From Tate Ellington to Jimmy Darling, Evan Peters has gotten to stretch his wings quite a bit on American Horror Story. Even so, nothing would prepare him for his biggest acting challenge of having to play James Marsh, the murderous owner and founder of the Hotel Cortez. Evan spoke with me about the challenges of working in the American Horror Story world, how he develops his characters, and what its like moving between TV and film.
On Developing His Character
“It’s usually never what you expect it to be,” Peters says of the characters Murphy tells his actors they’re going to play. With Marsh, he had to get past his initial reservations about the part. “When I first read it I thought, “oh I’m not right for that at all.” He’s much older and refined and it seems like a bit of a stretch.” However, Ryan gave him a bit of guidance saying he wanted the actor to speak as though he had a 1930s accent. Peters took this and ran with it, doing a lot of research and pulling heavily from classical films and performances such as William Powelll in My Man Godfrey. From their he crafted the physicality of the performance including changin how he stood and held his head, all in an effort to get the character right. “It all sort of became this wackadoodle guy who was filled to the brim with giddiness when it came to murdering people.”
Creating a Backstory From the Void
Finn Wittrock has spoken about the exciting and daunting prospect of creating a backstory that isn’t on the page, a sentiment Evan Peters has also expressed. “In the script there wasn’t much written about why he was the way he was, except for the bit where he was talking about his father being one of the meanest son of a bitches that you’ve ever seen. I came up with this back story about his mother dying in childbirth and his father resenting him.” The creative process even took him so far as to work with makeup to give the character scars, a nod to a feeling he had about his character being similar to a shark, with scars and dead eyes, but driven by blood lust. More than just a shock factor, he said the abuse and the scars are what led Marsh to kill his father, and then want to kill God.
His Leading Ladies: Mare Winningham and Lady Gaga
Working with Mare Winningham again was delightful for the actor and it really helped fuel his character work. Because Winningham’s character is so excited about the murder and the blood, it helped him better understand why Marsh would be doing what he’s doing. They also managed to work in some twisted love angle, calling back to their season 3 days. It provided a fun yin yang counterpoint to the Countess, played by Lady Gaga, who never really loved his character and brought new wrinkles to their scenes.
Being Able to Move Between TV and Movies
With his character Quicksilver getting two statement scenes in the X-Men films and his roles in American Horror Story, Evan Peters is probably in the best of worlds at being able to satisfy his two creatives sides. He likened working on the big budget films as being on a giant ferris wheel that has come unattached that you’re hanging on to for dear life, just waiting for your part to get to the top. “You’re in such a fantastical world, you can really play around in it and improvise. Bryan Singer lets you do that and it’s fun…with [American] Horror Story, its an American tragedy story.” The difference in developing character in the Horror Story realm is that they have to be believable even as they satisfy the need to be crazy and big, according to Ryan Murphy.
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