The day after the last episode of American Horror Story: Asylum (FX, Wednesdays, 10/9C) before the holiday hiatus, Dylan McDermott spoke with a group of bloggers/journalists about returning in the show’s second season as the son of Zachary Quinto’s Bloodyface character – now a serial killer just like his father.
The series returns this evening.
I actually wanted to ask you what is the strangest thing that has happened to you on set, or personally, from doing this show.
Dylan McDermott: Well, I mean if you watched all the episodes, you know that I’ve had to do some strange things clearly, but I was part of the ride when I talked to Ryan [Murphy] about this show. Obviously the crybating and walking around naked, and now I’m playing a serial killer, is all in terms of doing American Horror Story, this is what comes with the dinner. So you just have to be up for it.
This is a show that really stretches your acting abilities and part of your personal fear factor. Is there any one fear that you would like to try to conquer by doing this show?
McDermott: Well, I think if you had any fears walking—you better not have any fears walking into this show because all your personal things are public. So I think that you really have to be not too shy to do a show like this, let me just put it that way.
Then can you tell me a little bit about your character and where you hope he ends up at the end of the season.T
McDermott: Well, Johnny Thredson, obviously he’s a troubled man; so where I hope he goes and where he goes are two different places, but I think he’s got a sole purpose in life and really that is, he feels so scorned by his mother. Everything is about his mother. The reason he’s doing all these horrible things is because he was rejected so harshly by his mother, obviously aborted. His father was a serial killer. His mother aborted him and he still lives. So his whole trajectory in life is really about her.
Can you just give us a breakdown as to how you got involved in this show again? Were you looking to come back and what happened? Did Ryan give you a call and say, listen, I’ve got this sick, twisted character that I want you to play?
McDermott: Yes, we talked in the summer and he said he was looking for something for me to come back. I wanted to come back and we weren’t sure in what capacity. Then the day the show aired, he called me and said he wanted me to come back as the son of ‘Bloody Face,’ the modern day ‘Bloody Face.’ He just told me; I hadn’t read any of the script, so I knew nothing about it. It was sort of a blind call.
When he told me the story of it, I was just like flabbergasted. I mean, I couldn’t get—because it was just so horrendous how this guy would survive and what he would become and who he was. I was just fascinated by him. It was so different from, obviously, ‘Ben Harmon,’ to come back to this same show with a different character. I just thought it was a great way to make television completely different from anything you see on television, because when do you get to play different characters on the same show.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us how many more episodes you’re going to be appearing in?
McDermott: I will be, I believe, in the next three out of four.
Because you’ve been through this once before with Ryan, when you came back, when you made the decision to come back, were there things that you talked about with him about specific things you wanted to do this time around, to make this character distinct? Did you have a lot of input in shaping how you wanted this character to be?
McDermott: I mean he really—he’s the one who designed the character. Then we talked at length on how he would look and what we wanted. We came up with this mullet idea and the tattoos and how I’m really a blue collar guy as opposed to the psychiatrist of ‘Ben Harmon.’ So I think we were both looking to do something radically different than we had last season, but this was, once again, Ryan’s invention.
Right; and at least in your first appearance, you were sort of off on your own—you didn’t interact with the rest of the cast. So it is interesting how the cast now is made up of some holdovers from the first season, who came back, and also all new actors. Did the veterans talk to the newbies at all about working, doing this kind of show, what’s involved in doing it?
McDermott: I mean, I think you know what you’re stepping into when you just see four minutes of this show. You understand that this is a very dark, twisted world. So when you come on this show, whether you’re a guest star or a regular or whatever, you know what you’re getting into.
Yes, and obviously it’s early yet, but would you see yourself coming back for the third series, if Ryan came up with another big idea for you?
McDermott: Yes, I mean I love this show. I just think it’s just really—if I wasn’t on the show, I’d be watching it; so I’m a fan of this show as much as an actor on the show. So whatever—like I said before, I really trust Ryan and he has a great instinct with me. If he asks me to come back on, of course.
I know you had mentioned some thoughts on the issue with the role and storyline, I’m wondering if there are any other characters whose storylines that you’ve been like really following this season? Are you curious to see how they kind of pan out?
McDermott: Yes, I mean, it’s funny because I was really following Zach’s [Quinto] character and Sarah’s [Paulson] character and it’s funny that they would end up being my parents. Because I had no idea and then all of a sudden, I’m their son. So it’s funny that it would all work out in such a way.
What would you say is one of the biggest reasons that this show seems to resonate well with viewers, at least in your opinion?
