So far on American Horror Story: Freak Show, there's been one connecting link between this season's story and that of the past, and that's Naomi Grossman's pinhead Pepper. Whereas in Asylum audiences saw her instituted, Freak Show, set 15 years earlier, gives a glimpse of Pepper's past life as a circus performer with her equally bizarre brother, Salty (Christopher Neiman). As part of Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Pepper is just one of the weirdoes you can feast your eyes on within the struggling show's torn-up tent. Others include Lobster Boy (Evan Peters), a conjoined-twin singing duo (Sarah Paulson), and a bearded lady (Kathy Bates).
Last weekend, Grossman took a break from filming AHS in New Orleans to join the show's fans at Buckner Mansion, the famed shooting location for American Horror Story: Coven, in celebration of Coven's Blu-ray and DVD release. In addition to introducing Freak Show's second episode, Grossman sat down for a Q&A with press to discuss returning to the anthology series, the kinky things that happen during filming, and what she hopes for Pepper this season.
On Pepper coming back to American Horror Story:
It was obviously very flattering. It meant I did something right 'cause I’m still getting over the trauma of Asylum, when I disappeared after the third episode... I had four, five episodes where I thought, “What happened? Did I fall in? Did I suck?” I didn’t know where I’d gone, later to find out I’d been abducted.
On her physical transformation to get into character:
It’s lengthy. They shave my head. So I typically arrive on set, put on a robe, lay back, close my eyes, and let them go to work. Two and a half, three hours later, I’m Pepper. It’s pretty much a prosthetic nose, brow, ears, and of course they’ve got some crazy teeth for me, and a crazy contact lens. They have a little piece for my hair. For Asylum, they actually kept that. I wore a wig for the year because I was trying to go through the rest of my life without looking like a Hare Krishna. But now [for Freak Show] they actually shaved it, and I think that’s because of Salty, my little sidekick.
On Freak Show's orgy scene:
I can’t wait for the Blu-ray of Freak Show. They have to release that [orgy scene]. We choreographed that. I remember Amazon Eve’s leg up in the air. Her leg is like seven-feet long and one of the little people was swinging around it like it was some stripper pole. I’ll never forget hearing Ryan [Murphy], “Hump the leg! Hump the leg!” It was just like, “What are we doing? What am I in?” Fortunately I know that this is a legit production, I’ve been there, done that before, but had I not known, I’d think, “What kind of porno did I find myself in?”
On what spooks her:
I’m totally afraid of ghosts, and so Murder House for me was the scariest... Now I see past the smoke and mirrors, like when I watch [Freak Show] I can imagine the guy pulling the cable right off the screen. In general, I’m not that big of a scaredy cat. It’s funny because I’m in horror and yet I’m not a fearful person. I like to think that fear is sort of made-up emotion. It’s something that we feel for what hasn’t happened, what could happen, and that’s what makes us scared. So you get to decide if you want to give that your attention.
On whether Freak Show will have a supernatural element:
I don’t know yet necessarily. I felt like when I watched Asylum episode one, it was just this cornucopia of all things scary...whereas I think [Freak Show] is about freaks. This does seem like a more human story, and I think in that regard it’s almost scarier because people are afraid of the unusual.
It’s happened even to me. The first I met Matt Fraser, who plays Paul the Illustrated Seal, he thrust his little hand into mine and I was like, “How do I behave?” Of course then I was like, “Duh you shake his hand. That’s what you do when you meet somebody for the first time.” Even I had to sort of check myself and go, “OK, behave yourself. Don’t stare.” This show is gonna test people. I think that’s really scary for people, these abnormalities, which are real.
On her grand hope for Pepper:
I’m an only child, and I like it that way, so having a brother has been a little bit trying for me. I’m just kidding. [Laughs.] But joking aside, what actor doesn’t want an on-screen murder? And if not murder, the loss of her sibling. Salty presents all sorts of juicy screen-time for Pepper, and for that I’m really grateful.