The FX Network has another hit on its hands with American Horror Story, which was picked up for a second season on Halloween. Actor Denis O'Hare, who plays the mysterious Larry Harvey on the series, recently held a conference call to discuss Episode 1.08: Rubber Man, where the identity of the Harmon family's creepy black-clad house guest is finally revealed. Here's what Denis O'Hare had to say about this new episode of American Horror Story, which airs Wednesday, November 23 at 10 PM ET on FX.
You're playing such a dark character, and a lot of times we hear actors say that you have to like who you're playing to be able to play that character convincingly. So what do you like about your character, and how do you connect with him?
Denis O'Hare: You know, it's funny. I love this character, and I love him because I feel like he is engaged in a sort of timeless epic struggle. And I see him as kind of a Dante-esque figure. He's somebody who is trapped in a circle of hell, and he's trying to work his way out. And he's a human being who's flawed, and he's obviously weak, and he's given into temptation and made bad choices. But through that all he's still got this sort of, I don't know, passion and dream to achieve something. It's an odd character. Like no other character I've ever played in my life, I find that I have to reach for a metaphor to describe him. I have an innate sense of who he is, and when I'm playing him it's all very instinctual. But to describe it I find myself running to literature, and so I think it's sort of like Igor in the Frankenstein mythology, or an amanuensis in some other mythologies, or a psychopomp as they call them sometimes, somebody who traffics between worlds. And it's a really odd, beautiful character.
And you, as an actor, seem to really be able to lose yourself in every role you play. You're so great all the time, but it always takes a minute to go, 'Oh, it's him!' because you've become that character so incredibly. So is it-how do you do that, because it's not something a lot of actors seem to be able pull off?
Denis O'Hare: Well, part of it is the richness of the character. A part of the reason I'm drawn to characters like this guy, or like Russell Edgington, or like even the guys like John Briggs in Milk, is that they're sharply etched, and they're clearly defined. And so I, as an actor, have an easier task. I know where I'm going, and if you add to it an aspect that's larger than life like someone like Russell Edgington who's 2800 years old, or someone like Larry who's got a very severe physical deformity, it takes away part of your resistance as an actor, and you simply give over to the character's features and the character's characteristics. You know, Ryan (Murphy) wanted me to have a wooded arm and sort of a limp. So the minute you start putting these things on you feel different and you feel like someone else, and that then forms everything.
American Horror Story is absolutely my favorite new show of the season, and your work is elemental in that. I so appreciate everything that you're doing. What is it that you like and dislike about genre work like American Horror Story and True Blood?
Denis O'Hare: I guess I didn't even know the word genre until I did True Blood. That's how naïve I was, and I didn't realize that there was a point of view about certain types of TV. And so I guess I found it disappointing that there is a segment of the critical community that looks at genre as something that is separate, less than. And especially when it comes to something like the awards I find it kind of baffling that True Blood has been snubbed so many times given the incredible range of acting they have on there, I mean, incredible storytelling and the incredible production values. So I guess I've been a little shocked at the prejudice that exists even by having a word called genre. What I love about it is that it, like sci-fi, is truly imaginative. And I guess I'm kid at heart in that when I go for entertainment. I want to be totally transported. I want to go somewhere else, I want to encounter different things, different beings, different universes. And so I love that aspect of being able to play those things in both True Blood and in American Horror Story.
In your opinion, what kind of release or redemption do you feel that Larry is ultimately looking for?
Denis O'Hare: You know, in upcoming episodes it's played out a little more. On a prosaic level he's looking to expiate his guilt. But what does that mean is that he's going to pay for his crimes or does it mean he's going to finally be held accountable and judged, I suppose, is one. But in a metaphorical sense, I think he's looking for meaning. Why have I gone through this? Why have I experienced this pain and suffering? Why have I not been allowed to reach happiness? And I think what he wants is resolution in the form of an answer, and that answer can be an action or it can be a message. I think all the characters in American Horror Story, which is why I love it, are looking for some sense of meaning, and also it's their form of happiness. If you think about Tate and Violet, if you think about even Vivien and Ben, their marriage, they're-people are struggling to find sense in what is a crumbling marriage. So I think for Larry it's a similar thing. He's looking for, sort of, a way of out of what he considers to be a hellish existence.
Now you talked a little earlier about what drew you to the character of Larry. I was wondering how did the role come to you?
Denis O'Hare: Fairly suddenly and without warning. I received a phone call, my agent got a phone call from Ryan Murphy saying he wanted to talk to me. And my agent said, 'I can't tell you what. I just know that he wants to talk to you.' And I said, 'Well of course I'm going to take his phone call.' And he basically outlined American Horror Story for me and said that there's a character named Larry the Burn Guy, and I'd like you to play it. Couldn't tell me whole lot about where Larry was going to go, but he sent me the pilot which I read over the weekend, and we were supposed to begin on Monday and he said, 'Do you want to do this?' and I said, 'Absolutely, I'd love to do it.' And that was it. We made the deal, and we moved on. It was very unusual, and that was my understanding is that's how Ryan operates. He tends to be very to the point. He decides what he wants, and he goes after it and gets it, and I loved it.
Denis O'Hare:I was just wondering, there are so many schools of acting from Stanislavski Method to Laurence Olivier's, 'It's all just pretend, dear boy.' What is your process, and how did you apply it to creating 'Larry'?
