It takes an incredibly versatile and ballsy actor to take on — and master — one of television creator Ryan Murphy’s intense and dark characters.
In the anthology series American Horror Story, Evan Peters has already played a mentally unhinged ghost in Tate Langdon, a murderous hotel owner in James March, a cult leader from Michigan in Kai Anderson, and a serial killer, cult leader and (probable) ghost in Charles Manson. It’s all a bit mad.
Then there’s Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s Pose, a drama about the queer ballroom culture in New York City in the late 1980s, which notably cast more transgender performers than any other television show in history.
Peters plays Stan Bowes, a married man who, while working for Donald Trump, finds himself in a relationship with a transgender woman of colour, Angel (Indya Moore). It’s boundary smashing and timely television, but these complicated, twisted and emotionally draining roles do take their toll: Peters has admitted to screaming in traffic on the way home from work and meditating at night time. “You kind of just lay there and stare at the ceiling and breathe,” says the 31-year-old actor of the experience.
Before Peters revives his role in X-Men: Dark Phoenix as superhero Quicksilver — the one with superhuman speed — Halloween is upon us. Read: Horror Story’s eighth season, Apocalypse,which returns to our screens with Peters (quite literally) reviving Tate Langdon. He does so alongside his co-star and real-life on-off fiancée Emma Roberts, who plays the resurrected Madison Montgomery.
ICON sat down with the actor on the set of our cover-story shoot in Los Angeles — “This is actually Randal Kleiser’s house, the director of Grease,” Peters schools us — to talk screen roles, idols, rubber suits in Montreal and the legacy of an Australian actor who lost himself to this darker side of acting.
“Before I started on Horror Story, I used to be terrified of scary movies. I couldn’t watch them. I’d scream. Then you go to work and you realise it’s not real … you forget what you’re doing in a weird way because there’s silicone, latex, rubber and corn syrup.”
ICON: One very interesting thing about you is how incredibly adaptable you are as an actor …
Evan Peters (EP) : “Thank you so much.”
ICON: The intensity of the characters you have played in American Horror Story are mentally demanding to say the least, and you’re about to revisit one of them in season eight. Emotionally, how do you prepare for scenes and having to go from one heavy character and straight into another?
EP: “You’ve just got to be ready for it. It’s how it is. Obviously, it’s a TV show and it’s not real, so separating that from the get-go is always important. You’ve just kind of got to hang out with friends and family and stay grounded in reality so you don’t completely lose yourself in the role.”
ICON: You’ve said you’re almost desensitised to the darkness of the plotlines on Horror Story …
EP: “Before I started on Horror Story, I used to be terrified of scary movies. I couldn’t watch them. I’d scream, I’d jump, I’d have nightmares. Then, you work on Horror Story and you realise when you’re shooting a scene, there’s a guy pumping a canister of fake blood all over the place, he’s flicking you bloody paint brushes and everything’s plastic and rubber and it’s not real. In that respect, you really start to appreciate all of the scary makeup and effects and you can become desensitised to it. You forget what you’re doing in a weird way because there’s silicone, latex, rubber and corn syrup.”
ICON: We’ve seen dark characters get to actors before. Australian actor Heath Ledger and his legendary role as The Joker is an extreme example of this. How do you get out of that headspace when you arrive home at night?
EP: “It is really hard. Heath Ledger was just a genius actor,
you know …”
ICON: Wasn’t he …
EP: “I saw his documentary too and how he dealt with the insomnia and he was a fascinating human being. You can see how he would have been wrapped up in that. It’s hard because you’re demanded to tell the truth in this circumstance. Your body can’t help it but sort of feel like it’s real in a weird way. You have to wind down. I was meditating a lot while filming Horror Story: Cult. It brings you back down to earth, it helps you breathe. At the end of the night, you’re so exhausted, you kind of just lay there and stare at the ceiling and breathe. You can make music or you hang out with friends or just chill out.”
ICON: What’s your relationship dynamic like with Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy?
EP: “I love Ryan Murphy. He’s been incredibly generous to me and to everyone. He’s very much willing to give people chances. Look at [Murphy’s other television show] Pose, it’s the largest transgender cast ever and a lot of them had never been in front of a camera before. It’s giving them the opportunity and giving even me the opportunity to be in that show. All you can do is be grateful for someone like him. He’s a very nice human being. He’s a loving, kind man.”
ICON: Murphy is creating milestone, progressive television. The casting of Pose was historically so significant. How important is a guy like him and these projects at this particular time in our world?
EP: “He’s instrumental. He’s always pushed the envelope. He’s inspired acceptance and compassion across the board. That’s kind of just who he is and he’s made that a point to come through in his work. So I think it’s incredibly important. It goes back to generosity and giving people opportunities who have never had opportunities before. Finding new talent and changing people’s heart and minds, I think that’s always the goal with any form of television show or film. At its highest point, it should try to do that.”
ICON: What was one of the most surprising things Pose taught you about the trans community?