McDermott: It’s a funny thing. I think that people, as much as they deny it, they want to be scared. It’s sort of a phenomenon, really, why people want to be scared when there is so much violence in the world and there’s so much craziness in the world. People still really enjoy being scared.
It’s a conundrum to me. It’s hard to explain. It’s an unconscious thing, really, why people like that so much. I don’t like the slasher stuff myself, but I do like the psychological horror of Roman Polanski and that world. But it’s curious to me why people do like to be afraid.
Oh, definitely. This psychological stuff is all the more terrifying I think.
I want to know what made you audition for the show in the first place and how did you get involved in it? Did you know it was going to be a hit? Things like that.
McDermott: It’s funny; you only have these instincts every once in a while and I remember on The Practice, I had a huge instinct around it that it was going to be very successful. Then again, when I heard this story of American Horror, I had a similar instinct about this show. I remember my agent pitching me the idea for it and I, immediately, was attracted to it. Like I said, I had this similar instinct. So when I sat down with Ryan, it all came to fruition, you know what I mean.
Like I said, I never—I’ve only had those instincts very few times in my career and The Practice and the American Horror Story were both of them. So I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if it’s just my gut. My gut was really telling me that this was the show because I was looking for something different and looking for, obviously, a show that was going to be successful and that was going to resonate and I think I found it with American Horror.
Come visit us in Chicago and promote these new movies you’ve got coming out.
McDermott: I’m from Chicago. Chicago is the most amazing place because the portions of food there are bigger than anywhere else in the world.
I just wanted to know—I know much of this show is very twisted and dark. Is there anything that resonates with you in this show that you take home and it’s hard to shake?
McDermott: Yes, I mean there are a lot of things. There are a lot of things in this show that are disturbing and hard. There is a lot of violence in this show and it’s hard to get around that, you know what I mean, and it’s real. It makes you feel things and it’s upsetting; but nonetheless, as an actor, you can’t judge it.
You have to be in it. When I’m playing a serial killer, I’m in it. I’m not judging him. I’m not judging his environment. I’m just sort of like looking for the why; why he is the way he is. But there’s no doubt that you have to take—if you’re a good actor, you’re going to take this stuff home with you.
Do you have a favorite type of horror story?
McDermott: I’m really, like I said before, I do like the Polanski stuff more than anything else. I mean, Rosemary’s Baby is still one of my favorite movies of all time. The idea of her being impregnated with the devil and all that stuff is just like so frightening and being in New York at The Dakota, it’s so scary.
So that probably is—I’m going to work on a movie, actually, in February, called Mercy from Jason … on the paranormal activities and there is a similar theme to Rosemary’s Baby in the movie. So somewhere I am attracted to that in a strange way, so that does scare me; the sort of demon baby, more than anything else. Like we had in the first season of American Horror.
I loved your work so much last year and this year has certainly started off with a bang. Is the atmosphere any different on the set this year than it was last year?
McDermott: I’ve sort of been in a bubble of my own work; but it doesn’t feel that much different than what it was. Some of the crew is the same and going back to Paramount in Hollywood and Ryan; so to me, really, the show is like going home at this point. I think in whatever capacity and whatever character I play, it really is. Right now I know it’s sort of strange to say, but it’s sort of this safe home for me, if you will.
Sure. Last year’s story had this wonderfully, neatly tied up ending, at least for most of the characters—for yours especially. Does this year’s have a similar kind of closure to it?
McDermott: Yes, without giving anything away, I think it does. I think that you’ll be satisfied in terms of what happens. All the characters will definitely—you’ll have closure with all the characters. It’s hard to wrap up the season in one show, but I think that having read it and now performing it, I think that you’re going to be satisfied for sure.
Then what has been the most fun aspect of this year’s role for you?
McDermott: I think because it’s so radically different from last year. Playing the psychiatrist role, a white collar guy, and going to a blue collar guy who’s a serial killer and has these enormous problems with his parents and the way he feels. I think that’s been fun to play, for me, personally. The idea of diving into his past and creating this guy, this sort of like wounded person who is just lashing out at the world; so I refer to both of these characters in American Horror Story as twin brothers with a different father.
Is there anything you can tell us about what’s coming up in the next three episodes that you’re in?
McDermott: I mean, I think we’re going to look into what—he really is after some sort of closure with his mother. I think he can’t understand, he can’t wrap his head around why someone would want to throw him out, throw him in the trash. So I think we’re going to peek into his psychological world in the next three episodes and then we’re going to have closure with his character in the finale. But it’s really—it goes into the psychology and the pathology of who he is.
