“He trusts his gut more than most actors do.”
Finn Wittrock is talking about American Horror Story: Freak Show co-creator Ryan Murphy, who selected him actor to play the sociopath rich brat Dandy Mott after playing a dying AIDS patient in the HBO movie The Normal Heart. The roles couldn’t be different. Ask Wittrock, “How did Murphy know you could go dark?” and the actor is dumbfounded.
Murphy also had a similar instinct with actress Sarah Paulson, who started off playing Southern psychic Billie Dean Howard on Season 1 of American Horror Story and graduated to the challenging role of Siamese twins Dot and Bette in Freak Show.
How did Murphy know that Paulson could pull it off? “He threw everything at me and the kitchen sink during season two,” she said. “I had to simulate masturbation, give myself an abortion and breastfeed Zachary Quinto.” Once Murphy knew he could throw Paulson in any kind of peril and not jar her, he know the actress could go the distance.
Murphy’s thespian flexing also has its upside: Today, Wittrock earned his first Emmy nomination as a supporting actor and Paulson earned her fourth Emmy nom (third as supporting) in the limited series/movie category.
In preparing for her role as Dot and Bette, Paulson watched video of the only living conjoined twins, Brittany and Abby Hensel, “to get the physicality and mimic their body movements.” She also read about the Hilton twins. When playing one twin, she had to keep her rib cage off to the side, and when playing the other half, had to sit erect. Camera shoots took twice as long because they had to shoot the left and right sides of Paulson’s body, with her changing her head band to reflect the angle. “It was labor intensive and incredibly challenging,” says the actress. “I’m right-handed, not left. It was hard on the brain.”
Speaking about his bloodthirsty character Dandy Mott, Wittrock says: “He always wanted to be a performer and be appreciated by a mass audience. It wasn’t for artistic reasons.”
Then joking, “It was because he wanted to get his own Emmy!”
He added: “Dandy was never accepted by anyone and was even rejected by the freaks. He was never allowed to mature.”
In regards to their roles on next season’s Lady Gaga headliner American Horror Story: Hotel, Paulson stuck to her reveal at last Sunday’s AHS Comic-Con panel and nothing else: “My character’s name is Sally Hypodermic.” Murphy hinted then that Paulson’s character could be killed off because none of her AHS alter egos has experienced death.
Wittrock, who also is appearing in a string of upcoming features — Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, Adam McKay’s The Big Short and Angelo Pizzo’s My All American — says that his AHS: Hotel character “is not a good guy by any means, but a very different person” from Dandy. As has been buzzed about on the web, Wittrock’s character has a love triangle with Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer’s characters.
Speaking specifically about his connection with Bomer, Wittrock explains: “There might be some payback, specifically in terms of what Dandy did to Matt’s character on Freak Show — Dandy dismembered him. So Matt and I may or may not go head to head over Lady Gaga. She has that affect on you.”