SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on unless you’ve season episode eight of “American Horror Story: Hotel,” titled “The Ten Commandments Killer.”
This week’s “American Horror Story: Hotel” answered one of the season’s biggest questions: Just who is the Ten Commandments Killer, the one who has been committing gruesome murders across Los Angeles to “punish” the victims for their sins?
As it turns out, the killer is the very cop who has been obsessed with him all this time: John Lowe, played by Wes Bentley. John was consumed by his desire to bring the serial killer to justice, but when Sally reveals to John that it was him all along and he had simply been suppressing the horrible acts, a switch clearly flips in him, setting the stage to continue to push John down his rapid downward spiral.
Before the episode, aptly titled “The Ten Commandments Killer,” aired, Bentley spoke to Variety about how he found out that he was playing the murderer, what it’s like on set during those dark scenes and what path John could take next.
John is obviously such a dark character, and that reached a peak in tonight’s episode. Is that grueling for you to play?
Yeah, it was tough. Not only the material, which is obviously very heavy and dramatic and confusing. It’s very confusing to play, because we jumped around a lot and also the state of where John’s head was in all of it, but also we did long hours and I was on every day. And at the same time, we had some just crazy stuff happening in my own life.
When did you find out that John’s the killer? Did you always know?
Yeah. The first time I sat down with [show creator Ryan Murphy], obviously he described the season, the idea of the hotel and who John was. We talked about the family stuff. And then when we saw the first two scripts and we were preparing to shoot, I asked him a bunch of questions. He immediately answered me and said, “Stop for a day.” So I wondered what was up. And then he called me the next day and said, “Look, I don’t want anybody to know – nobody can know this – but you’re the guy. And I don’t want you to play it, but I want you to sort of let it be in your subconscious and when we shoot the first episode, we’ll pick moments where we can do stuff.”
When you say “nobody can know,” does that include the rest of the cast? Did they know?
Was that hard?
Yes and no, because I’m great at keeping secrets… I hardly ever thought about it, trying to approach every day as John would, which is not knowing. Moments would come to me and whatnot, but I’m gauging how much we’re giving away or if I’m giving anything away by whether the crew was figuring anything out or not. A couple people guessed it once, but then they brushed it off, moved on to something else. But it was fun to watch that happening.
Were they surprised?
Yeah, they were shocked. They were shocked on the crew. I don’t think there was one person who told me that they guessed it, except for Richard [T. Jones], who plays Hahn. That was pretty good. But I realized all he saw was me talking about this killer, so maybe — hopefully — that was it. But I think in the end, I can’t speak for the writers, but I don’t think it was ever intended to fully be a super surprising reveal. I think there always was sort of a slow sort of terrible feeling, that, “Oh god, it could be John.” Kind of like “The Shining,” like it does where you know Jack Nicholson’s character is falling apart and you’re sort of terrified of seeing it happen. I think that was closer to the idea of what we were doing, rather than, a “Usual Suspects”-type of ending.
March made a comment about this killer being who John really is. Do you think it would have been if March hadn’t pushed him in that direction?
He has a bit of vigilantism in him and his good intentions can lead him astray. The fact that he wanted so firmly real justice, what a lot of people call real justice, like the “eye for an eye” thing, I think it was such a big part of him and then what had happened to him, losing his son, other things that may have happened to him, he kind of justified this instinctive violent reaction that I think he had. So I think it was there and I think March tipped it in that way, yeah. It’s hard to say whether or not he would’ve gone down that exact path he went, good and bad, but March was able to do that and it wasn’t too hard when John was at the point where he was at. So it must be that it’s a strong part of John.
After all this, do you think there’s any shred of good left in John?
I mean, it’s complicated, which is what I was really hoping for. He’s a complicated person, as we all are… He’s obviously not a good person. He does bad things, but the complicated part now is to see, we know there’s a good part of him, the part with a loving family and the part that wants justice and wants to protect. That’s kind of an interesting thing to explore now.
I’m curious as to where Alex stands. Could she have had any suspicion that something this dark was happening?
I don’t know to what level she might have – you know, we’re discovering about her and her own sort of dark side and what she would do, or what she’s already done or tried to do to John to keep her son and not let him be there. In my opinion, those were some dark scenes as well. It’s not murdering somebody, but it’s furthering the pain of losing a child, which is one part of the big metaphor of some of the issues touched. We’ve got a long way to go now, it’s only [episode] eight, so it could be part of where we go in the season.
Some of the best parts of the episode were the scenes with you and Evan Peters, where March was sort of egging John on. What were those like to shoot?
It was so much fun. He is an absolute blast to shoot with and March is a fun character and we’ve been awesome since the moment I met him. We like to mess with each other and laugh about stuff. The stuff we were doing was so dark and so direct sometimes that it was fun to, even in that darkness, make each other laugh, see how far we can go and just have fun with it, because he’s a great guy to have fun with. I love Evan. I think he’s amazing on the show, especially this season. He’s blowing me away and but even moreso, he’s a great guy who’s a lot of fun to shoot with.
So it’s pretty light, on the set?
Sometimes it kind of takes you over, and you just sort of end up in this dark place, but even when that happens, I can joke around with somebody, if not the other actor — if they want to stay in it or whatnot — I don’t break that line, but if I can go off with someone else and crack a joke or breathe for a second, then I do. It’s important for me that I do that because otherwise, you can just sink in it. That’s not necessarily good for what you’re doing, and definitely not good for yourself.
I know you can’t tell me much, but what’s next for John?
I’m glad that you’re asking that, because it means you’re really interested now. It means that it’s done its job, because there’s so many places to go now. We do have so far to go and there’s a lot of interesting elements brought up by this and they left themselves a lot of room to do stuff. And what we have done is, I think, incredibly interesting and fun.
I’m interested to see how everyone reacts, because you started out as the one sane character. And now…
Nobody’s left. [laughs] It wouldn’t be “American Horror Story” if anybody was left.