Potential spoilers, plot giveaways and series secrets contained within. If your region or country is not
showing new episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum
concurrent to the USA-based FX cable network's release schedule, read on at your own peril. In other words, if your little part of the universe is not gearing up for the season finale of American Horror Story: Asylum
on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, than...you'll simply be privy to more intel on AHS: Asylum
than the rest of the series’ fans in your country or territory.]
Dylan McDermott confesses he’s genuinely ecstatic that he has been issued a proverbial all-access visitor’s pass to hang-out on the Los Angeles set of the dark, creepy hallways of the fictional Catholic Church-run Briarcliff mental facility that has been housing possessed nuns, aliens, Nazis, serial killers and mutants inside its decaying walls during the second season of American Horror Story: Asylum
. "It’s great to be back, because the second season of American Horror Story
) doesn't feel that much different than the first one (AHS: Murder House
),” the 51-year-old veteran actor (The Practice, Dark Blue, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
) says of his late-in-the-season surprise arrival during the series' sophomore season. “A lot of the same actors are back, some of the crew is the same, and I'm going back to film it at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. And, I'm working with Ryan (Murphy) again, 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 home. Right now, I know it's sort of strange to say, but it's sort of this safe house for me, if you will."
Co-created by Brad Falchuk (Nip/Tuck, Glee
) and über-producer, director and writer Ryan Murphy (Glee, The New Normal
), the triple-hyphenate TV wunderkind (Murphy) initially conceived American Horror Story
as a terror/horror anthology series which would utilize a core pool of actors and actresses – much like a repertory stage theatre company – for each seasonal installment of the series.
Having shocked audiences and wowed critics with his riveting performance as the troubled, adulterous psychiatrist Ben Harmon during the first season of American Horror Story: Murder House
, fans of the disturbing FX cable series were anxious to see McDermott return for the show's second season (which premiered this fall) as one of the lunatics running the asylum. While many of the actors and actresses from American Horror Story: Murder House
immediately reenlisted to join Murphy on his second nightmarish, jaw-dropping tour of duty to portray new characters in American Horror Story: Asylum
– an impressive list of thespians that included two-time Oscar-winner Jessica Lange (who was awarded an Emmy and Golden Globe for her brilliant performance in American Horror Story: Murder House
), Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy. Surprisingly, the male and female leads from Season One were absent from the initial roster of actors scheduled to appear on American Horror Story: Asylum
Actress Connie Britton's (Vivien Harmon) absence could be explained. Britton had signed on to play a country music superstar in the new hit ABC Network series Nashville
, so she just didn't have the time to do both shows. And, quite simply, it seemed to many Hollywood insiders that the Golden Globe-winning, Emmy-nominated McDermott had simply refocused his attentions on making feature films, which fostered the illusion that it would be nearly impossible for Dylan to rejoin his friends at Briarcliff. Consequently, fans of the envelope-pushing, highly-rated American Horror Story: Asylum
were stunned, but incredibly delighted, when it was announced McDermott was officially being committed to the Asylum
Although the character of Bloody Face was initially introduced in the "pilot" episode of American Horror Story: Asylum
(which featured the gory, bloody death of a character played by Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine), McDermott wasn’t actually the man behind the serial killer’s human flesh mask – at the time. In fact, Dylan’s character of Johnny Thredson/Bloody Face wasn’t fully introduced to American Horror Story: Asylum
fans until the ninth of the second season's thirteen episodes.
“By that point in American Horror Story: Asylum
, I think most people were pretty much thinking that I wasn't going to be on this season, so fans were a little shocked to see me show up,” admits McDermott. In the same sentence, however, Dylan confesses that he knew he would be showing up at Briarcliff Asylum immediately after the airing of the first episode of American Horror Story: Asylum
, on October 17, 2012 on FX.
"Ryan and I had talked in the summer and he said he was looking for something for me so that I could come back on the show,” explains McDermott, who made his big screen debut in '87s Hamburger Hill
. “I really wanted to come back, but we weren't sure in what capacity. Then, the day the first episode aired, Ryan 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 that’s what he wanted me to do.
“At that point, I hadn't read any of the script, so I knew nothing about it,” continues the divorced, father of two. “It was sort of a blind call. When he told me the story of it, I was just like flabbergasted. I mean, 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 TV, because when do you get to play different characters on the same show?"
