An “American Horror Story” with Naomi Grossman at Fan Expo CanadaSeptember 8, 2016
Best known for her role as Pepper in two different seasons of American Horror Story, Naomi Grossman career has included writing, producing and being part of the improvisational and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings. Recently we had the chance to talk with her during a media round table while she was at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto.
Media: What do you think of your Fan Expo experience so far?
Naomi: My goodness, you’ve got quite an operation here, it’s quite impressive. People told me it was huge and you’re telling me the weekend is even crazier? I can’t wait!
The GCE: American Horror Story has always had an impressive ensemble of actors. Did you all have good chemistry right from the beginning or was it something that you had to work on as the season progressed?
Naomi: It’s hard to say, you’re dealing with some of the best actors of the world. I mean, Jessica Lange could have chemistry with a brick wall. I was in two seasons as well so it was different chemistry in each one. I actually have the enviable role of Pepper where I was really improvising a lot of the time. On paper she was really nothing so it was really about what I brought to it and when you’re improvising it’s really like having a conversation, you say one thing and I’ll say another. The improvisation was just something I brought to the character, that was my background, and I think it made a lot of sense as a casting decision. You have Jessica and Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, all of whom are not only great actors but cost a lot and you aren’t going to cover their faces with prosthetics. At the time casting me with these actors didn’t make a lot of sense but now looking back, it was a very smart move.
Media: Could you talk a little bit about the makeup and prosthetics that were required for Pepper?
Naomi: Sure. The makeup consists basically of a prosthetic nose, brow, ears, arms, teeth and a wacky lens. It takes about two and a half to three hours and they shaved my head every day I worked. In the first season they kept me a little hairy on top and then in season four they shaved it all off and I think that was done in courtesy because Salty, my partner, was an actual bald man. Besides, we were in New Orleans, it was July, I wasn’t going to wear a wig, I wasn’t going to wear anything I didn’t have to. It was a really intense process, it was one of those things where you don’t realize until you’re in it that oh, I should have blown my nose, I can’t do that for another fourteen hours. Or eating, I was wearing a fat suit so at the craft tables this was the time I could really pig out but no, I needed a handler and a straw. Even texting, with all the down time in between takes, I couldn’t even text because my iPhone didn’t recognize my hands. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here complaining, oh poor me, but these are some things you just take for granted, and don’t get me started about going to the bathroom.
Media: Ryan Murphy has gone with these shorter seasons, almost like what BBC does. Do you prefer that to the more American twenty to twenty two episodes and do you thing the shorter seasons are the future of television?
Naomi: It seems like that, there have certainly been a lot of copycats since. I like it, just because my attention span is such that it can’t commit to that long of a season. Look, Breaking Bad, I’m sure it’s great but I can’t imagine sitting down and watching five seasons compared to just one. I like the idea that if it doesn’t work or it’s not for you then you don’t have that long to wait until the next season and it’s something totally different. I enjoy that and of course as an actor it’s amazing because with the exception of me, everybody has the chance to play another role and I hope to get that opportunity. I come from the theater so a group of actors, an ensemble, putting on a different mask or taking on a new role, that’s exciting to me.
Media: Are there any roles you are looking at, roles you’d like to do?
Naomi: I’m not going to lie, I think I could play a mean Hilary Clinton. I’ve been voting for her all along just for that reason! You know for a while, there were ‘Pepper for President’ posters popping up all around Los Angeles but that was four years ago so she didn’t really have a chance. It’s too bad, timing is everything.
The GCE: You’ve been in two seasons now of American Horror Story and each year the show seems to gain in popularity. Do the actors feel any pressure to make each season better than the last?
Naomi: I think so, it sure seems like that. I mean, they brought in Lady Gaga, what’s next, Jesus? It looks that way, like they’re trying to outdo themselves each year but we’re just actors, we shave our heads and let people blind us in one eye. I know we’re the face of the show so it seems like we would know but literally, I’m in the makeup chair saying ‘they want me to do what?’ and so the makeup person is texting the producer and the producer is texting them back, that’s how it works, it’s like a game of telephone. We hear things second, third hand usually and when we do it’s from the makeup guy so don’t ever take anything from an actor, we’re usually the most clueless, not just on set but in life.
Media: Is horror your preferred genre to work in
Naomi: Yes and no, horror kind of chose me. I’ve always thought of myself as a comedic actor, I’ve done a lot of improve. Let’s face it, I’m a character actor and that is my background and I’ve always thought I’d be on Saturday Night Live and you know, Pepper is almost a Saturday Night Live kind of character. SNL is short form comedy and American Horror Story is more long form drama but it’s really just a delicate little dance between the two, really. But this genre required a little more subtlety, a lot more subtlety actually and horror really lends itself to big, big characters, kind of over the top storylines and that’s what I’m all about. I imagined it would be comedy, it’s horror but whatever, I’m working and that’s what I’m grateful for.
Media: Do you have any other projects coming up?
Naomi: Yeah, I have a couple of movies I did last year that will be coming out really soon. Fear, Inc. is coming out in October, kind of a horror/comedy and another horror movie called The Chair which will be coming out soon as well.
I want to thank Naomi for taking the time to talk with us.