As Sylar on NBC’s popular series Heroes, Zachary Quinto made a name for himself by playing a character so evil, he sliced open people’s brains. But even Sylar’s actions can’t compare to what we’ve seen so far on this season of American Horror Story: Asylum, where Quinto’s Dr. Oliver Thredson – a seemingly normal and sympathetic psychiatrist at Briarcliff – is, in reality, a serial killer named Bloody Face.
On a recent press call just after the reveal of his alter ego, the star spoke out about his feelings on the show and what he loves about playing such a disturbing character.
Did you know who you were actually playing before it was revealed?
“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, and 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 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 and more to hold back and more secrets to keep.”
So did you have any input where your character was concerned this season?
“I had a few conversations with Ryan and Brad [Falchuk] before we started. Ryan and I had a couple of connections about what he was thinking, and I had some questions and a chance to contribute to what I would like to see. But once they got going, it’s like their engines just drive them and all of us forward in such surprising and unexpected ways, so the vast majority of that comes from them and actually bring it to life. That’s how I see it.”
How did your friendship with Sarah Paulson (Lana) affect that particular scene?
“I 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. Oftentimes, friendships are formed on set and through these kinds of experience, working together in such intimate and unusual ways…but it’s even a richer experience when you already have that foundation of friendship. So there’s an implicit trust and sensitivity to each other and our needs and our instincts and our individual process. It’s really a remarkable gift in a lot of ways. So we also are able to have more fun, I think, and laugh at a situation a little bit more. There’s less awkwardness to cut through. I think it strengthens the connection that the characters share, whether it’s friendship or torture or hostage, whatever it may be, but we’re really – I love going to work anyway, no matter who I’m working with, but in particular with Sarah…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.”
Was Dr. Thredson actually trying to help with the aversion therapy? Or was he just testing Lana?
“I think it was a test and I think he was also…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 his trust – I mean gain “Lana’s” trust – gain some proximity to her and some intimacy with her. I think he was definitely trying to show her that he could be there for her; that 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: let me see if I can prove that I’ve cured you, then they have to let you out. But when that doesn’t work, and he knows it won’t, I think on some level then he can sort of be more radical about it and she already has more faith in him. 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.”
Now that we know about Thredson’s secret, are we going to see more about his life and his past?
“Yes. This week’s show is called “The Origins of Monstrosity” and so it really dives into a lot of the roots of the characters in this world. So a lot of things will become clearer and probably even more disturbing in the next couple of weeks. You’ll also find out much more about who Dr. Thredson is targeting, so I won’t spoil it by being too specific.But it all traces back to one source of trauma that then sort of branches out to include all of these unfortunate women.”
How does the environment on set this year contribute to bringing your character to life?
“Our production designer and the art department, they’ve done such an extraordinary job of creating this immensely oppressive and overwhelming environment, which does have actual characteristics depending on what part of the set you’re shooting in. I just think it’s a gold mine of information and an opportunity for action and activities along the way. That continues in the coming weeks because you get to see much more of the lair in which Lana is being held captive, where a lot of their scenes take place. I went to Catholic school growing up and it really invokes a lot of the same imagery. The icons and iconography and stuff with statues, I think all that stuff is so well realized in the world. I’m really grateful to the creative team behind that because they do remarkable work.”
Don’t miss an all-new episode of American Horror Story: Asylum airing tonight at 10pm on FX.