American Horror Story Asylum
An interview with Zachary Quinto/Dr. Oliver Thredson
Jeri Jacquin, Movie Maven
For all you FX AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM fans out there last nights episode was nothing short of spectacular as the creepy factor has just been raised a few notches. This hit series on FX has brought quite a stir to Wednesday nights and fans are eating it up (pardon the pun).
Quinto has become recognizable to all when his role of Skylar hit the screen in the highly successful series HEROES. That, however, was not Quinto’s first acting gig! Since 2000 he has made his way appearing on such shows as CROSSING JORDAN, CSI, and CHARMED. His success skyrocketed when Quinto resurrected the beloved Mr. Spock with the 2009 film of the same name.
Last year Quinto came back to television in FX’s first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY as Chad Warwick – a very upset spirit in the AHS house. Creator Ryan Murphy brings Quinto back this season to play Dr. Oliver Thredson who carries a medical bag of his own problems to viewers.
This week Zach sits down to answer some questions about his character; what brought him back to AMERICAN HORROR STORY for a second season and what he enjoys most about his character.
The best part? Last night it was revealed that Dr. Oliver Thredson is the one and only Bloody Face!
Hi Zach…thanks for the chat today.
You tweeted and now everyone knows…when did you know you were Bloody Face?
I knew from the very beginning. It was part of the conversation I had with Ryan in the first place. It very much informed the character that I was building from the beginning. As a result I felt like my responsibility became to create a character that the audience could trust and hope he is the one voice of reason and insanity in this chaotic world. It was actually more exciting for me to know in the beginning. It was fun having more secrets to keep.
In playing this character, how is this guy different from what you’ve played before in other characters?
I think anytime an actor revisits territory that they’ve been in before it can be a source of trepidation as it was for me. Part of the reason I love the opportunity was that I got to know going in. I got to build something. With Heroes that character was built before I got attached to it. There were eight episodes before Gabriel Grey. I had no participation in that. I didn’t have the opportunity to create it. Here I got all the information and actually became part of the process in creating the character. That for me was the different and I thought it made sense. It also had a similar structure to it and it was very effective in that scenario. I thought it could serve the story. Its just more rooted in character and less rooted in the peripheral development like superpowers. I like that this was grounded and real and I’m drawn to that connection with a character. Its not a six-year commitment like it is with other shows. This is an immersion that I’m not going to be repeating and doing for an extended period of time. It will benefit and help me grow into other pursuits so I was excited about those elements.
About the scene where you’re doing the aversion therapy, what are your thoughts on that of changing a person?
I think the scene was powerful to revisit and present an audience with a reflection of that kind of really abhorrent thinking. We’ve come along way since then and that’s great with the progress made but there is more to do. It’s always good when you’re an actor when your work is a conduit for a social discourse. It’s an examination of where we are as a society. This installment of the show is really doing that in a lot of powerful ways. Its another reason I am grateful to be part of this kind of storytelling and environment.
Do you have any idea what the aversion therapy was all about?
I think it was a test. I think a lot of his actions in the first four episodes of Asylum were serving an ulterior motive. I think he was trying to gain Lana’s trust, gain some proximity to her and some intimacy to her. I think he was definitely trying to show her that he could be there for her. She could rely on him as ugly and brutal as it all was. At the time homosexuality was thought to be treatable. So he was implementing the forward thinking of the time. He was trying to make some effort to get out of there and when it didn’t work he came up with a radical approach to get her out of there. She already has faith and trust in him so she will go along with him. It’s a manipulative tactic that works for him.
Now that we now your dirty little secret, are we going to find out why he’s doing this?
Next weeks show is called THE ORIGINS OF MONSTOCITY so it dives into a lot of the roots of the characters in this world and the asylum. So a lot of things will become clear and more disturbing in the next couple of weeks.
I’ve read that you and Sara [Lana] are friends, how does that affect things?
I’ve such a respect for Sara as an actress but it’s a rare and unique opportunity to show up to work with a really good friend. It’s a richer experience when you have a foundation of friendship because there is trust and sensitivity to each other and our individual process. It’s really a remarkable gift. We also have more fun getting to laugh at situations. There is less awkwardness. I think its strengthens the connections that the characters share whether its friendships, horror or hostage. With Sara it’s been wonderful doing such wonderful work and watching her character go to such extremes and challenging emotional places and she’s done it so beautifully. I think her work is incredible so it’s been a joy for me really.
Everything about Oliver that we’ve seen has it been a ruse?
I think he believes in everything he’s done. Part of being a psychopath is the ability to disassociate from one reality to another and he does that expertly. His level of medical training and intuition, he’s very skilled. That’s what allows him to get away with things for as long as he does. He does believe in it all. That’s a layer of tragedy for this character, he could have been more of a contribution had he re-channeled his trauma and energy.
In Season One you played a victim, in Season Two you go in the opposite direction, how do you feel about that?
There are different styles and the story last year was a different style. This year there is a period piece. I don’t know how much that has to do with being the antagonist in a lair but rather a victim. There is a lot of psychological manipulations going on from one end that makes it a little more failed and has more impact this year. I think in terms of what drives the person and it’s different for Chad than for Oliver.
What about the victims who are women, is there something that makes them targets?
You’ll find out much more about that in the coming weeks so I won’t spoil it about being to specific but it all traces back to one source of trauma. It then branches out to include all of these women.
How about Season Three?
I just heard it was picked up for a third installment and I’m thrilled. FX has been so supportive and innovative so it’s great to work there. I haven’t had any conversations with Ryan about it so I have no idea if there is a season three. I k now he has plans but if they involve me there will be a call at some point. Right now I’m focused on getting through this next season and going into a phase of other things I have lined up.
Did the fan reaction surprise you because it blew up on Twitter?
The things I scrolled through seemed supportive and excited about the direction the show is going in. I’m more likely to have those people to reach out to me than any other. I hope people are into it and look forward to where it goes from here.
Bloody Face we’ve seen in the future, do we find out if that’s who he is?
Yes, you’ll find all that out. I just read the next episode last night and it was pretty freaky and cool. It’s really driving to a point very well. The story telling structure of Asylum is really going to pay off in a big way. All the questions that people have will be answered. That’s my instinct at least having read almost to the end right now.
Did you decide to do this because of the horror of it all?
I think in the way that it’s structured and the certain instances where it’s an homage to stories that have come before are American in a way. It’s the social history of racism, homophobia, sanity, psychiatry and the idea of how to treat people that are mentally ill. I think they are American ideas and concepts and the idea of story telling as well. I have been inspired by the direction and camera work and its really reflective of America now in the modern world and where we’ve come from.
Did you get to give input for your Season Two character?
Yes, I had a few conversations with Ryan and Brad about this. We had a couple of connections about what the character was thinking and had a chance to contribute to what I would like to see. Once they got going, there engine drives them and us forward into surprising and unexpected ways. The vast majority of that comes from them and I bring it to life.
What have been your most favorite characters to play so far in your career?
It’s a good question. I feel like each experience has been so profound and unique. My last six years has been full of growth and creative fulfillment. It’s hard to narrow it down to one as my favorite. They are cumulative in a lot of ways. As far as the television aspect of it goes I would say that I feel more settled as I’m getting older and my experience in things is more complete. AHS character so far I get a chance to work with good people then I’m happy with it.
What are the storylines you like besides your own in AHS?
I think that Kit’s storyline I really love. I think Evan is fantastic. I love what Lily is doing now that she has the devil inside. That’s such a delicious story and I love it. I can’t take my eyes off Jessica Lange. She is so committed to her ferocity of instinct. It’s so riveting and inspiring sometimes. I love working with these people. I wish I had more to do with James Cromwell we haven’t crossed paths.
The next episode trailer looks pretty cool, has it been physical for you?
It’s an interesting point about the physicality about a show like this. A lot of us have had to go through some pretty intensive physical experiences. Whether is Chloe’s legs being removed or Sara having to endure electroshock therapy or any of the people that have been murdered, attacked our killed. Our bodies are so discerning and when you put them through such intense relentless overwhelming stimulation it can have an affect. We have to shake it off but this character has done some things that make it harder to shake off. That’s how it’s been.
When you signed on to AHS, did you know it was going to be a continual thing?
I didn’t know. When I did the first time around it worked out really well for me because STAR TREK was being pushed. I thought it was going to be a couple of episodes and I didn’t know it would go further. It was in the middle of that that Ryan brought up the idea of it being entirely different which intrigued me. I had been exploring the possibility, which was of a traditional t.v. structure and this was exciting. When Ryan presented the plan it seemed like there was no question that it was more unique and exciting to me because of that so that made my decision really clear.
Even more challenging?
Yes, because I’m a more integral part of it because there is a more extensive arc. It’s also more rewarding and more fulfilling in a way because you’re seeing something through from the beginning to the end.
How is the environment this season helping you to get into character?
The production designer and art department has done such an extraordinary job of creative an impressive environment that have actual characteristics depending on where you’re shooting. It’s a gold mine of information and opportunity for action and activities along the way. It’s a full environment we work in. You’ll get to see more of the lair in the coming weeks. I think the asylum itself and the hydrotherapy room, the bakery; the grand hallway has the repressive olive green beige feeling. I went to Catholic school and it invokes a lot of that symmetry. I’m grateful to the creative team behind it because they do remarkable work.
It’s a dark subject matter for sure, does it affect you?
It does to a degree but I consider it a responsibility to myself to discern the boundaries in my life. I try to separate myself as clearly as possible and as a trained actor it is part of what I learned how to do. I studied it in college and cultivated a technique that allows me to not get lost in some of these landscapes. I have outlets and things that I can do and do to make sure that I stay grounded and clear but it’s also what’s fun about it. I know that I can let myself go in certain ways because I won’t go in others.
How do you see horror in a story?
I think stories that reflect society fear back at the audience on some level is the most compelling kind of horror. I think that’s what this show is doing in a lot of ways. Its sort of evident by the commentary that other journalists have brought up tackling issues that are relevant to our society. It is filtered through different perspectives and getting to the root of what drives us as a society, a culture and an audience. I think that can be really scary.
So you have to prepare for this challenge of playing this role?
It depends on the scene. There is different levels of prepping for a scene. I have a combination of things I do like finding a quiet part of the set and do what I need to do. I listen to music to get into an emotional space sometimes. Stretching sometimes and breathing to take time to be quiet and find a stillness because I think that’s important. I love playing characters that go to extreme places. I love to explore different kinds of psychological landscapes so it’s ultimately kind of fun but its also complicated and colored by the depth of the nastiness at certain times as well. That can be a challenging part.
Acting, producing and writing – what is it you like to do most?
I would love to get myself to a place to where I’m ready to direct. I’m not there yet but I aspire to that for sure. My passion is acting and has always been and brought me to this point where I can diversify. I can’t see that changing but I’m also really fulfilled by having a production company and producing movies and learning about that. It’s an entirely separate skill set and one I enjoy. I’m going to cultivate it all until I can’t anymore. That’s kind of my goal because I love being challenged and busy. I will do whatever I can to continue to encourage that.
Why do you think shows like AHS is doing so well on television?
I think the networks already know that the boundaries can be pushed further. There isn’t anything they can do about restrictions but the stories are compelling. I think there is obviously a sense of collective anxiety about the world we live in. We are precariously perched in so many ways environmentally, politically etc. Some of these shows push that back. The most effective kind of horror story telling taps into that primal fear that we all share and it needs an outlet. These shows that are so bold and graphic stand to serve that purpose. It’s a receptacle for all that collective anxiety. In some ways it’s exhilarating and still a little scary that it reflects the world we live in as well.
Do you think the show worried about going to far, especially this year?
I think that they are certainly sensitive. Ryan is a sensitive artist and constantly striving for balance in his work. I know he doesn’t want to go to an extreme in one direction or another. I think there is a process is goes through and Ryan is a part of that with checks and balances and things in place that drive it in the right direction in a lot of ways. It is more uncompromising this year and tackling more things at once and diving in and examining. It feels like it’s pulling the audience in a real dynamic way and seems to be generating a response as they come back week after week.
Did you worry at all about coming back to television?
Not at all. The unique configuration of this particular show is really different than going into television at a different capacity. It’s creatively more engaging because if you’re going back to a show for another installment you’re going to play a different character. There is no sense of stagnation or fatigue because you’re constantly recreating and reinvesting in a character. In terms of television being a challenge you can get into a situation where your obligated for years at a time – that can be outrageously beneficial or frustrating. I spent four years at one show that had its challenges. There is no stuck because there’s always a finite number of episodes. It’s structurally beneficial. That’s why Jessica and James come to this because it’s attractive that it’s flexible.
So is there a line you won’t cross in acting?
If there is a line I haven’t reached it yet, at least in this show. I’m sure its circumstantial and I’d know it if I was in that situation. I think things are handled with enough respect that I’ve felt safe and supportive. Those are the two more important elements along with trust and professionalism and we have those in excess as AHS.
Is there a role you want to play still?
I don’t tend to think like that. It’s strange because if I look back and see what roles I have played and the exposure I could never have predicted that they would have happened. They happened in unique ways and I tend to have a faith in that that has served me so far. I just hope that continues. I try to make informed decisions. I don’t think in terms of a dream role so we’ll see how that all unfolds.
What are you watching on television these days?
I make time for HOMELAND pretty religiously because its compelling and so well executed. I can’t wait for HOUSE OF CARDS to come out. I love that a whole season will be given to an audience. I have been watching an episode or two of THE VOICE. I think that kind of programming is innovative and unique and well done. I think the performers have an element of authenticity that I respond to and I don’t do that usually with reality television. I’ve watched BOSS, which I think it really great television and hope more people can see it. That’s about it, it ebbs and flows to my availability.
When people recognize you, what is it mainly for?
As its gotten more frequent over the years its for more than one thing actually. I just try to meet people to where they are coming from. It’s for a particular project then we talk about that. If it’s more general then it’s about that. I don’t tally it up so much.
Well Zach, we are keeping tally and you are doing just fine by your fans! Next weeks episode will certainly take the shock value up even more and you can be sure that Dr. Thredson aka Zachary Quinto will be in the thick of it all! AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on FX…think outside the box!