It's been a wild ride, and it's finally coming to a close. The season finale of American Horror Story: Asylum is this Wednesday on FX, and lips are sealed as to what exactly we should expect to see. Recently, I chatted with the lovely and talented Naomi Grossman--who plays fan-favorite Pepper on this season of American Horror Story--as part of a new podcast series. Below is a transcript of part of that interview, in which we discuss Season 3, the death of Pepper, and whether the cast reads the online message boards...
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Hi Naomi! So good to see you again! How are you?
I’m doing well, thanks! Good to see you again, too.
And thanks for agreeing to do this. Our other guest was supposed to be Julieanne Smolinski, the hilarious and super talented writer who does the recaps for American Horror Story for vulture.com. Unfortunately, she’s been sick and couldn’t make it.
So sad. I love her recaps.
By the way, I think most people know by now, but for anyone who hasn’t been watching this season, American Horror Story: Asylum is basically crazy. It’s pretty much about a group of people—who may or may not be crazy—trying to beat the odds against violent nuns, a serial killer, mutant zombies, Santa Claus, a Nazi, multiple murders, Satan, and aliens. And all of that is interspersed with periodic scenes of adult breastfeeding and the occasional song-and-dance number.
You pretty much just summed up 13 episodes in 30 seconds.
I mean, that’s the gist. Now, the last time I talked to you, you had just been to the Golden Globes. How was it?
Well, I didn’t actually go to the ceremony, but I went to the Fox After Party. That’s where all the fun happens. Everyone from all the Fox shows was there, so that was great. Jane Lynch told me I looked beautiful, which was amazing. That’s the great thing about playing someone like Pepper… people will tell you that the real you looks good in comparison.
Was Jessica Lange upset that she didn’t win?
If she was, she didn’t show it. She’s a pro. And she wins everything, so maybe it was just someone else’s turn. She’s obviously amazing, though.
And interestingly, the person she lost to was Julianne Moore, who won for Game Change, which Sarah Paulson was also nominated for.
Yes! And also lost! She’s great, too.
Everyone involved in the show was so good this year. Was there anyone you were really intimidated to be working with?
Well, not intimidated really. I mean, obviously there were people like Jessica Lange, who is such a legend, who I was so honored to be working with. But I think there are so many actors who second guess themselves or whatever, and there’s really no time for that in a show like this. We really have to just jump in and do it. I just tell myself, if I’m here it’s because someone wants me here. I can’t think of Jessica Lange as this huge star right now. Right now she’s just my scene partner and we have a job to do. And certainly there were moments, like in ‘Name Game’ and in the last episode with the scene where Pepper had become Jude’s confidante, where I was in awe of her.
Speaking of ‘Name Game,’ that was really kind of a polarizing episode, with the musical number. I loved it, and I think a lot of people really enjoyed it. But a lot of people also really hated it…
Really?!? I thought it was great! At that point, everything we’d done was just so dark and heavy, it was so refreshing to get to do something like that.
And were there special rehearsals just dedicated to dancing?
Yeah, all the main people in that scene had a special rehearsal. Kit and Lana and Jude. And me, actually, because I had a little part.
How long did it take to shoot that scene?
Pretty much all day. They did so many reshoots and wanted to get a lot of different camera angles. There were cameras coming at us from all over. I saw some of the dailies and thought, ‘wow, you could just leave this as it is, all one take, and it would be so good already,’ but obviously they wanted to do it several different ways.
Was anything cut? Anything we didn’t see? There were rumors about other things that had been shot.
Yeah, I mean, like I said, we shot for hours, so not everything could make it in. I did have a line that was cut. Towards the end, I said, “So many rules!” talking about the rules of the name game. They ended up not using it. I think I was the only person who was told to not go too far over the top during that scene.
Well, Pepper is kind of an ‘over the top’ character in a way.
Exactly. It could have easily been too much.
Speaking of Pepper as a character, you obviously had to shave your head for the role (and by the way, I know you’re wearing a wig now, but it’s amazing how real it looks. I would never have known). But did you have any reservations at all or were you completely ready to commit?
Yeah the wig is great. I feel like me in the wig. I mean, you didn’t know me before the show, but this is what my real hair looked like. But no, I was on board. Obviously I wanted some kind of guarantee before I did that. I knew that it was American Horror Story, but I didn’t know much else. They couldn’t tell me too much about the character, but I wanted to know that it would be at least a regular part and not just, like, patient #17 in the background of one scene, before I agreed to get my head shaved.
So you wanted to at least know that you weren’t auditioning for a new Ryan Murphy reality show where he just tricks actors into doing crazy things.
Right! I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being Punk’d.
But no regrets about the shaved head?
No, not at all. The character turned out to be great, and now I’m in a little club of actresses who shaved their heads for a role.
