Is there any TV series with a higher volume of disturbing images than “American Horror Story”? Probably not. The anthology series’ latest chapter, “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” may have outdone its predecessors in this arena.
Most of the season’s terrifying moments were supplied by Finn Wittrock (“Unbroken,” “The Normal Heart”) as the murderous man-child Dandy Mott. Wittrock spoke to Variety about the joys of getting acquainted with stage blood, working with Jessica Lange and his hopes for Emmy season. Oh, and he wants you to know that he’s much nicer than the unhinged guy he plays on TV.
What was the best part of playing Dandy?
The clothes. I just got to wear really nice Brooks Brothers suits and really go for it. That was fun. The best thing about the show is getting to work with the best people, and really going to dark depths with them. Frannie (Conroy) and I really got to invent and discover this bizarre, twisted relationship together. We have the same alma mater, the old Juilliard, so we kind of spoke the same language. Well, she speaks her own language, but I understood.
And getting to work with Sarah (Paulson), too, was a pretty special thing. Working with both of her heads was a pretty special experience, seeing her be able to transform scene to scene. It was really technically difficult, and it took three times longer to film her stuff than a normal scene, with lots of special effects, lots of very technical things. You had to be in a very specific place, and your eyes had to be in a very specific place, so trying to stay inspired and stay loose and free with all those restrictions is a big challenge. It was cool to do it with her and watch her be a total pro about it.
Were you ever jealous of the cool prosthetics the “freak” characters got to wear? Did you ever wish you had a third arm?
Honestly, no. I was much happier to sleep in for those two hours that it would have taken in the morning. Poor Jimmy (Evan Peters). Those prosthetic hands would take two hours every morning. I would much rather show up and get my hair perfect and wear a nice suit.
And then get blood all over you, right?
Yeah, I did have a lot of blood. I learned a lot about stage blood and all the different kinds of it. The stuff that they want to make look like it’s old, caked-on blood is really hard to get off. It was definitely a learning experience.
Are you a squeamish person? Or were you before working on this show?
I hope not. No, I’ve always loved horror movies. I love that darkness. I love horror. I don’t like gratuitous stuff, but I’m pretty willing to go into crazyland. I think it’s fun. Having to do something else on TV, like a procedural, sitting in an office all day — at least I get to come home from my job and be like, “Guess what I did today, honey? I bathed in my mother’s blood. I chased Emma Roberts through the woods in a clown outfit. Just a normal day at the office.”
Is there anything that stands out to you as the most surreal moment from set?
It kind of happens every day. There was a moment way at the end of the shoot when I was being lowered into a glass tank in my tighty-whities, and they had to get a rigging apparatus under my underwear that made me look like I was floating in water. They didn’t want to put me in the actual tank with water, because there was an issue with the tank, like it might explode. So we did this special effect where I was floating there and they made my hair look like it was sticking up, waving in the water. So I’m being elevated from this thing coming from the top of the stage, going under my little underwear, pretending to act like I’m dead and drowned. And I thought, “This is not the sort of thing I thought I’d be doing when I auditioned for drama school.” But, like I say, that was like a Tuesday.
What kind of reactions do you get from fans?
People are always like, “Gosh, you seem so nice,” in a very surprised tone. I don’t actually massacre animals in my backyard. I am acting. I know! It’s weird!
You don’t know how people are going to react. You know there’s going to be a shock value on the show, but you don’t always know if it’s going to be positive or negative. The fact that it was positive, from what I’ve seen, was a very nice surprise. Once I knew that people were into it, it gave me a little bit of confidence to keep going. Like, “How far can I push it?”
Were you ever disturbed that people found your psychotic character to be so alluring?
I felt bad for Michael Chiklis (who played Dell), because he didn’t kill a lot of people, but he killed Ma Petite, and I feel like no one forgave him for that. The outrage was so big because she was so cute. I feel a little guilty, because I killed, like, 25 people and no one seems to be mad at me. What’s wrong with this picture? He kills one cute girl and it’s done. He cannot be forgiven.
Do you have any fond memories of working with Jessica Lange in her last season on the show?
Yeah. I didn’t get to do a whole lot with her. We were kind of in separate universes. The little scene we had in the last episode I think was the last scene she did at all. So it was a very special thing. She was there, and the whole crew was there and said goodbye to her. It was very bittersweet. She’s such a classic. She’s a real pro. I think she was excited but also sad to say goodbye. It was epic.
What went through your head when you heard Lady Gaga would be on “American Horror Story: Hotel”?
I was like, “Perfect!” Ryan (Murphy) always has a way of outdoing himself. It’s hard to keep surprising people when each season is so surprising. He very wisely makes a big awesome casting choice to get people intrigued. This was the epitome of that.
The thing about her, with her great theatricality and the gratuity of her own image, it actually makes a lot of sense for her to be on this show. The show is heightened and gothic and that’s sort of what she is. It’s a good omen for the way the season will turn out.
What are you anticipating for Emmy season?
I have no expectations….I’m biased and I work with her a lot, but I really think Sarah deserves a lot. The work that she put in, I don’t think everyone quite realizes how hard that is, to do what she did.
What’s up next for you in the Ryan Murphy universe?
I can’t say for certain, because it’s still up in the air. But I will definitely be doing something on one of his shows very soon. That’s really all I know.