He’s not just like a serial killer and out there on the run with no reason. I think we really get into the reason of Johnny Thredson. People behave badly and people are in prison and people are on death row and there are no excuses for everybody’s behavior, but most people are coming from abuse. I think Johnny is not alone in that. I think he just really suffers from an enormous amount of abuse and there’s a reason he’s doing the things he’s doing and that’s not justified, but we’re going to peek into his world.
You’ve had a lot of shocking moments on this series. What would you say is the one that stands out most for you?
McDermott: Well I think for everybody, it’s got to be the crybating. I think you would agree on that. People still talk about that. That’s going to be with me for awhile. That’s okay because that was Ben Harmon. If people were afraid to play Ben Harmon because of that scene, people—they just couldn’t do it. I always picture myself the guy running into the burning building, not running out. That was certainly evidence of that moment right there.
I have to ask since you like psychological thrillers a lot, like the whole demon baby aspect, would you ever consider doing the remake of Rosemary’s Baby?
McDermott: No, because that’s a great movie. I don’t think you can—it’s like remaking Psycho. You can’t. Some movies you just can’t remake and that certainly is one of them. Some things should be just left alone and that—maybe the sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, but not the remake.
Do you have a preference? Do you prefer taking on the drama role or do you prefer the straight-lace ones or do you like this outlet of being crazy bananas?
McDermott: Well, this has been a good year for me. I was doing American Horror and then going into The Campaign with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis doing a comedy and then making Olympus Has Fallen with Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, a sort of a taut thriller; and then playing a comedy again with Selena Gomez in Behaving Badly, and then back to American Horror. So it’s been a great year and a lot of different characters and that’s the stuff I love. I really am a character actor in my heart of hearts, because I really do like developing characters and kind of painting a past for them.
My last question is when we’re delving into this serial killer and we’re looking back into the history on why he’s behaving this way, is there anything that’s creeping you out that you’re taking home after the set, that you’re feeling a little unnerved about or maybe coming into your dreams?
McDermott: It’s funny because this particular role—you don’t know it when it’s happening because it’s unconscious. But, yes, this guy has got under my skin a little bit, I have to say. Like I don’t take the tattoos off; I keep them on. I sort of have been living with him a little bit more than other characters that I have played. You don’t plan that out; it just sort of happens. It’s an unconscious thing and for whatever reason, I have an understanding of who he is. Don’t ask me why. It’s just that some characters stick more than others.
What do you think is the most underrated aspect of American Horror Story? Is there anything about the show that you think deserves a little more praise from the T.V. critics?
McDermott: I think it’s widely praised. I think that sometimes people are afraid of the genre and maybe they’ll judge it. It’s sort of like The Walking Dead, I think deserves to have more nominations and deserves to be up for more awards and somehow I think the genre maybe gets in the way of that; that people dismiss it, maybe a little bit more, because of the genre.
But if you look at American Horror Story and you look at Walking Dead—and these are two phenomenal shows—and I think maybe other shows might get more nominations or awards because they’re sort of—they fit the notion of what a drama should be. These are groundbreaking shows. I think American Horror is a groundbreaking show and ahead of its time. Sometimes when things are ahead of its time, people don’t always get it in the moment.
I think that’s happening right now. You look back on things and say oh, wow, that was a great show. Sometimes people maybe miss it; not to say that they are missing it, but I think sometimes this idea of horror is hard for people. It’s not for everybody, but I think it’s hard for people to wrap their head around in terms of awards.
If you were giving awards out to the cast and then based on the performances that you’ve seen, is there a particular scene or an individual performance that really stands out as being powerful?
McDermott: Oh, yes. I think that, obviously, Jessica is always doing incredible work. It never ceases to amaze me how the performances she turns in week-in and week-out, but I also think that Sarah Paulson is doing terrific work. I think Billy Dean … is doing terrific work and Zach Quinto and Evan Peters. I mean this season, they’re all—James Cromwell—everyone is doing remarkable work on a very high level, and last season as well. I mean Ryan, obviously, is casting some of the best actors in the world to be on this show and there’s a reason for it.
Are we sure this is Dylan McDermott and not Dermot Mulroney?
McDermott: No, it’s Gerbil McDillett.
That’s right. That was a very good tribute to you on Saturday Night Live.
McDermott: Thank you.
I was wondering if there is anything about this particular character that you added to the role that wasn’t originally scripted for you?