Set in 1964, American Horror Story: Asylum
takes viewers inside a Church-run haven for the criminally insane, ruled with an iron fist by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a nun with a troubled past. Inside this locked-down facility, danger lurks around every corner. From Nazis and serial killers, to mutants and aliens, no one is safe inside these walls. James Cromwell portrays Dr. Arthur Arden, the nuthouse's German-born surgeon who performs morally reprehensible experiments on Briarcliff Asylum patients; Evan Peters is Kit Walker, an alien abductee wrongly accused of being the vicious serial killer known as Bloody Face – a moniker bestowed on the psychopath for his act of removing the flesh off of his female victims’ skulls; Lily Rabe becomes Sister Mary Eunice, a formerly kind and chaste nun who becomes possessed by an evil, demon spirit and seduces Arden, the former Third Reich physician; Joseph Fiennes portrays the overly-ambitious, morally-compromised Monsignor Timothy Howard; Zachary Quinto tackles the role of Dr. Oliver Thredson, a seemingly well-meaning shrink at Briarcliff who is unmasked by Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who reveals that the shrink is the real, murderous Bloody Face.
Lana Winters, a closeted lesbian reporter who is being held against her will by Sister Jude, is raped and tortured by Dr. Thredson, who also kills Lana’s longtime female partner (Clea Duvall). Not long after her escape from the clutches of the blood-thirsty doctor, Lana discovers she has been impregnated by Thredson. Determined not to give birth to the monster inside her, she attempts to abort the demon seed with a wire coat hanger. Although Lana believes she has destroyed her child fathered by the monstrous, psycho psychiatrist – the baby lives on. Fast forward several decades ahead, so that audiences can be introduced to Lana’s failed abortion attempt, Johnny Thredson (McDermott), an orphaned son driven to kill because of his vengeful hatred for his mother and genetically predisposed to share his father’s impulsive need to murder and mutilate women.
The lying, cheating, self-centered Ben Harmon, McDermott’s character from Season One of American Horror Story
, is a Boy Scout in comparison to Johnny Thredson. The actor says that is one of the reasons he loves being a part of Murphy’s stable of American Horror Story
regulars. “It’s really fun and exciting to be on Asylum
, because it's so radically different from last year,” Dylan explains. “In the first season, I was playing the psychiatrist role, a white-collar guy. Now, for Season Two, I'm 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. I refer to both of these characters in American Horror Story
as twin brothers with a different father.
“Johnny Thredson, obviously, is a troubled man,” McDermott continues. “I think he's got a sole purpose in life, because 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 and 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."
When he and Murphy first sat down and talked about the character of Johnny Thredson, Ryan had some very distinct ideas about how he wanted his serial killer to act. But, as McDermott explains it, one of the great aspects of working with a creative, passionate and friendly guy like Ryan Murphy is that the series creator welcomes other’s ideas and contributions, especially from the actors portraying one of the fictional roles he’s created. “Even though Ryan is the one who designed my character, he couldn’t wait to hear my ideas,” McDermott remembers. “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. I think we were both looking to do something radically different than we had last season, but this was, once again, Ryan's invention."
McDermott does cop to adding one aspect to Thredson’s persona that wasn't originally scripted for the character. "You see him smoking some crack, and I don't think that was in the script,” he says. “I needed him to have an outlet for feelings, and then when I started smoking crack, they started putting it into scenes. That was an important thing. 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."
A veteran of both big and little screen dramas, comedies, action-thrillers and horror stories, McDermott is the first to admit that American Horror Story: Asylum
is very twisted and dark. Although he’s been acting for over twenty-five years, McDermott confesses he often comes across roles that profoundly resonate with him personally, in some way. Dylan admits he often ends up taking aspects of these characters home withhim, and, more times than not, finds them hard to shake from his own personal psyche. “There are a lot of things in this show that are disturbing and hard,” he reveals. “There is a lot of violence in this show, and it's hard to get around that, you know what I mean? 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 if you're a good actor, you're going to take this stuff home with you."
Dylan even goes as far to admit that portraying the character of Johnny Thredson has begun to “creep him out” in minor, tell-tale ways, left him a tad unnerved and has invaded his own dreams. "It's funny, because with this particular role you don't know it when it's happening, because it's unconscious,” McDermott offers. “But, yeah, this guy has gotten under my skin a little bit, I have to say. For instance, 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."
However, putting on the Bloody Face mask, for the first time, was both a terrifying but enlightening experience for Dylan. "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,” he says somberly. “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, for some reason, the character of Johnny came to me very naturally. Sometimes you have to search for inspiration with characters. Other times, they just drop out of the sky and they arrive. Johnny Thredson was one of those for me."
None of this, though, comes as any great surprise to McDermott. When he accepted the role in the first incarnation of American Horror Story,
Dylan knew he was in for the strangest, most exhilarating emotional roller-coaster ride of his professional career. Not only did he shed all his clothes and saunter around the set in his birthday suit for Season One, but in AHS: Asylum
he’s had to perform and convincingly recreate some seemingly gruesome acts.
