Set in 1964, the FX drama series American Horror Story: Asylum takes viewers into Briarcliff, a haven for the criminally insane, ruled with an iron fist by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a nun with a troubled past. Inside this locked down facility, danger lurks around every corner, whether it’s a doctor who loves to torture, flesh eating creatures in the forest, alien experimentation or the serial killer Bloody Face, and no one is safe.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Evan Peters, who plays accused serial killer Kit, talked about when he learned about the format of this very unique show, how getting the first four scripts before shooting started really helped him to establish his character, the biggest challenges of this season, working with co-stars Jessica Lange and James Cromwell, what attracts him to a role, and his desire to do some comedy. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
EVAN PETERS: Well, Ryan Murphy called me around Christmas time. I was back home in St. Louis and he called me and said, “Do you want to come back for next season?,” and I was like, “Yes!” He said, “Okay, cool. You’ll be playing a totally different character.” I was like, “Amazing!” He said, “It will be the hero this time. You won’t be the villain.” I said, “Fantastic! I’m in! That sounds like the best thing ever!” That’s pretty much all I knew until they sent us the first four scripts. Then, I learned more about Kit and his past and what he was going through.
Did it really help you to get those first four scripts ahead of time, so that you could get a sense of where things were headed?
PETERS: It did. Now, we’re getting the scripts a day or two before we start shooting, and leaves you to rely more on your instincts and not over-think anything, which is nice too. Getting the first four was nice, to do all the prep work, but actually shooting it, I find that I like it better when I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s something amazing about knowing that, with each episode, everything you thought your character stood for can be completely turned upside down, on its head. There’s something exciting about that. I liked that a lot about the first mini-series, as well. To be able to recreate that for this mini-series is awesome. There’s a certain feeling that comes with Halloween and being scared, and there’s an adrenaline that comes with that and not knowing what’s going to happen with your character, and that’s cool.
So much happens in each episode with this show. What has been the most challenging for you?
PETERS: The torture was most challenging for me, just because being strapped down freaks me out. If there’s going to be an earthquake or an asteroid, how am I going to get out of there? That was just scary for me. But, it’s all been amazing to do. I think the scariest thing for me would be to have to face the aliens again. That would be the ultimate scare. The writers, the producers, the directors and the actors have woven so much social context into the show this season. There’s religion versus science, and all that stuff that people can relate to, are confused by, are frustrated with and makes them angry. When you can relate to your main characters more than things start to affect you more, as a viewer. That’s been expertly done, by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They’ve done such an amazing job of that.
PETERS: It’s been amazing! You really learn from them, especially with Jessica and James. They’re really seasoned and so confident. They’re embedded in their technique and they just bring it. There’s a great bounce, back and forth, between the actors. You learn how subtlety can go so far. Jessica is not playing around. If she’s hitting your chest with her finger, you can be certain there will be a bruise there the next day. Usually, she’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry,” after that, but she’s not trying to hurt you. She just fights so hard for what her character wants. That’s what you aspire to, as an actor. You want to get what your character wants, and she does that. She’s affected emotionally, when she doesn’t get it or she feels threatened. It’s amazing to watch her work. And James is so thorough, in terms of continuity and getting everything right and thinking about things, but not over-thinking or coming off like a madman. He just seems very at ease, doing his thing.
What can you say to tease what’s to come for Kit?
PETERS: I don’t know. All I can say is that Kit begins to question his sanity. Whether or not the aliens are real becomes a serious question for him. He starts to wonder, if he really did it. But, first and foremost, he’s trying to escape. He knows, deep down, that he didn’t do it, so he’s trying to get out and get back to Alma. That’s what he’s been trying to do, since he got caught.
What’s it like to shoot the big group scenes in the common room at the asylum? Are they as chaotic as they seem, or are they more choreographed?
PETERS: Compliments to the casting because they’ve cast extras who, fortunately for the show, look completely insane, and they give them baby dolls and mess up their clothes and hair. So, you go there and you’re like, “Oh, my god, we’re really here. This is crazy!” You have to try to maintain your sanity inside that crazy asylum. At the same time, it’s a TV show, so they make sure that everything is smoothly running, at least as smoothly as it can run.
Was it challenging to set up the marriage between Kit and Alma (Britne Oldford), in just a couple of quick scenes before you’re ripped apart?
PETERS: Yes, I think it was. I thought it was important that you really believe that they’re in love and meant to be together, and that the forces of the world are conspiring against them. I think those scenes worked well. I hope that you root for Kit and Alma, him wanting to be back with her, and the tragedy of it all. Hopefully, we’ll get to see those two reunited someday. I think the audience is rooting for Kit and believes that he’s truly innocent, and that’s important for the show.
PETERS: I love working with Lily [Rabe]. I think she’s fantastic. I didn’t work with Sarah [Paulson] hardly at all, in the first season. She’s great to work with. I lover her! Everybody else, I pretty much got to work with. I didn’t get to work with Connie [Britton] much, but she’s not in this season.
Obviously, the way this show is set up, no matter what happens to your character this season, you could come back as an entirely different character next season. Would you be interested in returning?
PETERS: Yeah, but it depends on what the character is, really. It would have to be very different from the last two, in order to keep going with the same type of format for the show.
You’ve played a number of very layered and complex characters, throughout your career. Is there something that you look for in a project, or is it just instinctual for you?
PETERS: It’s really instinctual. It’s also survival, as well. If you get an audition and you’re out of work, you just say, “I’ve gotta go on this.” With American Horror Story, it was a stroke of luck that it was Ryan Murphy behind it and that he ended up liking my audition. I didn’t play for any of that. I just tried to do my best in the audition and hoped, and it ended up working out.
Do you have a dream role that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
PETERS: I would love to do comedy. A lot of people don’t know that I’m really a silly guy. I don’t take anything seriously. It takes a lot of energy for me to take something seriously. This show is exhausting, in that respect. I’m more of a funny or silly guy. I would love to do comedy. I think I’m funny and that comedy is my strong suit, at least in real life. I have yet to prove myself in the movies, but I’d love to get the opportunity to do that. I think it’s harder to go from comedy to drama than from drama to comedy. Seeing you dramatic all the time, they crave to see you being silly or funny. But, seeing you in comedy all the time, it’s hard to see that person go be serious, for some reason.
American Horror Story: Asylum airs on Wednesday nights on FX.