The 13-episode fifth installment of the FX series American Horror Story: Hotel follows detective and family man John Lowe (Wes Bentley), as he investigates a chain of gruesome murders in Los Angeles that lead him to the enigmatic Hotel Cortez, where he finds a lot more within its walls and among its residents than he ever could have bargained for. At the center of it all is Mr. March (Evan Peters), the hotel’s sadistic and twisted founder who constructed the building in 1925 to best hide the bodies that were tortured and murdered within its walls.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Evan Peters talked about why this character appealed to him, the extensive work he put into developing Mr. March, what made this guy the way he is, having a master plan, the experience of shooting the Devil’s Night Soiree dinner scene, when we’ll learn more about the connection between Mr. March and The Countess, and what it’s been like to work with Lady Gaga. He also talked about being a part of the X-Men ensemble, how much fun he has making those movies, and the 22-day second unit sequence with Quicksilver in X-Men: Apocalypse that he’s excited for people to get to see.
Collider: What did Ryan Murphy initially tell you that this season and character would be, when he first told you about AHS: Hotel, and has it turned out like he said?
EVAN PETERS: He just said that he wanted me to play Mr. March, and that he’s from the 1930s, he’s a villain, he’s really evil and bad, and he’s kind of funny. I was really excited by that. And then, I read it and it was written beautifully and really funny. Just the language that Mr. March uses is fun to say and fun to play around with. It’s definitely been fun to do. And in terms of the whole season, I was blown away, when I read it, by how dark it was and how bloody and sexy. It seemed really scary to me, and then watching it, it just really came together. And visually, the sets are absolutely stunning. They’re just gorgeous. That’s been really amazing to work in. Everybody has just done a fantastic job of bringing to life the scripts, and making it scarier and darker than the previous seasons. I’m really proud of this season. It’s one of my favorites, if not my most favorite.
It seems as though this is one of the most transformative characters you’ve ever played, from his look to his accent to his behavior. How much work did you put into finding who this guy would be? Was that a collaborative process, or was this exactly how he was presented to you?
PETERS: Ryan just said, “It would be cool if you had an accent.” We were talking about how he was going to talk and he said, “Look at William Powell because he had a great 1930s accent.” So, I started watching him a lot and really liked the way he talked, how he moved and that he was very funny. William Powell is a really funny actor who’s got all these crazy looks. I also watched It Happened One Night and looked at online pictures and really liked Clark Gable’s mustache and hair and the tuxedo. I just really liked that look. It said in the script that Mr. March was really finely dressed. And in terms of the way he moves and the mannerisms, it’s just me watching Bogie smoking in The Maltese Falcon. And then, you look at William Powell in My Man Godfrey and he’s a butler in that and he’s very dapper. He’s a very refined gentleman. I liked playing around with that, with the good posture and a style, a panache, and a way of moving about the room. I like to imagine, if I was in the 1930s and was rich and a psychopathic killer, I probably would be moving about very freely and having a lot of fun. That’s where his movement comes from.
Actors talk about bringing a piece of themselves to the roles that they play, but when you play a character who is this truly horrific, do you want to steer clear of doing that and avoid bringing yourself to someone like this?
PETERS: Yeah, you’ve gotta separate yourself from the character. It’s hard, it’s a dark character and a dark show and it’s stressful, so it can make its way into your everyday life. You do your best to try to separate the two. That’s all you can really do.
I would imagine that, before working with Ryan Murphy, you never could have seen yourself shooting a scene where you had to slit your own throat.
PETERS: Yeah, that was pretty intense. But all the same, it’s still pretty fun to do.
Does it feel very different to shoot a scene like that versus actually watching the finished product?
PETERS: I haven’t watched it yet. I haven’t watched any of my scenes yet. I’ve only watched the other scenes of the episodes. I skip over my stuff. I’m not quite ready to watch it yet.
Do you typically not like watching yourself, or is it this character, in particular, that you’re avoiding watching?
PETERS: I think it’s both. There are a lot of external elements and crazy things going on with the character, and I don’t know if I’m ready to watch it yet.
How would you describe Mr. March?
PETERS: He obviously had sociopathic tendencies, but his father is the one who really took him over the age. I’m sure he tortured animals, as a kid, and had the makings of a sociopath in him already, but really, it was his dad, beating him and forcing religion down his throat, and then going and doing just the opposite, flipped him over the edge and made him into this person. That’s how I justify it. Also, he really loves it. He really loves the killing. It’s his passion. It’s his purpose in life. He found his purpose. He obviously doesn’t really have the moral code that people with a conscience do, so he loves it.
Mr. March obviously loves to pull the strings, and he orchestrates much of what goes on inside of Hotel Cortez, even if we don’t necessarily see him doing it. Does he have a master plan, or is it just simply fun for him?
PETERS: I think he does. He is a man with a purpose. Certain things have stopped him from completing and fulfilling his purpose, so he’s in a stalemate. But the moment he figures out how to get it going, he hops back on and gets it going. He’s really all about going after that true purpose. In my eyes, I think that’s what it’s all about. And it is fun for him. Once you find your calling in life, you have to go after it. And most of the time, people’s callings are things that they love.
What was it like for you to find out that he’s really the master for all of these other real serial killers and that he taught them all how to be better at killing? And how was it to shoot that Devil’s Night Soiree dinner sequence and watch all of those actors playing real-life serial killers?
