz family. She earned her first screen credit with a minor role in "Never Again," the 2001 comedy in which her mother played the leading lady. 

Nearly a decade later, and shortly after Jill died from leukemia, Lily told that she felt blessed for these family affairs: "I'm so grateful that we did those plays together. It's sort of scary to work with your parents when you're in the same business. But there was something so very safe about that. Acting with her was just like working with a wonderful actress who just happens to be my best friend and also my mother.”

She danced into an acting career

With her tendency to choose hard-hitting roles, Lily Rabe hasn't been given many opportunities on screen to prove she can bust a move. But you could say that the star literally pirouetted into the world of acting.

It all started when, as the "Miss Stevens" star recounted to TDF, an acting instructor at the summer arts program where she taught ballet "gave me this pile of monologues." This sparked something of an epiphany. "It was that moment, performing that monologue, that made me think, 'Maybe this is what I wanna do,'" she told the outlet.

Rabe had previously spent ten years studying dance, with ballet being her particular forte. The Tony Award nominee told Harper's Bazaar in 2021 that her parents were always hugely supportive of her first love, often taking her to ballet productions in Manhattan as a youngster: "If anything, they were pushing me against doing what they did, not funneling me into the family business. That was not the way they felt about it. But certainly, I grew up watching two people loving what they were doing. That gets in there in a cellular way."

Breezy roles don't appeal to Lily Rabe

Real-life Republican Liz Cheney in "Vice." A mass murderer's ex-girlfriend in "Tell Me Your Secrets." A whole host of troubled and troublesome women in "American Horror Story." As you can probably tell by the roles she's assumed during her career, Lily Rabe isn't particularly interested in taking things easy.

Speaking to Elle in 2021, Rabe revealed why you're unlikely to find her starring in a Hallmark Channel romance anytime soon: "Listen, I love to relax, take a vacation, lay on the beach, read a book, and have a day of doing nothing. That's an actual dream to me, but that's not something I tend to look for in my work."

The actor also explained that the pedigree of the behind-the-scenes team is just as important to her as the script when choosing a new project. And there has to be an element of surprise, too: "If I know going in, 'Oh, this is very clear to me exactly what this experience is going to be, I know exactly what to expect,' that's probably something that's less and less interesting to me." Rabe's commitment to the bats*** insanity of "AHS" suddenly makes a lot more sense.

What caused Lily Rabe's Hunger Games exit?

Lily Rabe was all set to take on the most high-profile gig of her career when she landed the role of Commander Lyme in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2." But if you've seen the dystopian drama you'll know that "Game of Thrones" favorite Gwendoline Christie played the rebel leader instead. So was there some major behind-the-scenes drama that prompted this sudden casting change?

Well, not really. Six years later, Rabe explained to Collider that it was a simple scheduling conflict which forced her to pull out of the young adult franchise. The actor had planned to star alongside her husband Hamish Linklater in a production of "Much Ado About Nothing" once filming had rolled. However, when "The Hunger Games" shoot got delayed, the two projects ended up clashing and Rabe was forced to choose between them.

The Tony Award nominee explained that the decision was a no-brainer: "It wasn't even really a battle. It was just, 'Oh, this no longer works out and I have made this commitment to do "Much Ado."' And "The Hunger Games" side ... they were all completely aware of it and they so understood my choice and were so supportive. So there was really no drama." Indeed, Rabe still expresses regret that she never got the chance to show up in the post-apocalyptic world of Panem.

Lily Rabe scares easily

Even if you take away the nine (yes, nine) installments of "American Horror Story" that she's appeared in, Lily Rabe's filmography still has its fair share of the monstrous and the macabre. There's the supernatural horror "The Veil," Sasquatch tale "Letters from the Big Man" and creepy-kids mystery series "The Whispers." So you might be surprised to learn that the actor is fairly jumpy.

In a 2021 interview with Elle, Rabe freely admitted that she was afraid of, well, pretty much everything: "Gosh, I'm up all night. I can't sleep because of all the things I'm worrying about and scared of." Perhaps that's why Rabe is so convincing in Ryan Murphy's franchise, which she described as having a love-hate relationship with, whenever she's required to be the scream queen.

The New Yorker certainly appears to subscribe to that theory, claiming that her many fears ultimately help to inspire her artistry: "You have to fall in love with that part of it or walk alongside of it or integrate it in some way, because it is so constant and part of why we're doing it. You don't go in the direction of what feels comfortable. You go towards the thing that feels scary."

Social media isn't her thing

Lily Rabe is only following one other user on Instagram — fellow actor, husband and father of her kids Hamish Linklater. Now that may be a deliberate curatorial choice. On the other hand, maybe the star simply hasn't figured out how to follow anyone else.