"You better not have any fears walking into this show, because all your personal things are public,” he warns. “I think that you really have to be not too shy to do a show like this, let me just put it that way. 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.
“If you watched all the episodes, you know that I've had to do some strange things, clearly, but it was part of the ride when I talked to Ryan about this show,” he adds. “Obviously, the cry baiting and walking around naked in the first one, combined with me now playing a serial killer, all comes under the terms of agreeing to do American Horror Story. It is what comes with the dinner. So, you just have to be up for it."
Dark, twisted, terrifying, disturbing and, at times, downright scary, what is it about American Horror Story
that television audiences find so appealing about the series? Since it’s first season, it has widely broaden it’s viewer base to become one of cable’s highest-rated series. What is the series' big secret? Not only does American Horror Story: Asylum
maintain a cadre of millions of loyal viewers who regularly come back for more, but it also enticing new fans to jump on the terror bandwagon. "It's a funny thing, but I think that people, as much as they deny it, they want to be scared,” McDermott theorizes. “It's sort of a phenomenon, really, why people want to be scared when there is so much violence and 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.
“Plus, I think American Horror Story
is different,” he continues. “I think it's groundbreaking. It's hard to be different on television. It really is because execs do, no matter what they say, want to have great ratings, so a lot of those things they do are derivative. So, it's usually the same basic show format with different actors, over and over again. I think that American Horror
really broke that trend in many ways and I think fans appreciate that."
When it comes to personal preferences, Dylan says he likes the supernatural, psychological terror of AHS: Murder House
over the more human-driven horror of AHS: Asylum.
"I like the psychological horror, personally,” he says. “I don't like the slasher stuff myself, but I do like the psychological horror of (director) Roman Polanski and that world. 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.”
With a certain amount of recognition factor and built-in audience already in place, Hollywood motion picture studios have gone remake crazy over the past decade. While there has been some talk of a big screen “reinterpretation” of Rosemary’s Baby
for several years now, McDermott promises that if a script for a remake of the Polanski classic ever pops up on his desk, he will immediately deposit it where it rightfully belongs – in the trash bin. “I’d wouldn’t even consider doing a remake Rosemary's Baby
, because it's such a great movie,” he asserts. “Plus, 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's one of them. Now, maybe I'd be interested in the sequel to Rosemary's Baby
, but not the remake."
Surprisingly, McDermott is getting ready to start shooting a film that deals with the supernatural in some of the same ways as Polanski’s iconic thriller. “I'm going to work on a movie, actually, in February, called Mercy
, which is about paranormal activities, and there is a similar theme to Rosemary's Baby
in the film,” he explains. “So, somewhere inside me, I am attracted to that in a strange way. But, that film does scare me, with the whole demon baby thing, more than anything else. Kinda like what we had in the first season of American Horror Story
The first thing you learn about Dylan McDermott is that he is a man and an actor driven by gut instinct. He’s been offered a ton of cinematic drivel over the years, but he’s always maintained a keen ability to sift through the garbage and always discover some type of invaluable creative crown jewel. Dylan recalls being overtaken by the sense of having found the absolutely perfect project for himself when he read the first treatment for American Horror Story
. It was a familiar sensation, one he had experienced several times before, particularly when he read the role of Bobby Donnell in the David E. Kelley-produced legal series that would turn McDermott in a household name.
"It's funny, because you only feel these instincts every once in a while. I remember with The Practice
, I had this huge instinct about it, that it was going to be very successful. When I heard the idea for American Horror Story
, I had a similar instinctual feeling about this show,” he says with a smile. “I remember my agent pitching me the idea for American Horror
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? I've only had those instincts a very few times in my career – The Practice
and American Horror Story
were both of them. 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 with me. I think I found it with American Horror Story
He may have more of a nose for sniffing out hits than he gives himself credit for. "Oh, thank you,” he answers graciously when offered the assessment that he knows how to pick the creative winners. “That's really what it's all about – the material. That's the only thing that's going to separate you from other actors. It's all about the material that you choose, whether you know that are not. When you're going into a project, you know if 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."
In addition to his work on both seasons of American Horror Story
and a featured role in the critically-acclaimed film adaptation of the bestselling book The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
, McDermott has been keeping himself quite busy in a number of high-profile projects over the past twelve months. “2012 was a great year for me,” he says, happily. “After the first American Horror Story
, I went into The Campaign
, with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. I did that comedy and then I began making (the Antoine Fuqua-directed) Olympus Has Fallen
with Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler – which is sort of a taut political thriller. After that, I was playing in a comedy again with Selena Gomez in Behaving Badly
, and then back to American Horror Story
). So, it was a great year with 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."
Although he enjoys being a character actor his leading man perfomances – in such films as Blue Iguana, Steel Magnolias
and Hamburger Hill
and television series like Dark Blue
, The Practice
, The Grid
and the upcoming TNT police drama The Line
– have repeatedly demonstrated that McDermott has the talent, looks and presence to be the “star” of any project he chooses to associate himself with. Wouldn’t he rather be the dude in the driver’s seat as opposed to another passenger along for the ride?
"It's funny, because I think in my heart of hearts, I'm a character actor, but the leading man thing is, obviously, a great ride if you can do it,” he responds with a hearty laugh. “But, being the leading man is 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've gotten to play character roles. I still love it, which 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."
He continues on to say the repertory theatre-like nature of American Horror Story
makes it a particularly ideal situation for an actor like himself, one who strategically straddles the celebrity fence. "It really is ideal, 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,” McDermott admits. “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."
Before Dylan offers up his final adieus to the role of Johnny Thredson, what can fans of American Horror Story: Asylum
expect to see happen to the character as the final curtain comes down on Season Two? "I think we're going to look into what he really is, after some sort of closure with his mother,” he answers, cryptically. “I don't 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. I think we're going to peek into his psychological world in the final episodes, and then we're going to have closure with his character in the finale. It really goes into the psychology and the pathology of who he is. He's not just like a serial killer out there on the run with no reason. I think we get into the real reason of why there is somebody like Johnny Thredson. People behave badly, people are in prison and people are on death row and there are no excuses for everybody's behavior, except that most of these 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 it's not justified, but we're going to peek into his world."
American Horror Story: Murder House
wound up its season with a wonderfully, neatly tied-up ending, at least for most of the characters. McDermott reveals that fans can expect a similar kind of closure to American Horror Story: Asylum
. “Without giving anything away, I think it does tie everything up really well,” he confesses. “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."
Even though it's a ratings hit and a must-see show reaching incredible cult status, in many ways American Horror Story: Asylum
is one of the greatest, most underrated series on television. Why doesn’t American Horror Story
garner more respect and praise from the so-called professional TV critics? "I think it's widely praised.” Dylan diplomatically surmises. “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 it deserves to have more nominations and deserves to be up for more awards. But, somehow, I think the genre maybe gets in the way of 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 The Walking Dead
– these are two phenomenal shows – and I think maybe other shows might get more nominations or awards because they fit the notion of what a drama should be. These are groundbreaking shows.
"I think American Horror Story
is a groundbreaking show and ahead of its time," he adds. "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."
Naysayers and critics of shows like American Horror Story: Asylum
and The Walking Dead
take glee in dismissing both series for the purposely over-the-top violence they depict. The popular, but misguided, school of thought is that by watching violent shows on television or vicious Tarantino films in theaters, we somehow become desensitized to the brutality and/or try to reenact the fictional killings, rapes and attacks we see on screens. Coming from a generation raised on Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote shorts, there’s not many other middle-aged men or women sitting in prison, doing life sentences, for dropping ACME anvils on the top of someone’s head – at least, not an incident one would have read about on the internet.
Having witnessed the murder of his own mother when he was only five years old, McDermott’s perspective on the “watching fictional violent acts only breeds more violence” argument is invaluable. An insightful, compassionate man, McDermott certainly understands both sides of the violence debate. However, Dylan wisely reminds us all that television series and movies are called “entertainment” for a good reason.
“As I’ve said before, I think there's a valid argument either way, absolutely,” McDermott says, after pausing for a few moments of deep reflection. “But, as an actor, you can't judge your material or your character. I learned in acting school, a long time ago, not to judge my characters because that could affect the way you portray them. You may not do them service or really play them well once you judge them. 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. However, a show like American Horror Story
is strictly entertainment, and it shouldn't be taken seriously in any other way. It’s meant to be seen as make-believe.”
With only days left before the airing of the Season Two finale, production on the third installment of the American Horror Story
anthology should begin in earnest this spring. So, has McDermott been tapped on the proverbial shoulder by Ryan Murphy, indicating he has scored another character role in Season Three? “Look, I really love this show, I mean, if I wasn't on the series, I'd be watching it,” Dylan admits. “I just think it's just really too early to know. I don’t even know what the subject matter is going to be. I don't know how many genres of horror there really are, but I'm sure Ryan is going to make it interesting and fascinating – no matter what he does. Honestly, I'm a fan of this show as much as I am an actor on it. I really trust Ryan and he has a great instinct with me. If he asks me to come back on, of course, I’ll be there...it’s home.”
TheAmerican Horror Story: Asylum season finale, “Madness Ends,” is scheduled to air on the FX Network on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 10:00pmEST/9:00pmCST. (Check local listings)