PETERS: It was surreal. It was very weird, and it was a lot of fun. We played around a lot and were laughing a lot. We were looking at each other going, “This is the most ridiculous thing, ever!” Everyone was acting all kooky and saying these crazy things and making jokes about killing. It was just crazy and surreal, to see them all come to life. That they were actually real people was pretty terrifying. The scary element, to me, is that they were actually real people who did these really horrible things. And then, the fun element was that there were all these really amazing actors playing around in the skin of these really horrible people. It’s a funny scene. There were a lot of really funny jokes in there. And it was long, too. It was a six page scene, or something like that. It was like a play. We memorized it and rehearsed it like a play, and then we shot it and did it a million times that day. We did it over and over, and shot it for 16 hours. It was a hell of a day. And I don’t think we even finished it that day. I think we had to come back and finish it another day. But, it was really fun. I was proud of that scene. I think it was something that was really cool to do. I liked the idea of rehearsing it like a play, and then shooting it like that. That’s something you don’t get to do often on television, and I was happy to be a part of that. Our director on that, Loni [Peristere], is amazing and all of the camera operators are incredibly talented. It was amazing, how they did it all.
We’ve seen glimpses of a connection between Mr. March and The Countess (Lady Gaga), and it seems as though we’ll be getting to see more of them together. Will we get some more backstory on their relationship and what their connection actually is?
PETERS: Absolutely! [With Episode 7,] you’ll get a lot of questions answered. It’s a really fun episode that reveals a lot about their relationship and why it is the way it is. It’s a great episode for Gaga. I’m excited about it. I think it’s going to be a great one to watch.
What’s it been like to work with Lady Gaga and share scene with her, especially knowing how nervous she was coming into the show?
PETERS: Nerves just mean that you care. What’s really awesome is that she’s really shown how good of an actress she is and how dedicated she is. She’s asking a million questions, every day, about her character and is coming up with different ideas. It’s really inspiring to watch. It makes me think more about my character, too, and the relationship between our characters. It’s been amazing to watch her blossom into this actress. She started out very nervous, but she’s definitely gaining more confidence and growing. She’s not second guessing. She’s doing her thing, and it’s really inspiring to watch. I loved working with her. I think she’s incredibly talented and always brings something new with each take. She really brings it. She affects you. She affects the other actors. She wants something from you, and she’ll be damned if she doesn’t get it. It’s great to work with her. It’s fun to work with her. And to top it all off, she’s a sweetheart. She’s not a diva, and she’s not crazy. She’s just an incredibly nice, down-to-earth person who really cares about art and creativity. It’s pretty amazing to be able to work with her. I’m pretty grateful for that.
You’ve been a part of the American Horror Story ensemble for a few years already, and now you’re also a part of the X-Men ensemble. What has that group of actors been like to work with?
PETERS: They’re hilarious. I think both groups of actors are hilarious. Actors are a really funny bunch of people, especially the X-Men cast. They’re super funny and super nice, and they like to go out and get drinks and dinner and hang out. It’s an experience. It’s a summer. It’s like camp. Everybody gets together and hangs out. It’s a lot of fun, working on those movies. The material for Horror Story is much darker than the X-Men films, although the X-Men stuff does have a lot of dramatic elements to it that are pretty serious. Obviously, Horror Story is dealing with horror and the drama of it all, so it’s much darker. People are in character more and try to stay in it more, but at the same time, they’re all hilarious, really nice and fun. We have some laughs and talk. It’s great.
You’re always learning so much from people and how they work and what their processes are. Some people like to listen to music before they get into it, and some people can talk all the way up to, “Action!” Everybody is different. It’s cool to see everybody come together and do their own thing, but there’s never been any drama. I never saw any on the X-Men set, and I never saw any on the Horror Story set. It’s pretty amazing. It’s great to work with people who want to work together to make a great project. On the X-Men films, people are always throwing out ideas and trying to get the shot to look the best and make the most sense, and to get it done efficiently. Everybody collaborates and everybody is very open to new ideas. Maybe the director will be like, “No, that’s not a good idea,” but they’re definitely open to you throwing out ideas, even if they aren’t going to work. It’s nice to be able to do that, and to work with other actors to come up with ideas.
The last X-Men movie had that amazing sequence with Quicksilver, and many people thought that was the highlight of the film. Do you get more cool sequences like that, in the next movie?
PETERS: Yeah, Quicksilver does his thing again, in the new film. It’s bigger, longer and more detailed. I think it’s an amazing sequence that they’ve put together. Just filming it, I was like, “Oh, my god!” I think we shot for 22 days of second unit, working on the sequence, which is amazing. It’s so cool to take that much time to make something like that really pop and really work. Knock on wood, I think it’s going to be a fun and enjoyable sequence for people to watch, with Quicksilver running around and doing his thing in slow-mo time. I hope people like it.
Whether it’s The X-Men movies or American Horror Story, both ensembles have such a big cast of characters, but they also know how to make use of everybody.
PETERS: Yeah, it’s hard. Everybody’s schedule is crazy and it’s always difficult to write everybody in so they get their own moments. On Horror Story, everybody has a great storyline and everyone has their moment to do their thing. There are some really cool stories and things that happen with each character this season on Horror Story. I’m fascinated reading it and am like, “Oh, what’s going to happen next? I wonder what they’re going to do now. Oh, shit, I can’t believe they just did that!” It’s always interesting to read it and to see where they’re going to go with the characters. I like that they switch around to different character storylines. I think it keeps it interesting. But all the while, they maintain the main story. John is really the lead this year, and it’s about him figuring out what’s going on. It’s cool. It’s a testament to the writers. I think the writers are really amazing at doing that. I don’t know how they do it. They get in the room and they break the episode and come up with what’s going to happen in it, and I would just like to sit in on one of those to hear what they’re thinking about, as far as what the characters are going to do. I think it would be so cool to listen to that.
American Horror Story: Hotel airs on Wednesday nights on FX.