Denis O'Hare: I mean, I'm a Stanislavski actor. I was trained at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois-Evanston, rather. The tradition I come from is a form of Stanislavski, which means that you are looking simultaneously at the text and looking for clues beneath the words. And you're also doing an imaginative exercise where you're thinking about what's happening in this world, what's happening after this moment, what's happening before this moment, where have I come from, what is the entire history behind this moment? And with a character like Larry there's so much to draw on. And the challenge, of course, is that I'm not always up to speed about what is true and what's a lie. And I've had a shocking conversation from Ryan about a month ago where we're talking about where Larry was headed, and given last night's episode he said to me, 'Well, we'll find out that everything Larry said is a lie.' As an actor you're kind of like, 'Oh, so all the things I've been playing are a lie,' which is kind of genius on one hand, because actors with too much information can be very dangerous creatures. So it's nice to not have all the information but to simply play what I think is happening in front of me. It's certainly what deluded people do, and many of these characters are deluded. So it's kind of nice to be in the same boat as they are.
I was just wondering do you think American Horror Story may go a little bit more comedic and show us Larry's headshots that he was going on about?
Denis O'Hare: I would love to have had a scene with Larry running lines with Ben in the apartment for The Odd Couple and giving each other notes. I think that would've been fantastic. And I would love to see Larry's photo session with the photographer who's saying, 'Okay, chin down. Okay, a little more to the right. Okay, that's nice. Hold that.' I think that'd be terrific. You know, they write me beautiful comic stuff. There was a great scene last night when I was coming to the open house with Marcy, the realtor, and Vivien, and I just love the fact that they give me this nice little comic stuff. Who knows what's coming up? I still haven't gotten the last script, so I'm very curious to see what they're going to do with me.
I presume you'll be coming back for next season. Will that interfere with a return to True Blood?
Denis O'Hare: You know, I don't know anything about the future. I'm certainly thrilled about the show and would love to be included in it. Luckily for me they both shoot opposite schedules. So True Blood actually gears up right this Monday, and they'll work until July. And American Horror Story's winding down about the first week of December and won't begin shooting again until next July. So they sort of fit as two halves to a lovely year.
I wanted to talk about the first basement scene where Larry tells Constance that he loves her, and she says to him, 'Look what you did to yourself, look at what the house did to you.' And then he responds, 'The house didn't do this to me, you did this to me.' So she seems a little disgusted, and he sort of seems to blame her for his physical condition. Can you share with us more details about what this is all about?
Denis O'Hare: All I'll tell you is all will be revealed in, I guess it's Episode 9. There's an explanation of that, and I would be irresponsible if I said anything more. I love their evolving relationship, and I love the information we get. There's some great stuff in Episode 9 that comes out. We call it nine, sorry, that would be your ten, I think. But there's some great information that comes out about Constance's' life with Larry and Larry's attempts to become part of the family, which are sad and disturbing.
I think this is the conversation Larry has with Ben, where he says, "You know the house, that house has power." And a way the house is sort of the star of the show, so how much-can you hint at us in what Larry's referring to? I'm just curious to see if he really, actually has a strong understanding about the power that the house has.
Denis O'Hare: You know, I think Larry has more of an understanding of the house than most characters. Constance obviously has the most information, but Larry's a close second. Nora and Charles are sort of blissful ghosts in that they don't really kind of understand their position. But Larry being trapped in these worlds, immortal, he understands exactly what's happening in that house. And I think he greatly fears, greatly respects, and is drawn to the house. I'm not sure that he understands the mechanisms and the why behind it, but he knows exactly what's happening, and he knows the power of it. And he's very attracted to it. He's attracted to it and repelled by it.
Larry looks very scary. So can you tell us about the transformational process that you have to undergo to turn out looking as a burn victim?
Denis O'Hare: Yes, it's funny. I was noticing last night that they actually favored my right side, my face, a lot in that episode, and we didn't actually see a whole lot of the burned part, which I found very interesting. It's a trick when you're shooting to try to figure out how...which side do you favor. Makeup takes about three and a half hours, and it's this great company that works with American Horror Story. Christien Tinsley is the name of the company, and a guy named Mike Mekash is my primary makeup artist, and he's just fantastic. And it's a long process, obviously. It's multi-layered appliances, and then there's a lot of painting, a lot of hand painting, and then there's a wig involved, and then that goes on. And then the hand has to be cinched in, and the hand gets makeup-ed. And it's exhausting, but it's really great, because it allows me to sort of step down into the character gradually. I don't ever get chopped into shooting. By the time I am shooting I am very well ready.
Can you talk about the relationship between Larry and Constance, and what you think it would take for him to finally give up on her?
Denis O'Hare: That's a very good question. It's an obsession. She is an incredibly vital, attractive woman who exerts an incredible pull on Larry, who is an ordinary guy. And he has given up everything for her, and when you give up everything it's hard to sort of go backwards. So for him to decide or to, I suppose, fall out of love with her would be very, very difficult. He paid such a massive price, to admit that that price is not worth it would be devastating. That being said, in the upcoming episode we do see that he begins to evolve in his power relationship with her.
The cast is phenomenal, so can you talk about what it's like working with them?
Denis O'Hare: It's truly a treat. I've been lucky enough to work a lot with Dylan McDermott who I think is a gem. And I got to work with Connie Britton who I've long admired and am thrilled to work with. I've done some scenes recently with Evan Peters who's really fantastic. He's quite a great actor and I'm really excited to watch his career. And of course, I've done about five or six scenes with Jessica Lange, which is one of those dreams. She's one of the greats. She has incredible understanding of how the medium works, and I've watched her when she's working, and it's all very simple and all very easy but yet it's incredibly masterful. I feel very lucky to be in her company and I'm also happy to be with these writers. These are some of the better writers around, and they're really a joy to work with.