American Horror Story is one of those shows where you don’t learn much about it before it airs — even when you’re interviewing the stars! Especially since AHS is different every season, it’s like each premiere is a new pilot. We know this season is set in a hotel, which AHS favorites are returning, and what new stars will be checking in (Stevie Nicks and Lady Gaga!) — and we’re also excited that Matt Bomer is back.
Bomer appeared on season four, Freak Show, and now he is in Hotel from the beginning. We got to sit down with the dreamy actor in person, in a black curtained cube so intimate we accidentally ended up playing footsie. Bomer apologized but, really, who wouldn’t to be that close to Matt Bomer? We’re all friends here.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Did you talk to Ryan Murphy about American Horror Story while you were doing The Normal Heart with him?
Matt Bomer: I think he knew really from season one that I was a huge fan of the show. Loved it and hadn’t missed an episode. But we didn’t really speak about it until I got a text from him, I guess, last August maybe. He said, “Hey, there’s this role coming up on American Horror Story. It’s pretty out there. Do you want to come and do it?” And I was like, “Hell yes!” I went and did it and I had just the best time ever. Especially in that Freak Show environment, I got to spend time with so many of the actors who were part of that world. I just had the best time ever. I texted him or emailed him and said, “That was just one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had,” and he said, “Great, you want to come back and do it next season?” I immediately said yes. I’m really happy that I did.
Rotten Tomatoes: With a lot of that cast, is it like coming back home? Or is it so completely different that it’s still like starting over?
Bomer: There are a lot of answers within that question. For me, a lot of these actors are new. For me, I only worked with Finn [Whittrock] and Michael Chiklis. So a lot of these actors are people I’ve been a huge fan of for years and are bucket-list actors for me to get to work with. It’s pretty surreal now getting to step into scenes with them, but you also realize that it’s a new season for them too and it’s a new character for them. So you all get to find your characters together.
Rotten Tomatoes: Did you get your pick of roles in Hotel that you could have been right for, or was this the only one Ryan suggested for you?
Bomer: No, I trust Ryan implicitly. One of the many things I love about working with him is that you’re always thin-sliced in this business. You walk into a room and people want you to be how you look or how you’re perceived or whatever it is in that 10 minutes that hey meet you. I think Ryan has an intuition that looks a little bit deeper and sees things that other people might not see in you — sometimes you might not even see in yourself — but that he knows are there and that he might want to get to grow and stretch with as an actor. So I didn’t request anything. I didn’t say, “Oh, it has to be this or this.” It actually went through several different incarnations over the course of the year before it was this one. I was like, “Hey, just give me the script and I’ll be there.”
Rotten Tomatoes: If he described Andy as a crazy character, how did he describe Donovan?
Bomer: I got it in little bits and increments of, “Oh, you’re going to be doing this and you’ll be working with this person.” They were all really fascinating, interesting, and a lot for me to chew on. But I felt lucky in some aspects to get those little nibbles maybe a month or two beforehand so I had time to process it.
Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve gotten to do some intense drama in other roles, but is horror a great opportunity to portray a certain kind of intensity?
Bomer: Oh, yeah. One of the things I love about this show, having watched over the years, is there are those sensational graphic horror elements that appeal to that crowd. But some of the scariest things about this show to me are the interpersonal relationships and the real human everyday horrors in our lives. Having said that, it’s some of the most intense work I’ve had the opportunity to do.
Rotten Tomatoes: What can you say about what Donovan is dealing with at the hotel?
Bomer: He’s a resident of the hotel and I think, like many Angelenos… he’s someone whose dreams maybe didn’t quite pan out the way he thought they were going to. He took some different paths and has some very complicated and dark relationships with the women in his life especially. I would say specifically his mother, which bleeds into the rest of his life.
Rotten Tomatoes: Talk about a horror icon! Does Kathy Bates bring it?
Bomer: My God, yeah. Forget horror icon, she’s an icon. She’s an acting icon. I was raised on so many of her films, everything from Misery to Fried Green Tomatoes to Delores Claiborne, all films that I’ve watched multiple times and been inspired by. Yeah, I’m blown away by her work. I personally have to come to set in character because otherwise I’m going to become a fanboy, like, “Holy s–t, I can’t believe I’m doing a scene with Kathy Bates.” I’ve tried to stay in the zone when I’m there.
Rotten Tomatoes: Have you ever worked like that for any other roles?
Bomer: Normal Heart. For every role, I brought certain elements of the character. Even on White Collar over six years, I tried to keep the set fun and breezy and Howard Hawks-y and very of the tone of the show. I think Tim [DeKay] really worked to do that as well because it was that type of a show. Certainly when you’re dealing with more deep emotional work and sensory work, for me it helps me to just stay in it.
Rotten Tomatoes: Coven and Freak Show each had a special effects component. Is Hotel more real-world horror?
Bomer: Yes and no. To me, when you’re at a hotel and your home environment is ultimately dictated by somebody else, I always find that a little bit oppressive and scary in a way. Especially if it’s not done well, or not run well. I think there are aspects of it that are more relatable than maybe seasons that have been in a place that is foreign to the audience. We’ve all been to hotels, so I think there are aspects of it that are maybe more immediately relatable, much like season one.
Rotten Tomatoes: Do you have more experience living in a hotel, as opposed to visiting a hotel, because of location shoots?
Bomer: Yeah, I lived in several hotels, yeah. You have to try to make it home.
Rotten Tomatoes: Do you think there’s going to be another Magic Mike?
Bomer: I have no idea. I would love to do another movie with that group of people because I love them all like family. So I’ll just leave it at that. It doesn’t have to be Magic Mike though.
Check out American Horror Story: Hotel with Bomer, Lady Gaga, Finn Wittrock, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Denis O’Hare, Chloe Sevigny, Wes Bentley, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, and Sarah Paulson this Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX.