American Horror Story's second season has kicked it into scary high gear after a successful first year on the FX Network. Set in an insane asylum during 1964, the series stars Jessica Lange as Sister Jude and Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson. In the first season of the horror show, Quinto played Chad, a previous gay owner of the haunted house.
The star of television's Heroes and the movie reboot of Star Trek came out of the closet in October of last year. He was a supporter of gay rights prior to that working with the Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project.
His theater credits include such LGBT notables as Angels in America and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, about the murder of Matthew Shepard.
His character has been key to the new season of "Horror Story" with the recent big reveal that he is the sadistic skin-fetish killer Bloody Face. Windy City Times talked to him the day after this shocking episode.
Windy City Times: Hi, Zachary. Someone was just in Chicago to help with the Obama campaign!
Zachary Quinto: Yes, I was, and happy to be there for such a positive celebration in your city.
WCT: So everyone knows the big secret in American Horror Story now. Did you know all along?
Zachary Quinto: Yes, I knew from the very beginning. It was part of the conversation that I had with Ryan Murphy about me coming back to the second installment of the show in the first place. I very much informed on the character that I was building from the beginning.
As a result, I felt like my responsibility became to create a character that people could trust, or at least trust initially, and have some hope that perhaps he is actually the one voice of reason and sanity within this chaotic world. So it was actually more exciting for me to know from the beginning. It gave me more to play with, more to hold back and more secrets to keep.
WCT: Sylar was evil in Heroes. Were you worried about playing another bad guy?
Zachary Quinto: I think any time an actor revisits territory that they've been in before, it can be a source of trepidation, as it was for me. But part of the reason that I loved what the opportunity stood for was that I got to know, going in, I got to really build something. With Heroes, that character was built before I was ever attached to it. There were eight episodes of anticipation that were built before you met "Gabriel Gray" in Heroes, but I had no participation in that.
So for me it was really exciting to get to go in having all the information, and actually be that part of the process of creating a character. That, to me, was a difference.
It's just more rooted in character and relationship, and less rooted in the sort of peripheral elements like superpowers. I liked that this was grounded and real.
It's not a six-year commitment, as it could be with another show. It's self-contained and it was an immersion that I'm not going to be repeating or carrying on for an extended period of time. It was something I got to go do and contribute. I could benefit, grow and learn. That is an environment in which I thrive. So I was really excited about all those elements.
WCT: You had a powerful aversion-therapy scene as the doctor trying to change the lesbian journalist Lana straight. What did you think of performing that scene?
Zachary Quinto: I mean, I think the scene was very reflective of a pervasive mentality of the time. As unsettling as it is, I think it was powerful to revisit it and to present an audience with a reflection of that kind of really abhorrent thinking. Obviously, we've come a long ways since then and that's great. There's so much progress made and more work to do.
So I think it's always good when you're able to, as an actor, allow your work to be some kind of a conduit for a social discourse. I think an examination of where we are as a society. This installment of the show is really doing that in a lot of powerful ways, that being one of many. So this is another reason why I'm grateful to be a part of this kind of storytelling and this kind of environment.
WCT: He seems to be a little specific with Lana and her girlfriend. Are we learning more about why Thredson [Quinto's character] is doing this?
Zachary Quinto: Yes, [the next] show is called "The Origins of Monstrosity" and so it really dives into a lot of the roots of the characters in this world in Asylum. So, yes, a lot of things will become clearer and probably even more disturbing in the next couple of weeks.
WCT: It almost seemed like some kind of test.
Zachary Quinto: Yes, I think it was a test and I think a lot of his actions in the first four and a half episodes of Asylum were serving some ulterior motive. So I think he was trying to gain Lana's trustgain some proximity to her and some intimacy with her. I think he was definitely trying to show her that he could be there for herthat she could rely on him even through something as ugly as that and as brutal as that.
As barbaric as we can see it today, at the time it was a pervasive social mentality that homosexuality was something that could be treated medically or psychologically. So I think to that end, he was implementing the forward thinking of the time to try to help her, or try to feel like he was helping her, to make some effort to get her out of there. Then it put him in a position when it didn't work to devise a more radical approach to getting her out; that she would then be more likely to go along with because he's already tried the more prescribed route or institutional route.
She already has trust in him, so she's more likely to go along with it. I think it's kind of a manipulative tactic that worked to a tee for him. So I think that's what's that's an example of there.
WCT: I heard you are good friends with Sarah Paulson, who plays Lana Winters.
Zachary Quinto: Well I especially have a respect for Sarah as an actress, but it's a rare and unique opportunity to show up to work with a really good friend.
I think she's doing such wonderful work on the show that I also just love watching her character and the journey that she's taking. She's gone to so many extreme and challenging emotional places, and done it so beautifully and dynamically. I just think her work is so incredible, so it's been a joy for me, really, this whole experience.
WCT: This season you are the threat, and last season a victim.
Zachary Quinto: Yes; I mean, there are different styles. I feel like the story last year was just told in a different style. This year is a period piece and there are other considerations that go along with that, just in terms of characterization I think. I don't know how much it has to do with, like, being the antagonist in a lair, the sort of threat this year myself rather than the victim. That's all just circumstantial.
There are still a lot of psychological manipulations going on from one end that makes it a little bit more veiled, or always holding something back this year, but that's just all fun. I just think of it in terms of who's the person, what's driving the person. Obviously, those motivations are very different for Chad [Quinto's first-season character] than they are for Thredson.
WCT: Will you be on season three?
Zachary Quinto: I just read today that the show got picked up for a third installment, so that's very exciting. I'm so glad it's doing well and people are really responding to it, and FX has been really great and so supportive and innovative in the stuff that they're doing. So it's great to work there and be a part of it. I haven't had any conversations with Ryan about what he's thinking for the third season, so I have no idea.
I love my job and I love the people that I do it with and I always want that to be the case. So I know he has plans and if they involve me, I'm sure I'll have a call at some point; but I don't know anything about it. I'm just focused on getting through the rest of this season and moving onto the next phase of stuff that I have lined up.
WCT: Why do you think gory shows like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead are so popular on cable?
Zachary Quinto: I think the networks already know that the boundaries can be pushed further on cable. I feel like in the world that we live in it's very complicated environmentally, politically, socially.
I think that some of these shows reflect that back. The most effective kinds of horror storytelling taps into that kind of primal fear that all of us share and that builds within a society and that need an outlet. So these shows that are able to be so bold and graphic and uncompromisingunflinchingstand to serve that purpose and be the sort of receptacle for all that collective anxiety. I think that's important in a social function, especially in a world that has as much anxiety as the one that we live in does. I think in some ways, it's exhilarating, but it's also a little bit scary that that reflects the world we live in as well.
WCT: What are you watching on television yourself these days?
Zachary Quinto: I've been watching Homeland pretty religiously. I'm a pretty giant fan of that show. It's really compelling and so well-executed.
WCT: What else?
Zachary Quinto: I've been known to watch an episode or two of The Voice, I will say that. I think it's really innovative and unique and well-done. I find there's an element of authenticity to that show and I very rarely respond to any kind of reality programming. So if I'm going to watch, it has to be people doing something that I could never do and obviously, each one of those singers that holds true for. I've watched a couple episodes of that lately.
WCT: How about the Chicago based show Boss?
Zachary Quinto: I've watched Boss, which I think is also really great television and I hope more people watch it or can see it.
WCT: Well, come back to town and do a guest spot on it. See you soon!
American Horror Story: Asylum adds the edge on Wednesdays. Visit www.fxnetworks.com for listings and details.