In Episode 4 of American Horror Story: Cult, entitled “11/9,” we return to Election Day and learn more about who each of the characters voted for, as certain other pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. We also get to learn more about how Kai (Evan Peters) first crossed paths with Harrison (Billy Eichner) and why the two men found a connection with each other.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Billy Eichner (whose performance on this season of American Horror Story has been truly revelatory) talked about why he wanted to work with show creator Ryan Murphy and why American Horror Story was a good fit, knowing that he had this kind of performance in him, what he’s learned about himself, as an actor, from being a part of this TV series, establishing the bond between Harrison and Kai, just how often he finds himself doings things on this show that he never thought he’d be doing, and why Harrison thinks what he’s doing is right.
Collider: First of all, bravo on your work this season! There are some great performances on this show and in the world of Ryan Murphy, but I think you’ve been an absolute revelation on AHS: Cult.
BILLY EICHNER: Oh, wow! Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Thank you for watching!
Your work on this show, playing this character, is not what we’ve gotten used to seeing from you. You’ve said that you began your career as a dramatic actor, but then you made a name for yourself in comedy. Had you been looking to return to drama for awhile and just had to convince other people that you could do that, or did the Ryan Murphy blend of horror, comedy and drama just seem like the perfect way to do that?
EICHNER: In this business, there’s always a lot of convincing to do, especially when you’re trying to veer away from the thing that people know you for. I knew, because I know myself, that prior to the public persona that people know about, I was doing more varied things. I went to Northwestern, which has a pretty well known and competitive theater program, and I was a theater major there for four years. I did musical theater and all types of plays, and I experimented with all types of genres. We did Shakespeare, we did Chekhov, we did Greek drama, and we did more contemporary comedy. We did a lot of different things, so I knew that I had certain skills that people are not aware of.
And then, it’s a matter of finding the right time, the right part and the right show, in order to show people that you do have those skills. I was a huge fan of Ryan Murphy’s work. I actually sought him out, on some level. We kind of sought each other out. He came up to me at a party, three years ago, and said that he was a fan, and that led to longer conversations and meetings and getting to know each other a little bit. From that point on, I expressed a really passionate interest in working with him. I’ve always been pretty good at pin-pointing the people that I really want to work with and the people that I think would really get me, and also the people that I think would have enough vision to allow me to do things beyond what they’ve seen, perhaps. I had a feeling Ryan would be that guy. I was hoping he would be someone like that, and it turned out that he was. He told me, in the first meeting that we had, that he really wanted to work with me and he was going to find a role. A couple of years later, here we are. As always, in acting and in show business, you’re waiting for a lot of different elements to fall into place, and I got lucky and this all fell into place for me.
It certainly seems like the perfect marriage that I never knew I wanted or needed, and it’s been exciting to watch. I love being surprised like that.
EICHNER: I do, too, actually. Ryan is so great at casting and at making unexpected casting choices. He’s very bold and confident, in that way. In addition to liking his work, I also had observed that, over the years. That was another reason why I thought maybe this would be a good work marriage, of sorts.
Was it specifically American Horror Story that you wanted to be a part of, or would you have been happy in any of Ryan Murphy’s worlds?
EICHNER: Honestly, I probably would have followed him, within reason, into any of the worlds that he’s created. We did not initially start talking about American Horror Story, but if I remember correctly, it did come up pretty soon into our conversation. You also have to take into account that this was a couple of years ago, so this was actually pre-O.J. and pre-Feud. American Horror Story was really popping, at that time, and there have been so many great actors that have been involved with American Horror Story, over the years. Our initial conversation wasn’t totally about American Horror Story, but we did end up talking about it and the idea that he wanted to see me be murderous. I remember him saying that. That was the word that he used. I pitched him on the idea that it would be an interesting thing to play around with my image to make me more of a darker figure who’s a complicated, brooding and possibly violent person.
One of Ryan Murphy’s gifts is that he can see the talent in actors and draw things out of them that even they might not realize is there, inside of them.