McDermott: Yes, you’ll see him in, I think in the next episode, I started smoking some crack. I don’t think that was in it. I wanted him to be—I needed him to have an outlet for it and then when I started smoking crack, they started putting it into scenes. So that was an important thing that I wanted him to be high because a lot of these guys are high and a lot of people do, obviously, terrible things on drugs. It was important for me to have him to be a drug addict as well.
What do you think it is about American Horror Story that makes it such a fan favorite program?
McDermott: I think it’s different. I think, like I said before, it’s groundbreaking. It’s hard to be different on television. It really is because people do, no matter what they say, they want to have ratings and a lot of those things are derivative. So really the same show with different actors, over and over again, and I think that American Horror really broke that trend in many ways and I think fans appreciate that.
So, two questions; one, how much of a rush was it to put on that Bloodyface mask? Also, you’re a big Polanski fan, were there any maniacs or twisted individuals from Polanski that you kind of drew from to kind of inform your Bloodyface character?
McDermott: Not really, no. Obviously, when you put that mask on and you can hear your own breath, it’s like a mini-horror show inside your own head. So that’s frightening in itself, when that thing goes on. I twittered a picture of myself with it on against a wall that said, ‘Beware,’ and I have a machete in my hand and it’s truly a frightening picture. But no, this guy he came to me very naturally. Like I said before, sometimes you have to search for inspiration with characters and other times, they just drop out of the sky and they arrive and Johnny Thredson was one of those for me.
I’m just so excited. You know when the season started and I didn’t see you there, I thought, oh my god. I know that Connie wasn’t back, of course, but I thought, oh my god, I can’t believe – no Dylan. So this is great news. I’m just so happy. I’m glad Ryan is such a brilliant guy.
McDermott: Yes, absolutely.
So for an actor, it must be really satisfying to have something like a repertory theater kind of company kind of thing going on with television and it must be really satisfying for you.
McDermott: It really is because I don’t know how the show is going to pan out in the next few seasons, but if this was all there was in this whole ride; it was an incredible ride. I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed playing Ben Harmon, how selfish he was and his breakdowns and then to come back as Johnny Thredson to play this serial killer, you don’t get to do that much on television. Most of the time, you’re walking around with a pair of tweezers and a flashlight, looking for some evidence. But it’s nice that we’re doing something different on the show and that I was a part of it.
Well, you mentioned that in some of your work this year, of course, you were in one of the best pictures of the year, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. That’s one of the top three films of the year, as far as I’m concerned.
McDermott: Thank you.
It’s already on my list. I mean it’s fantastic and Stephen is a fantastic director. Everything, everybody—it’s another thing like this. It’s a great, all around package. So I think you have a better nose or a better ear or a better eye for picking material than you give yourself credit for.
McDermott: Oh, thank you. That’s what it’s all about is really material. That’s the only thing that’s going to separate you from other actors is the material that you choose, whether you know that are not. You’re going into a project; you know that the material is good or bad no matter what anybody says. I mean we all hope it’s better than it is, but you have to pick the best material. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury and people have to pay the rent, but I think that I try to choose the most interesting material there is.
Yes, and one last note; since we asked a whole lot of questions about that, I just wanted to focus a little bit more on your choices. I mean, you’ve been making some great choices, obviously. You’re working with Antoine Fuqua, I think, that you just mentioned. Also, I guess the question I need to ask is that you said you’re a character actor, but I think you’re a stunning leading man as well. Do you prefer doing leading roles as opposed to character? Or is just whatever comes best, as you said, a best material?
McDermott: It’s funny because I, like I said, I think in my heart of hearts, I’m a character actor, but the leading man thing is, obviously, the great ride if you can do it. But it’s a very tough ride as well, because you really have a target on your back and not many guys can pull it off. They seem to rise and fall very quickly. Luckily, I’ve been around many years, knock wood, and I’ve got to play many leading men and I got to play character roles.
I mean, I still love it is the bottom line. You know what I mean? I still love acting. I really enjoy the process of it and I’m glad I still do because a lot of guys out there who are just kind of doing it without the love. I do still love it.
Well, I appreciate your—oh and before because I know somebody is behind me—but I heard a little rumor that there may be – might be a Practice movie, T.V. movie. Was that just wishful thinking on somebody’s part or have you actually heard anything about it?
McDermott: I’d never heard boo about that.
I was wondering if you worked at all, directly, with Zach Quinto on your characterization of the son Bloodyface, or if anything you watched him do prior to the season informed choices that you made as a character?