Natalie Portman, Demi Moore, and Naomi Grossman.
And Pepper really did turn into kind of a breakout fan favorite. And speaking of fans, I actually have some questions from some fans on the internet for you.
Firstly, Drunken Cowboy wants to know if you enjoy Dr. Pepper, “the greatest soda in the world.”
Well, Drunken Cowboy, I do. I’m still holding out for that Dr. Pepper endorsement deal.
It’ll come. CPRInstructor wants to know if you or anyone from the show reads the IMDb message board, or any other online boards?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I can’t speak for everyone, but sure. And I think that the writers really take what the fans have to say seriously. Like, I doubt Pepper’s part would have been expanded the way it was if not for the fan reaction to her.
And how early on did you know the role was going to expand? I mean, you went from one or two lines to a major story arc and full-on monolgues.
Yeah, I know right? I mean, I had been given some indication. But I knew very little until the scripts would come in. And even then, we weren’t given full scripts, just sides. Just our own lines and the scenes that we’re in. At one point I had come out to New York to do one of my solo shows and they called me up and said, ‘Hey, we need you back. You have a scene. We’re slipping your sides under your door.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, great.’ So I had my neighbor, who is a really good friend of mine, go into my apartment and get the sides. These things are obviously kept very, very confidential. But I trust him completely. And I wanted to know if this was going to be something I would need to study and learn on the plane before I got back to L.A. So he called me and said, your line is “Pepper pee.” And that was it. So I felt like I could handle it.
That was a great scene! And speaking of things that are great, Oporotheca wants to know who you enjoyed working with the most. Who was the best person to work with?
Oh, everybody. Everyone was great. The whole cast was great to work with.
Really? Everyone says that. Is it really true, though?
I know! It’s such a cliché thing to say, and I’m sure you probably wanted something more gossipy. But truly, everyone was great. Chloe was a lot of fun. Sarah is sweet. Jessica is amazing, obviously. Jamie Cromwell is just so giving…
That’s what he goes by!
I love that. Parriepenn wants to know if you watched Tod Brownings movie Freaks for preparation for AHS.
On a loop. All summer. All I really knew, from the makeup people, was that Pepper was based on Schlitzie, so I watched it a lot to get an idea of how a microcephaliac looks and behaves.
Finally—and I apologize to whomever asked this, but I can’t read the name on the card—but someone wants to know, ‘Do you have any advice for young actors? Also, how long have you been in the business, and how long did it take you to get a steady job?’
Oh wow. Well, my advice to someone who wants to get into this business would be: don’t. Don’t do it. Unless you absolutely have to be doing it. And I know that’s such a cliché answer but it’s true. The work is hard, and hard to get. If you can be doing anything else, do that. Don’t be an actor. If someone comes up to me and says, ‘my kid wants to be an actor, what can we do?’ I say, tell her to take piano lessons or do anything else. Until she knows for sure that there’s nothing else she wants to do. Now, I’m one of those crazy people who needs to be doing this. But to answer the other part of that question, I’ve been doing this for years. A long time, and really just taking any small part I could get. From local commercials back in Denver to the Father Dowling Mysteries. But I moved out to L.A. and went to audition after audition, and no one was casting me. So I finally just decided to cast myself. I started doing my solo shows, which ended up having pretty good runs in L.A. and New York and London. And I was a member of the Groundlings. But it’s only just recently that agents are starting to seek me out, because they know the show and what a success it’s been. But as far as how long it took to get a steady job, I would say I still haven’t gotten a steady job. American Horror Story was the closest so far, but even that’s over now. So the short answer is, don’t be an actor unless you have no other option, and even then you probably won’t get work. Is that answer too depressing?
It’s honest. And true. So do people back in Denver contact you now that you’ve had this success.
Oh, sure. I’ve heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years.
It must be flattering, though.
By the way, did you watch the first season of American Horror Story?
I did. I loved it. I thought it was such a brave show, and I don’t know what it is about the performances, but they just really get such great people. Jessica, and Jamie (laughing), and everyone. The quality of the show and the performances is just at a level all its own.
I agree. And I’m glad you’re a fan of the show, because I want to play a little game now…
I’m just going to ask you a few American Horror Story trivia questions. They’re quotes from the show. You just have to tell me who said them. When Julieanne was going to be here, I was going to have the two of you face off against each other. I thought it would be interesting to see who knew more about the show—someone who was actually on it, or someone who had to recap it week after week.
Well no offense to Julieanne, but I’m glad she’s not here then. Because she would destroy me. I think I’m about to disappoint a lot of people… I’m so bad at this! I even have to ask my friends after a scene plays on TV, ‘What just happened? What did I miss?’
Oh, they’re easy. Well, they start out easy and get progressively harder.
