Hey guys! Check out this awesome interview with fan favorite Naomi Grossman aka “Pepper” from American Horror Story: Asylum. Its a must read!
If you are a fan of American Horror Story, this is a great interview. I was given the opportunity to interview Naomi Grossman who plays the likeable yet mysterious “Pepper.”
1) The first patient we see this season at Briarcliff is Pepper. And she has quickly become a fan favorite. Why do you think she’s a fan favorite?
She’s so iconic, for one. Her over-the-top, playful nature lends itself well to gifs and drawings and macramé and techno songs, and whatever else fans are inspired to make. She just gives fans so much to play with (pardon the Pepper pun). Plus she’s probably the craziest one in Briarcliff, certainly from a physical aspect anyway. She’s kind of a perfect personification of what Briarcliff is– an insane asylum.
Also I think it’s the dichotomy. She’s sweet, yet murderous (supposedly). She’s ugly, yet somehow cute. She’s naive and sincere and unselfconscious, which in my opinion, are inherently lovable qualities. She’s complex, like any great character, or even real people, for that matter. Look at so many of the great villains: take Hannibal Lector. He’s a murderer, yet he’s fiercely intelligent and incredibly cultured. That juxtaposition of opposing characteristics is what gives him depth, and makes us love/hate him.
Also, I think we’re taught not to look at people who are different like Pepper… Yet, here we’re given the opportunity to not only look at, but rewind, freeze-frame, create a gif, you name it! It’s a unique character we haven’t really seen on the screen since the 1930’s! I had an unusual experience recently: a real, live microcephalic sat in front of me at the movies. On one hand, I was psyched! Last thing you want is someone with an enormous head blocking the screen. (Sorry, bad joke.) But on the other hand, I was taken aback. I wanted to stare, like anyone would, and of course given my unique circumstance, study her (his?) every move, make sure I was capturing her correctly. But obviously society tells us not to. It was a weird situation. I couldn’t even tell you what the movie was; I was so distracted by the silhouette in front of me. I do not believe in coincidences though. She was definitely sent to me as a sign or a gift or something.
2) How did it feel to be the first patient we saw at Briarcliff?
I didn’t actually know that was the case until I first it at the premiere. That was a pretty cool realization! I really had no idea coming into this how this role fit into the broad scheme of things. But I knew it was something special. It wasn’t until that first day on set when I looked around the common room and said, “wow, I’m the only one like me.” It goes to show you there are no small parts though.
3) Did the producers/directors allow you freedom with your character?
Yes and no. No, in that I knew exactly what they wanted. Most of my information was actually given to me by the makeup people, who are in the production meetings with the producers. Basically I was given, “you are gonna look like “Schlitzie”, this character from the 30s. So if you’re gonna look like him, you’re probably going to want to act like him too.” That was pretty much all I got. But at the same time, yes, I had freedom in that they weren’t micromanaging me in any way– it wasn’t until I was on set that they saw what I’d prepared to do. The audition itself didn’t actually entail any Pepper. They didn’t even let on to what Pepper was. But by the time it came to shoot, I obviously knew what they wanted, so it would have been foolish to depart too much from that.
4) What is Pepper’s reason for being at Briarcliff? Does the seemingly gentle and sweet Pepper have a dark past? And will we see her past?
You’ll find out. Wednesday is “the Pepisode.” According to the shooting script, that’s my arc. Though who knows how it got edited! Assuming I’m not all over the cutting room floor, we’ll find out about her past, and why she’s at Briarcliff. There’s a lot more to it than just cutting her sister’s baby’s ears off.
5) How are things on set? Does it have a horror feel to it? Did they keep the villains and victims separate to keep tensions high?
The set is terrifying. The set itself is like a character. It’s so well done, so creepy, always with this layer of fog hovering… Of course, acting alongside the likes of Jessica Lange is a little terrifying too. But everyone is so nice. It’s the most loving, nurturing group of people I’ve ever worked with.
That said, I don’t think it’s clear who’s a villain and who’s a victim to keep us separate, even if they wanted to! (Though they’re busy shooting a tv show– they don’t have time to try to get into our heads like that.) Look, for the longest time, we thought Dr. Thredson was the good guy, and going to help Lana. Clearly not the case. Sister Jude seemed the typical bad guy– a strict, stoic nun with a past–but she’s the greatest victim of them all. And then I also don’t see full scripts– I only read what I’m in– which is often as little as “Pepper goes pee.” So, it’s hard to distinguish who’s good from bad, on many levels.
6) Season 1 of American Horror Story was a haunted house story, and Season 2 pushed the envelope with an asylum seeded with evil—supernatural, real and psychological. If we get a season 3, where do you think American Horror Story will go next?
There is confirmation for season 3! Jessica Lange is the only one confirmed so far. I don’t have a clue as to where it will go, though I do know it will be out of the box– that’s the one constant we can always count on from this show! We’ve seen the family drama, now we’ve had the office drama– what’s next? When I saw this season’s first episode, I thought, “They just did everything– aliens, demons, raspers–what else is there? Where else is there to go?!” Though you know they’ve got something!
7) Tell me how your audition for Pepper went. Did they have you do anything in particular?
I had to do a monologue of Jessica Lange’s and an improv. They gave me a ball and asked me to try to get them to play with me, like a child. Obviously we know what that was: Old Pepper. The monologue was what had me duped… This was obviously not the role I was auditioning for– this was Jessica Lange’s part, which had already been shot and aired and for which she was going to win an Emmy! But that was just to see my range as a actress. Because now we know: Pepper comes back with this unusual change– I’m not just the goofy, microcephalic Pepper, but also must play a more adult, articulate, careful, calculated, evolved Pepper as well.
8) Pepper has some pretty distinguishing physical features. How long does it take in the makeup chair to go from Naomi to Pepper? What kind of transformations do you have to go through?
Right?! I look the mirror even still and can’t believe it’s me! We had maybe 7 or so makeup meetings before I actually went to set. It started with them making silicon casts of my head and my arms– they would pour silicon all over head and arms and have me sit there perfectly still for 20 minutes. From that they made my prosthetics: I have a fake nose, fake ears, fake brows, fake teeth, fake eyeball. The only thing that’s really mine is my head. At first they would give me a whole head bald cap, which was great, because I could keep my hair. But it took a lot of time because it had to be perfect. In my little sketch comedy world, if you want to be bald, you put on a pink swimming cap and run out on stage. This is a whole other level. They will literally place each hair follicle on. Then there were talks that it didn’t look right, but there wasn’t time for them to create a cap with sewn in stubble, and even if there were, it would cost more to create than have me shave my head. Which of course was fine, it’s part of the job really, and what better reason to do so than American Horror Story! Having a juicy character like Pepper to play is really all I’ve ever wanted– when you look at it that way, it’s not that big of a sacrifice after all.
9) Can you let us in on your typical day on set?
It depends on what time they’ve wrapped the night before. But it’s not uncommon at all for me to be the first one there at 5am with the makeup crew. Only because it takes 3 hours for me to get ready. But it’s really not that bad– they tell me to lean back, and close my eyes and I go back to sleep! After that I go to my trailer, get into wardrobe, hang out and prepare there. Sometimes I’ll Skype my dad and freak him out. Then they take me to set. Early on, that was an adventure because no one could know what I looked like, so they’d put a shroud over my head to protect me from tweeting tourists and what not. Once the show aired and the jig was up, it was ok– I no longer needed someone to hold my head and lead me to set. Then at set, we’d rehearse… and that was always interesting because it’s always possible what you’ve prepared is totally off-the-mark. It’s not like theater where you have months and months with a director who is crafting the character with you. You have 10-20 minutes with director who says yes or no. And if you get a no, then you have 20 minutes while they’re setting up lights and camera to reprogram. That said, there’s always downtime. I tend to hang out in character because when you look like that, you just go there. It’s funny, I find that crew members will giggle and wave at me in a way that they don’t to the other characters. Then we shoot. They tend to be really long days because everything is just so meticulously done. Everyone is so on top of their game. You’ll never find a mistake on AHS. Between takes, it’s a flurry of hair, makeup. Sometimes it’s very hot, so they’ll bring me off set, and fan me down. But they are on it at all times– truly consummate professionals, everyone.
10) Was there any member of the cast you were star struck when meeting them?
For the most part, I knew who I was going to be working with, so I was prepared to see everyone. I will say I went to set a couple weeks ago to say good-bye… While I was there, I saw Dylan McDermott. He was one of those actors I never worked with, so I hadn’t prepared to see. He knew who I was, even out of makeup, which was especially fun, and unexpected.
11) Do you believe in the supernatural?
Its funny, I find myself in supernatural stuff a lot. I did a TV show on the Syfy Network called “Destination: Truth.” We’d travel, in my case to South America, looking for chupacabras, etc. I had to play like I believed. I will say I think I believe in ghosts. In fact, last season really got to me. This season is less scary to me, probably because I see behind the smoke and mirrors.
12) Would you continue in the horror genre?
Of course! I’m not limited to it, though I do love it. I just love big characters. Comedy is really my thing, and big characters lend themselves well to comedy. I never dreamt of doing 1-hour horror. But we don’t always choose these things– sometimes they choose us.
13) Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’ve had a lot meetings lately because of AHS, though nothing I can officially disclose.
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