In a 2021 chat with Schön, Rabe admitted that her social media skills leave a little to be desired: "I'm limited in that department — it took me a while to even figure out how to get to the comments or the direct messages or whatever. My stepdaughter still helps me."

The Northwestern University graduate might not be completely au fait with likes, shares, and retweets. But she still appreciates how they help to connect viewers with her work, particularly when it comes to speculation about upcoming plots. Referring to her stint in HBO's twisty crime thriller "The Undoing," Rabe said, "I was already so blown away by the series, and I loved that I got to watch the show unfold on social media platforms as people watched it. I had a lot of people screenshotting things and sending me links to all of these theories, and then I was apologized to by a lot of social media when we found out who was guilty."

Lily Rabe has nothing but love for Ryan Murphy

Ever since showing up as ghost Nora Montgomery in "Murder House," Lily Rabe has been a fixture of the "American Horror Story" anthology. The actor has appeared in all but one of the FX hit's ten seasons — she was notable by her absence in 2017's "Cult." So it's little surprise to learn she has nothing but love for its prolific creator.

Speaking to Forbes in 2021 ahead of her ninth stint in the interconnecting horror universe, Rabe couldn't stop gushing about Ryan Murphy, describing him as "one of the greatest people to work for." She added, "There's a reason that those who work for him continue to work for him. ... I think the fact we get to have so many of the same people returning this season, there is this feeling of coming home. You get to tell a new story, play a new part, but the backbone of the thing is solid. It is wonderful getting into the sandbox again and have Ryan at the helm."

Rabe first teamed up with Murphy several years before she became a scream queen. In 2008, the star landed a guest spot in his plastic surgery drama "Nip/Tuck." And in a sign of things to come, her character Lanie Ainge had a rather ghoulish narrative arc: She became a cannibal while trapped in a crashed vehicle for ten days alongside her newlywed husband, and the latter even helped her to cook his flesh!

Lily Rabe is an introvert

Lily Rabe might have an Instagram account — albeit one largely handled by her stepdaughter. But unlike many of her fellow "American Horror Story" regulars, she prefers to stay out of the limelight when not working.

Indeed, the former dance prodigy appears to have taken cues from her famous parents — David Rabe and Jill Clayburgh — both of whom let their creative output do the talking. In 2021, she told IndieWire, "I love being alone. Staying home for a long period of time [for me] is not [difficult]. My work has always been my way to be social. With everything I do, whether it's theater, or film, or television, playing a role is a wonderful way for me to feel less private. That's what I want to share, the roles that I'm playing, rather than myself."

The "Love and Death" star also believes that it's much easier for audiences to invest in a character if they know as little as possible about the actor playing them. She added, "We project our hopes and our desires on to what we're watching on the screen. The less context I have for that person — I always personally enjoy that."

Motherhood has changed Lily Rabe's mindset

In September 2021, Page Six confirmed Lily Rabe and husband Hamish Linklater were set to become parents for a third time, having previously welcomed two daughters into the world. Just a few months earlier, "The Underground Railroad" star had told Romper that motherhood has had a positive knock-on effect in her career: She's no longer so wishy-washy when it comes to making moves.

Rabe, who's also a stepmother to Linklater's daughter from his previous marriage to playwright Jessica Goldberg, said in Romper, "I've never been the greatest or most critical decision-maker. And I feel like with my work, something that changed just instantly was the clarity with which I made choices. And I think it became easier to say no to things and it also became easier to say yes to things that I knew I wanted to do."

Rabe, who's said yes to films like "Finding Steve McQueen," "Sgt. Will Gardner" and "The Tender Bar" since becoming a mom, believes her mindset is much sharper now that she has a million and one other things to tend to as well: "And you do just like, have less time. So that helps, too, in terms of clarifying decisions and where you're going to put your time. But I also just felt clear about what I wanted and who I wanted to spend my time with. And I'm so grateful for that."

Lily Rabe is into fashion

For many actors, having to conduct all promotional activities during the pandemic on Zoom was something of a godsend. Not only could they answer every generic question about their latest project from the comfort of their own home, they could also throw on their favorite pair of sweatpants while doing so.

But as a keen follower of fashion, Lily Rabe still prepared for all the buffering, sudden disconnects and grainy video quality in the way she would a red carpet premiere. "The First Lady" star explained to Vogue, "I scrapped the idea of thinking about [virtual press] as limiting, or that it's only waist-up, and just chose pieces I would wear if I were doing press in person. Fashion lights me up and is such an integral part of doing press — why short shrift any of it just because we are in front of screens for the time being?"

Rabe even roped in Jessica Paster, her regular stylist, to help pull looks from the likes of Maison Mayle, The Vampire's Wife and Khaite. And their efforts sure were appreciated. "The end result was one of the fiercest press tour wardrobes of 2020, proving a digital experience can still be entirely fabulous," the same style bible gushed about her commitment to fashion.