The first one is super easy: “Play with me.”
Oh, well that’s me! I thought I was going to have to finish the line!
No, no. Just give me the person who said it.
Right! See, easy! The next one is pretty easy, too: “Show me your mossy bank.”
Sister Mary Eunice!
What?! No! It was Dr. Arden!
Oh, yes! With the hooker! Ah, see I told you I would be terrible. But I love that line. I was talking about my “mossy bank” for weeks after that.
Nice. Next one: “Nutmeg makes all the difference in the world.”
Nutmeg? What could that have been in reference to? Oh, wow. I have no idea… Was that one Mary Eunice?
No! It was Thredson! Bloody Face. When he had Sarah’s character—when he had Lana chained to the bed and he was making her a sandwich…
Right! That was a delicious sandwich, too. The last thing she’d get to enjoy for awhile.
I know! I felt bad for some actors—well, not bad, but I was stressed for some of them, the things they had to do. Like Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto being told they have to get ready to do a rape scene. Or Dylan McDermott being told, ‘Okay, you’re gonna breastfeed from this hooker now.’
Okay, next quote: “The Christians are about to be eaten.”
I was actually there for that line! That was Mary Eunice.
You got it! Eventually one of them was going to be Mary Eunice. How about this one… I think you were there for this line too. Or right before it: “The cruelest thing of all is false hope.”
Hmmm. That sounds like… Jude?
Yeah! In the last episode.
Oh, right, with the Monsignor! That was such a great scene. And a great line. Very true to what was going on with her.
Okay, last quote: “You could shave me bald as a cue ball and I’d still be the hottest tomale in this joint.”
Wait was that Eunice, too?
Oh, no! That was Chloe! Shelley!
Yes! Okay. Bonus trivia question. It’s about you…
Oh good. Maybe I can redeem myself.
In what year did Pepper supposedly die?
You got it! Now, did you know ahead of time that was going to happen? That Pepper had maybe died?
I mean, I had heard rumors. But no, I didn’t know until watching the episode and hearing the line, “She died back in 1966.” They tell us so little.
So is she really dead? Are you in the finale?
Ahhh… I… I don’t know if I should say. I… Okay, I’d better not say. It’s a secret.
But do you know what happens? Like, do you know what the actual ending is?
No, I have no idea. People keep asking and I honestly don’t know how it ends. I’ll find out Wednesday.
Are you doing anything for the finale? Having a party?
I mean, I always do a little something. Get friends together or whatever.
By the way, how was the wrap party? Didn’t you tell me that was just a few weeks ago?
Yeah, in December. It was a blast. It was at a club in L.A. So much fun.
Was everyone there?
Not a lot of the cast. Mostly crew. That’s how wrap parties usually are, though. But I never miss a party. And the makeup people were there, who I grew very close to.
So… any word on Season 3? Have they asked you back?
No word yet. I think the only people who have officially been signed are Jessica, Evan, and Sarah. So I honestly don’t know yet.
But you would return if they asked you?
Oh, absolutely! Are you kidding?? Of course.
Now, have you heard any of the rumors about Season 3?
I mean, a few.
And what do you think? And obviously, these are not spoilers, because you literally don’t know.
Right, I have no idea. I mean, the big one I’ve heard is about the scene were Jude hits the jukebox and “I Put a Spell on You” starts playing. People were saying that’s maybe hinting at voodoo or witchcraft. And I’ve heard next season is maybe going to be more focused on women, which is possibly good for me, and that could go along with the whole ‘witch theme.’
Someone online was saying—and I haven’t confirmed this to be true—but someone said that in that scene when Jude hits the jukebox, we get a quick close-up and you can briefly see the list of other singers and songs in the jukebox, and supposedly all of the artists listed have some kind of connection to New Orleans... So maybe a little Southern voodoo?
Oh, wow! I just got chills! That would be amazing. That is so crazy. American Horror Story fans are so great at picking up little things! And now that I’m thinking of it, I’m sure that when they put that jukebox together, the props people knew exactly what they were doing. So if that’s true, that’s really interesting! I hope that’s true. I love New Orleans!
Wherever season 3 takes place, I certainly hope you’re there.
Well, thank you.
Well, Naomi, that’s all the time we have. Thank you again for doing this. But before we go, I really want to ask—and you can say no—but I kind of want to ask if I can see you without the wig!
Oh, sure, I’ll take the wig off.
Oh, wow! It actually looks really good! Buzzed and sassy. I actually really love it.
I think it’s a little short, but I don’t hate it. I think after a few more weeks, once it’s grown out a little more, I’ll like it.
Just bleach it blonde and do the Miley Cyrus thing.
Okay, well I know you’re super busy this week, so I’ll let you go. But thanks again. And the next time you’re in New York, call me and we’ll get a drink.
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