We had the pleasure of sitting down with American Horror Story stars Denis O’Hare and John Carroll Lynch at Walker Stalker Con Atlanta. We chatted about whether or not there is a line with horror that shouldn’t be crossed, what has shocked them most with the series, and how what they do to prepare for portraying such disturbing characters.
Emma: There’s always a need to up the ante in this genre. Do you think there’s a line at some point that shouldn’t be crossed?
Denis: Snuff films.
John: When you talk to comedy writers, and they say if you send out a woman that slips on a banana peel – someone dressed like a old lady slips on a banana peel – most people will laugh, but for comedy writers it has to be a real old lady. I think it’s the same line. You can pretend to kill an old lady, but if you really kill an old lady, that’s not right. They’re going to find out.
Denis: I think there is a line at which you lose people, and I think the good thing about American Horror Story is that it continues to reinvent horror. So for instance, this season ‘Roanoke’, it’s old fashion, it’s gone back to its roots. It’s scary and it’s gory without really upping the ante. Disemboweling Leslie Jordan, as satisfying as that is, is not really anything new.
John: There’s a meticulous nature to each season, the writers go through and reach that particular genre, and then they the quote scenes from that genre throughout that season. You’re not only honoring the history of the horror genre, but you’re also reinventing it in one fell swoop. It’s really amazing.
Emma: What has been the most shocking thing for each of you with the series? Something that you didn’t think Ryan Murphy would put in the script, but he did.
Denis: In ‘Hotel’, having Max Greenfield basically sodomized by a metal dildo, that was close to crossing the line.
John: That’s up there. [laughs]
Denis: Call me a prude. John? [laughs]
John: Well now that you bring that up, I can’t see anything else in my mind. I have to say that in ‘Hotel’, the feast of serial killers, that one really stuck with me. That was uncomfortable. These are real people. They’re not fictitious. They’re actual people, and people actually died. John Wayne Gacy… I had to take quite a few showers after that scene. That guy stuck with me in a way that I found surprising and uncomfortable.
Emma: On that note, when you’re portraying characters that are so disturbing, how do you get into that mode, into that mindset? How do you prepare for that?
Denis: I’ve done straight up villain, evil characters. But most of the characters in American Horror Story are complex. For example, Stanley who was the most straight-on villain, he’s not really a villain. He really didn’t kill anyone. He was a huckster. He didn’t actually ever commit a real crime. Well, thievery, but I think that’s actually an interesting point. Everyone in American Horror Story usually has a pretty human motivation – stay alive, be loved, get redemption, seek release. They’re actual real motivations.
John: That’s one of the things I appreciate about the show, as gruesome as it gets, all evilness is human. It’s not supernatural, even if there are supernatural elements to it. It’s the cruelty of human beings to other human beings. And that is really where the horror comes from. They don’t ever let you forget that the people who are doing these things are just like you, and in that way it’s created the things that I’ve discovered I like about horror. I’m not a horror guy. I don’t watch a lot of horror. But the things that I think are in great horror are repulsions – something that is grotesque, fear, and pity. That’s what makes it great. You end up feeling sorry for the person who did those things, which is a great place for humanity to be.
Do you agree with John Carroll Lynch? What do you feel the elements to good horror are? Let us know in our comment section below, and be sure to catch an all new episode of American Horror Story: Roanoke this Wednesday on FX!