EP: “I guess the show touches on it a lot. I had never seen [1991 documentary] Paris Is Burning before working on this show so I had no idea about the families with Mothers. A lot of these kids were kicked out of their homes for who they were and they had nowhere to go in New York City. These Mothers have just taken them under their wings and cared for them. It was beautiful, refreshing and heart-warming to see that there was so much love that even if your family does kick you out, you can still experience that much love and find it with friends and other people.”
“Your body can’t help it but sort of feel like it’s real in a weird way. You have to wind down. I was meditating a lot while filming Horror Story: Cult. It brings you back down to earth, it helps you breathe.”
ICON: For the role of Stan, you had to get inside the mind of a very conflicted man who, while acting on a secret desire, is subsequently hurting his wife and kids. What is your main gripe with him?
EP: “Oh man! I think just the pain that he causes his wife. It was such a conflicted, tragic thing that was unfolding and happening. It was heartbreaking, it was hard to play that, it’s a very sad thing. But you know, obviously he made a lot of choices that were for himself and he finds himself not where he wanted to be. I felt bad for Stan but I really felt bad for his wife Patty and kids. In another lifetime, if he made different choices and was more authentically himself from the get-go, none of that would have happened. There’s a good lesson there; be true to yourself and go after what you want.”
ICON: That’s a very important lesson …
EP: “That’s the other thing, too, about the trans community; They are so authentically themselves. It’s such an inspiring thing. Even playing Stan, he’s weak compared to the transgender community. They are incredibly powerful and strong and it’s a cool thing.”
ICON: When you signed on for Horror Story, you didn’t know it was going to be an anthology story; you didn’t know you would be playing different roles. When you moved to Los Angeles, how did you anticipate your career would go?
EP: “I had no idea, I honestly just wanted to act.”
ICON: I believe you didn’t quite want to go down this route and would like to try a romantic comedy?
EP: “Well, look, just to clarify, I love the dark stuff. I love dramatic performances and I love all of it, it’s very moving and it’s intense and fun and rewarding to play. But sometimes you just get tired and you want to try something light. You have to switch it up. It’s like only listening to one genre of music, you’ve got to switch it up otherwise it just gets too heavy.”
ICON: Robin Williams is one of your idols. What was it that you admired about him?
EP: “Robin Williams, he’s brilliant on so many different levels. He’s obviously hilarious. But I think he also seems like such a sweet and kind man who can also break your heart. Even in Mrs Doubtfire, there are some heartbreaking scenes in there and he plays them beautifully and truthfully and it’s incredibly moving. I loved that he could switch it up and do all the facets of acting.”
ICON: In your 2018 film American Animals, Warren Lipka is the trickster of the group. He’s a bit crazy — loves a meat heist — and is always chasing a high to feel something, to feel alive. What’s your role in your group of friends? How would they describe you?
EP: “[Laughs] That’s a good question! I certainly like to have fun. I feel like I’m slightly on the outskirts of the conversation. I’m a little bit quiet and I kind of wait to chime in. I’m better with an on-the-side conversation than being the centre of the group like Warren is. I like to kind of wait, listen and then when I feel comfortable I can chime in.”
ICON: Tell us about X-Men: Dark Phoenix. What can we expect from this instalment?
EP: “Simon Kinberg who wrote it — and wrote all the X-Men films — is directing this one and spearheading it and it’s great. It’s about Jean and Phoenix and the internal struggle. It’s a great performance by Sophie Turner and you get to see some amazing effects. It’s beautiful, I’m excited to see the whole thing. It’s going to be a dramatic one, it’s a great character piece and I think fans are going to love it.”
ICON: When you return to a set like that — it was the summer time in Montreal, you’re in a rubber suit, you’re back with a great cast — what’s the vibe like?
EP: “The vibe is kind of hilarious. The cast are truly some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. It’s like summer camp, you’re sweating your ass off in this full-on — I don’t know what the material is — rubber, latex suit in the middle of Montreal and you’re just laughing your ass off drinking Perrier.”
ICON: Do you feel as vulnerable to the paparazzi as you do in your naked scenes in Horror Story? Which is worse?
EP: “[Laughs] Oh my god! Honestly, I would say the paparazzi. It causes a giant bomb of anxiety that goes right into your gut and you’re like, ‘Oh my god’. I’m sweaty and gross and I have coffee stains all over my shirt. I’m wearing the same outfit I’ve been wearing for three weeks. It’s like, ‘Sh*t! Don’t take my picture!’. It doesn’t happen to me a lot but when it does, it’s kind of terrifying. They pop out of nowhere and — that’s a good question — it’s a very vulnerable experience. It’s very weird.”
ICON: Your character in X-Men, Quicksilver, can view time at a standstill. If you could do this in real life, what would you do?
EP: “[Laughs] What would I do if I had superhuman speed? That is a very tough question. You know what I’d do? I would pants all the paparazzi so they’re all naked and I would take a picture of them and blast it all over the internet.”
ICON: That’s exactly what we wanted you to say.
EP: “[Laughs] Great. Then this turned out beautifully.”
See the full fashion shoot here.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE OCTOBER EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.
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