Lily Rabe is happy to mix business with pleasure

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater first got together after playing husband and wife in drama "Redemption Trail." And the pair have continued to spend almost as much time together on screen as they have away from it ever since.

In 2017, the same year they became parents together for the first time, Rabe and Linklater starred as Helena and Lysander, respectively, in an adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In 2018, Rabe guested on an episode of "Legion," the superhero drama in which Linklater played interrogator Clark Debussy. And then in 2021, the pair took a darker turn in "Tell Me Your Secrets," with Rabe starring as a serial killer's ex-girlfriend and Linklater a convicted rapist.

Interestingly, producer Bruna Papandrea cast Linklater in the latter role without knowing that he was attached to the show's leading lady in real life. Just as interestingly, Linklater worked with Rabe's mother long before they became an item — he and Jill Clayburgh starred in the off-Broadway production of Keith Bunin's "The Busy World Is Hushed" in 2006. And as she told Du Jour, it's on the stage where Rabe enjoys mixing business with pleasure most: "I love working with him in the theater. And he is my favorite scene partner." Aww.

How she achieved Tyler Durdendom

When French director Houda Benyamina revealed that she wanted the character of Emma in "Tell Me Your Secrets" to be ripped, as Lily Rabe said in Shape, "like Brad Pitt in 'Fight Club,'" the actor understandably went into a bit of a panic. But only for a second. Proving how committed she is to her craft, Rabe then declared she'd "work out every single day" until shooting began.

Rabe subsequently began training with celebrity fitness guru Johnny Fontana and in the space of just six months developed the kind of physique that Tyler Durden would be proud of. "She looked like somebody who could beat you up," Fontana told Shape in a piece about her torturous-sounding routines, a no-nonsense regimen that included things like deadlifts and battle ropes.

It doesn't sound like much fun, but Rabe insists that she found the process of getting ripped enjoyable, telling the same site, "I had such newfound respect for my body and what it was capable of doing." And "The Wizard of Lies" actor has continued to persevere with all the grueling exercises since the Amazon drama wrapped, although she's finding it a little tougher without Fontana offering motivation: "I haven't quite mastered the workout from home thing, but I'm trying. I'm such a loner by nature, but I'm used to that gym energy, that's what I thrive on."

Lily Rabe the superhero?

Lily Rabe has occasionally flirted with the superhero genre. She guested as Syd's mother Joan in an episode of Marvel Comics' dramedy "Legion" and also provided the voice of Honerva in Netflix anime "Voltron: Legendary Defender." But could we see the actor more renowned for her serious roles really cutting loose and donning a familiar Lycra suit on screen someday? Well, if her oldest daughter has anything to do with it, then yes.

In a 2021 interview with IndieWire, Rabe recalled a conversation she had with her then-four-year-old about "Wonder Woman" in which she was asked, "Mom, why aren't you doing that?" The "American Horror Story" fixture admitted that she didn't have a valid answer at the time and that having thought about it, she's now open to the world of brooding origins stories, ridiculously interconnected universes, and interminably long CGI climactic battles that are presented as world saving but still end up destroying entire cities.

And starring in something that her children might actually be able to watch isn't the only reason Rabe seems keen on the idea of joining a superhero project. As she told Shape, a Marvel or DC Comics blockbuster would also allow her to get ripped again as she did for the slightly less fantastical Amazon drama "Tell Me Your Secrets."

Yes, Lily Rabe really loves Stevie Nicks

One of Lily Rabe's most memorable "American Horror Story" characters is Misty Day, the swamp-dwelling witch in third season "Coven" who has an obsession with Stevie Nicks. And it turns out that the actor herself has a similar love of the Fleetwood Mac veteran.

When asked about the prospect of ever meeting her musical hero by Entertainment Weekly in 2013, Rabe admitted, "I actually think I might die on the spot. I know Ryan [Murphy] has been in touch with her and there are emails going around. I think I actually might just black out and die. I don't get that crazy about a lot of people. I'm usually pretty cool, calm, and collected. But I don't know if I could behave properly. I love her so much. She's just a beautiful creature."

Rabe did end up coming face to face with Nicks when the "Edge of Seventeen" singer wandered into Miss Robichaux's Academy for a sing-song as the incredibly convoluted storyline wrapped up. Luckily, the "AHS" veteran didn't perish on the spot during filming, although Nicks told the same site a year later that there was still a lot of fangirling going on: "She did faint about 700 times when we were doing that one scene! I was afraid she was going to have to go to the hospital. She's really a lovely girl, and she does love my music. Every time I'd play a specific song, she would start to cry." Watch out for the landslide of tears.