The cast of FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel reunited with creator Ryan Murphy at the Paley Center for Media’s final night of Paleyfest 2016. Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley, Finn Whitrock and Cheyenne Jackson were on stage for the fans. Over on the red carpet, we got to speak with Matt Bomer and Denis O’Hare, two of the major players in Hotel. Since the season has aired, MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW.
Bomer played Donovan, the son of front desk manager Iris (Kathy Bates). When Iris found Donovan dead of an overdose, The Countess (Lady Gaga) brought him back to life, but confined him to the Hotel Cortez. That basically sealed Iris’s fate too, since she wouldn’t leave her son. Though grouped with reporters on the red carpet, Bomer came right to us as he remembered our interview from the beginning of the season.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Does every actor relish having a great death scene?
Matt Bomer: I’ve had so many now that it’s really about trying to find any subtle nuance I can in between the 12 death scenes that I’ve now filmed.
RT: And there were two just in AHS: Hotel. How did you distinguish Donovan’s first death from his second?
Bomer: Well, the circumstances were obviously quite different. One was an overdose and one was bleeding out and making sure he got out of the hotel in time to die much more peacefully, I think. They were actually both peaceful in very different ways.
RT: Can you even tell when you’re on the set how it’s going to look with all the different lenses and flares and streaks?
Bomer: No, not at all. Michael Goi, our director of photography, is brilliant. I don’t really know and I’m not somebody who likes to watch playback unless the director really wants me to so I’m just doing my thing and knowing that they are incredible at what they do. Once you get onto a set like that, especially this season, that was one of the most amazing sets I’ve ever been on in my life. It’s so transporting just being on that set that you just immerse yourself in the world and let the camera folks do their stuff.
Q: American Horror Story is so outrageous as it is. Is there anything they could ask you to do that would be too much?
Bomer: I really have to see the script and the ideas, I guess, before I was really going to draw a line. If it’s good writing, it’s important to not really put too many parameters on things until you know what you’re working on.
Q: Was there anything so far that was questionable but you went for it?
Bomer: You know, I’ve worked with Ryan a lot and I love his brilliant mind. When I sign on to do something with him, I’m in for a penny, in for a pound. With any director I work with, that’s just how I like to work.
Q: Have there been any awkward moments or funny things that happen in between takes?
Bomer: Yeah, I think there always are. I think specifically, when we were filming that four-way at the beginning of the season, we were all covered in blood and so we couldn’t get on the satin sheets in between takes. So they actually laid us down, we were basically like veal chops. I don’t eat veal, but we were like veal chops, I imagine. We were laying on a tarp with a tarp over us as a blanket basically. So it was pretty humbling to say the least, and kind of leveled the playing field and just made that whole experience a little bit more surreal.
Q: Has that bloody four-way changed your image forever?
Bomer: I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it too much. I think I’ve gone to some pretty dark places before. I don’t know. I just act. These things are all out of my control.
Q: Your scenes with Lady Gaga were so dramatic and horrific. Was there any moment where you both fell so into it that it was emotionally crazy?
Bomer: Yeah, there was one very specific instance, but it’s actually so personal that I don’t think I’ll ever share it with anybody, to be honest with you. I think moments like that happen because you don’t think that they’re going to happen, or because you don’t think that you’ll ever be there. And then they do, and that’s what makes them special.
Liz Taylor was the breakout star of American Horror Story: Hotel. In a season filled with famous Hollywood movie stars and real life serial killers, Liz Taylor was actually not the Cleopatra actress. Denis O’Hare played Liz Taylor, transformed by The Countess into his true self, and making her the heart and soul of the season.
Liz Taylor had a romance with The Countess’s boy toy Tristan (Wittrock), which ended tragically. In the end, Liz Taylor chose to let the Hotel Cortez kill her and keep her there with her family forever. Now that we’ve seen all of Liz Taylor’s story, O’Hare could speak specifically about major scenes:
RT: What did Liz Taylor think was going to happen when she told The Countess, “I’m in love with Tristan and we want to run off together?”
Denis O’Hare: The great thing about her is that she was a truth teller. And she was just going to say, “I deserve this. You chew people up and spit them out. I’m not going to do that. This person deserves loyalty. I deserve love so give this to me.”
RT: I just don’t see The Countess being the type to say, “Well, I hope you two lovebirds are happy together.”
O’Hare: But I think she also thought that perhaps if she was honest, that would win her points of some sort. That there was a sort of bravery in that and she’s a very brave character. In a way, it worked because she didn’t kill Liz. She hurt her as deeply as she could. We had a conversation about that and I had a theory which was that, in a strange way, Tristan and Liz were a weird match. If you push that relationship forward, what’s going to happen in five years? Will Tristan really be able to be faithful to Liz? Liz is already 50, then she’s 55. In a strange way, by killing him in the middle of the most intense part of their love, she’s preserving him at the height of their love to forever be intense, to never fall apart, to never become everyday, to never become something trivial.
RT: You’re right, and he never would have reconnected with his son if he’d run off with Tristan.
O’Hare: Absolutely. So it’s a very strange gift.
RT: How was it to film your goodbye and rebirth scene?
O’Hare: Oh, it was intense. Those scenes were intense. Those days were crazy. That day was crazy. The “killing of Tristan” day was crazy. The sex scene day was crazy. Those were crazy, crazy, crazy days, really intense.
RT: Was that the last day you filmed?
O’Hare: No, I had other stuff to do. It was close to the last day for me. It was pretty close. I had to shoot Matt Bomer’s death scene. That was the last thing we shot, downtown in L.A. We shot that at three in the morning.
Q: Did you get any say in what Liz Taylor would look like?
O’Hare: Not initially. Initially Ryan had a very strong image and a very strong idea. Then our costume designer Lou Eyrich, who is just phenomenal and brilliant, she had a lot of ideas. But then we really did work together. I love tight fitting pantsuit things and Ryan likes more mumu-y things. So it was always a battle between tight fighting and mumu. Ryan loved turbans. I became too male in a turban sometimes. I became too King and I. So we were always playing with that idea. We had to give Ryan his turbans and mumus and then they had to give me my tight fighting pantsuits.
Q: What was it like seeing yourself made up as Liz Taylor for the first time?
O’Hare: You know, it was not a place I wanted to go. I’m a gay man of a certain age and I have a lot of weird internalized homophobia. Part of it was to not want to confront that aspect of myself, to deny that I have any femininity. I survived high school by not being feminine. I survived [and avoided] being beat up by not being feminine, by being in the closet in a way. This was really sort of risky to do that and I didn’t want to do it, but once we started doing it, I was so grateful for the opportunity to just let go and let it happen. It was really, really, really empowering and really, really freeing.
RT: So it was acting.
O’Hare: Yes, it was acting, absolutely.