McDermott: I kind of just watched him and picked up a few of his mannerisms. There is one scene coming up where we’re in the same room. I guess in the writer’s room, they put up a picture of me and Zach and Sarah to see if I could be their son, when they were casting it. I guess I passed the test, but I think that we do have some similar qualities in our darker features, so I don’t think it’s much of a leap. But I did kind of try to listen to his voice and look at his mannerisms a little bit.
Also, on a prior call with Zach, he mentioned the nature of the horror this season as opposed to last season. That last season being primarily supernatural and then this being, obviously, more human driven between you guys being the main thrust of that human driven horror. So I was wondering what you think about the difference between the paranormal and the more human driven horror and if you prefer one or the other.
McDermott: I mean I like the psychological horror personally. I think the show is radically different from what it was last year and what it is this year and I’m sure it will be again next year. I think that’s just what American Horror Story is. It really is an anthology series and I think it’s always going to be changing, no matter how many seasons it’s on. I think it’s going to change its location and character and I think that’s just the nature of the beast.
The scene where you’re talking to this therapist, that set looks a lot like your office from season one. Was that the same set? Or am I just going crazy?
McDermott: People have mentioned that. It’s not the same set, but you’re right. It does have a similar mood and theme to it. It’s funny enough that you’re not the first person to say that. I think there’s an image to many things in that scene, obviously. The first being the reversal of the doctor and the patient and then maybe the office looking very similar, so there are many things going on in that scene. So if you did an essay on it, I think you could find a lot more.
All right; maybe it was just wishful thinking hoping that we’d seen Murder House again. My other question for you, you’ve mentioned that you’re more a fan of the psychological horror than the slasher genre, which is sort of what we’re doing this season. I’m just curious what type of horror genre would you be interested in seeing Ryan explore next season.
McDermott: I’m not sure. I mean, I don’t know how many genres of horror there are really, but I’m sure he’s going to make it interesting and fascinating no matter what he does.
On a non-AHS note, what did you think of the Saturday Night Live bit from this weekend?
McDermott: They asked me to go there and do it, but I was working on American Horror. I thought it was hilarious. I mean I really thought it was funny as hell, so I don’t know what was going to happen if I came there and Dermot was there. I mean the television might blow up; I don’t know. But I really thought it was funny and how many times do you really get to be immortalized on Saturday Night Live. You can look at that and show your kids that and they’ll laugh, so I thought it was really funny.
Two quick questions; you mentioned earlier that this show obviously doesn’t follow, as you mentioned, the awards. I think you’re very right. I mean, FX has Sons of Anarchy. It has this. It has Justified. Do you agree that maybe in another network’s hands, it may not have been as successful? That FX is—to me, FX is a very groundbreaking, revolutionary network in itself. Do you agree? Disagree? Kind of going along the same way, would this have worked on another network maybe just as well, or not?
McDermott: No, because I’ll tell you why. I think FX really lets the creators of their shows do what they want to do. A lot of times on television, it is a television show by committee and the committees get their hands in there and they want to do this and they want to do that and they want to change this and they want to do this and all this stuff, and the show is completely watered down and it’s generic. It doesn’t have any meaning. It’s just sort of on-air. You know what I mean?
But I think the difference with FX is they really let the creators sort of create their show and they stand behind it and they put it on the air and they publicize it and they let them be. I don’t think that they really put their fingers in it too much. I think that’s why they have so much success.
Yes, would you like to work with them more in the future if you had the chance?
McDermott: Oh, of course. I think they do phenomenal shows and they continue to do phenomenal shows. They really are quite different from all the other networks and there’s a reason why they stand out.
One last thing and then I’ll let you go. So by doing the show, obviously you don’t subscribe to the thought that by watching violent TV shows get violent because of it. What is your stand on that? I mean, often that’s what the critics say about violent shows.
McDermott: Yes, I know what you mean. I mean, I really, as I said before, I think there’s an argument for that absolutely. But as an actor, you can’t judge your material or your character. I really try to—I learned in acting school a long time ago not to judge my characters because that could … of them once you judge them.
So I play a lot of different people; some of them good, some of them bad, some of them violent, some of them nice, all across the board. That’s the fun of it for me, but I do think that you’re right. There is an argument for it and I won’t shy away from that either. I mean there is a tremendous amount of violence in the world and it’s something that has to be addressed and this is entertainment and it shouldn’t be taken seriously in that way, but I understand what you’re saying.
Photos courtesy of FX