American Horror Story is one of the darkest shows on television and last season’s Freak Show took fans behind the curtains of the freak shows of old and gave them a real look at the people behind the acts.
We had the chance to sit down with Freak Show stars Mat Fraser (Paul the Illustrated Seal), Rose Siggins (Legless Suzi), Erika Ervin (Amazon Eve) and Naomi Grossman (Pepper) during Dragon Con last month to talk about their experiences working on the show, from how they were cast, to what scenes were the most challenging for them to film, to what lessons they learned while working on such a unique series.
Newcomer Rose Siggins had no acting experience prior to joining the cast, and initially wasn’t even interested in participating in the project because the one thing she never wants to do (and rightfully so) is exploit herself.
“I wasn’t actually looking for an acting gig or anything. I basically went to Facebook and there was a message and it said it was from someone named Ryan Murphy,” she said. “So I read it and he said that he was this big time producer for for this #1 rated cable show and he was wanting to do this freak show concept. Immediately when I hear freak show, I don’t want to exploit myself, so [I thought] I’ll be kind, call the Hollywood man back up and just tell him look I’m not interested, it’s not my cup of tea. He was like ‘wait no hear me out’ and he says I can’t really tell you all the details but basically it’s a 1950s concept of what it would have been like being in a freak show. Still, I’m seeing exploit all over that. I don’t want to do that.”
Siggins continued, “I’ve done like TLC specials and Discovery specials and I never want anyone to look at me as feeling sorry for myself or pity-I mean find some inspiration in what I’ve gone through in my life. So I kindly told him no, but he didn’t give up on me. He actually had his LA people call me. The next thing I know I’ve got these LA people calling me and asking me ‘ So you’ve spoken with Mr. Murphy. How about we just tell you who’s going to be involved.’ Next thing I know I’m hearing Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates and Emma Roberts and everything…and I’m like ‘These people are going to be there? Really?’ I don’t know how to act. I’ve never acted a day in my life and [Murphy] says ‘we can work with that.’ So he sent me a small script, it was the one from Asylum-Pepper’s lines when she’s talking to Dr. Arden-..and I sent it and he said yep…and next thing I know I was able to go out and I took my 2 kids with me. So it was awesome, we went and lived in New Orleans for six months, it was so cool.”
Fans of the series know that Naomi Grossman’s beloved character Pepper was the first of any AHS character to appear in multiple seasons. There was such secrecy surrounding the return of the beloved Asylum character, in fact, that Grossman herself didn’t even know for sure until she was already on set.
“They contacted me in March and said that I’d be back, but that was it,” laughed Grossman. “Then in May I think there was sort of rumors that I’d be back as Pepper and then as the negotiations went it was ‘No actually she’s not Pepper’ because if I’m Pepper that gives me a little more leverage as a negotiator, so we weren’t really sure. In fact it wasn’t until I was actually on set, that Ryan was in the makeup trailer and said ‘so are you Pepper or…?’ and I was like ‘Well, we should decide this now because they’re about to shave my head!’ I think the concern was that this was the first time that they’d had a character return in the series and so what did that mean? Are they no longer a mini-series? Because let’s face it they’re Emmy nominated…does that change everything? So I think ultimately it was a really smart thing to do.”
Freak Show was filled with the shocking moments we’ve all come to expect from American Horror Story, but surprisingly and interestingly enough some of the most intense scenes that the cast filmed weren’t the violent deaths or jaw-dropping moments, but the more emotionally taxing ones.
“One was a long scene with me and Evan [Peters], where my character is telling his character that he thinks Elsa is the one responsible for selling the twins,” revealed Fraser. “When we filmed it, we decided that he should slap me on the face, that it should resound around the entire freak show…a proper slap. I said ‘Come on dude, you can hit me, it’s fine.’ Then we did about 15 takes of it…then I had to do like a half page speech, which fueled the emotion of the speech really well because I was responding to physical pain and then doing it. …then when it came to it they cut like 80% of the scene.”
“The most intense scene for me was towards the end with Jimmy and the line, “At least you get to have a normal life,” Ervin shared. “For me, I’d shared some information with some of the writers about what I saw and researched about the freak show. These characters sometimes getting surgery in order to be normal and transgender people want to be normal, they want to meld into society. It’s almost impossible for a 6ft8 woman to do that. For me, when I say the words “At least you get to have a normal life,” there’s a lot of emotional pain attached to that. For me that was my most intense scene and people don’t see that as much.”
Working on a show as dark and intriguing as AHS comes with its lessons, and each member that we spoke with walked away from the season with big ones about themselves, as well as their fans.
Rose: “For me it was that I was introduced to what it would have been like to have been born in the 1950s and how people were shunned…it really opened my eyes to what it would have been like back then and where I am now and how thankful I am.”
Mat: “The level at which so-called celebrity outweighs so-called disability. For example, the demographic group that had traditionally had the biggest problem and difficulty, in terms of embarrassment or social awkwardness around my impairment, have been girls between 13 and 20 and they are now, the demographic that are most my fans…they really dig my character and they come up to me all the time.”
Naomi: “I guess I feel like I’ve learned so much from this little character. MTV called her the #1 good guy on American Horror Story and there’s so much power to that…I want to be more like her. She suffers so much and yet still manages to have so much light around her and I think that’s what I take away. The power of that.”
Erika: “In 2011 I met one of my co-stars Jyoti-Jyoti Amge, the smallest woman in the world- and I was a little apprehensive about going on the stage back then and she essentially said “Use your power” and on this show I got my freak on and I’m not afraid to be Superwoman.
Relive the beauty and horror of Fräulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities when the American Horror Story: Freak Show DVD/Blu-ray hits stores October 6 and don’t miss the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel, Wednesday October 7th only on FX.
Photo Credit: FX