[SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses plot details of the Jan. 7 episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show.]
It wasn’t such a Happy New Year for a lot of the freaks on American Horror Story. Jimmy (Evan Peters) discovered that Stanley (Denis O’Hare) had sold his hands. Elsa (Jessica) found out the sad fate of Ma Petite. But the fella who had the worst batch of luck was definitely Michael Chiklis’ Dell: the strongman was shot dead by Elsa after he confessed to Ma Petite’s murder. EW talked exclusively to Chiklis about the twist and whether he’d return to AHS for the fifth season.
EW: Did you know Dell would die from the start?
MICHAEL CHIKLIS: Well they had indicated he would probably die pretty miserably. [Laughs] And I was totally down with that especially with some of the miserable stuff he does. There’s kind of no coming back from that and that’s okay. It is American Horror Story—it’s not American Fun Time Play Time. So it just seemed appropriate and spot-on and in keeping with the nasty.
What was it like filming your death scene? You at least got to go out with Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett with you.
Yeah, here are two iconic women who I love, and I adore both of them. They were incredible to me. I just can’t say enough about how lovely they were to me, the entire cast. When you come into a cast in their fourth season and they’re really successful, it can go a lot of different ways, and they could not have been more supportive and welcoming and lovely, and I consider all of them friends now and we’re maintaining our friendship and staying in touch.
That said, I thought it was incredibly apropos that I die in her hands with Angela there. At least there’s some level of redemption for the character that he essentially really truly heartfelt confesses his sin and then dies for it just like that. Just when you may feel a pang for this poor tortured guy and boom he’s dead. That’s where Ryan is just a full-on genius when it comes to writing drama. He paints in big strokes a lot of the time, but their universals, very visceral, primal emotions and urges and feelings that everyone can relate to at some level. I just think it’s the key to his success not just in this show but why he’s able to do shows so vastly different as Glee and Nip/Tuck. He’s something.
Ethel died but we’ve seen her in fantasy scenes. Will we see Dell anymore?
I’m not at liberty to tell you that. There’s always a chance on that show. But I can’t speak to the stuff ahead of it.
Was the Ma Petite murder hard to film? Was that her you were actually squeezing or like a doll?
No, it was her. Terrifying. So upsetting. First of all, I’m still trying to get my daughters to talk to me again. They’ve just stopped speaking to me. My youngest who’s almost 16 her reaction to it was so intense and so visceral. “No daddy no! I can’t believe you did that!” I’m like, “Honey, remember, let’s differentiate.” It was very very impactful to her.
I have to say it was one of the most upsetting scenes hands down I’ve ever done in my entire career and I’ve done some really upsetting scenes. But just the way it happens with coming and offering her a dress. Ugggghhhh. And then I give her a hug. I’m glad I sold it but I didn’t squeeze her at all to lift the curtain if you will. It was incredibly upsetting and she was getting such a kick out of how I was upset. She was laughing at me. Like, in between takes she was smiling at me and laughing at me because she thought it was all too cool to believe.
I remember him telling me that he lured you with the idea that you’d play something you’ve never played before, and a closeted gay man with a hermaphrodite wife is certainly a new role.
He told me none of that. He said, “Listen, I want you to play something you’ve never played before and you’re going to be playing a strongman whose freak if you will is internal and it’s an internal struggle and it’s indicative of the time being the early ’50s in America.”
I really didn’t have any inkling that that was where he was going but as soon as I read my first episode with my hermaphrodite wife and my first catchy line being “the happiest man on Earth” I just went “Oh okay. Here’s where we’re going.” But then it took turns that I did not expect. What I loved that they were really deeply emotional. One thing I refused to do and I thought was personally appropriate was I refused to play into any clichés. I made this guy as real and as three-dimensional as I could. I love the scene I have with Matt [Bomer]. It was a beautiful scene. They had allotted an entire day for us to shoot it and we were done before lunch. He’s really so good. We just clicked and it just happened. We just hugged each other and we were all in tears and we left and it was great. Just a wonderful day at work.
One of my favorite moments is when Dell and Jimmy get drunk. That relationship was just so great.
Again, another aspect of the character I absolutely loved. Then, of course, I do these horrible things. He does have a weakness in character. Going back to Evan, I had instant rapport. He’s all about the work and really doing a good job. It was a weird night. We thought my youngest daughter was having an emergency appendectomy. It turned out she had the stomach flu but she was doubled over so badly they almost put her into surgery. But she was in L.A. and I was in New Orleans and I was freaking out. We were in the middle of shooting this scene and he was wonderful during that. We were doing this incredibly emotionally charged stuff and in the midst of all of it he sends a video message to my daughter saying, “Don’t lose your appendix tonight, please.” It was so cute. So awesome.
I love that your daughters are American Horror Story superfans.
They both are. But all the girls in my daughters class—these 15-, 16-, 17-year-old girls—they react to Evan like he’s a Beatle back in the day. They cry. He’s got that thing, that it thing. Sure he’s gorgeous and talented and all that but he’s got this other thing that connects to them emotionally. That’s rare when you see that. He’s got that thing.
This was your first season of AHS—how was it?
I had a phenomenal time. I had a great time and there were some hardships for sure. First of all, New Orleans, as much as I love it, I do not love it in the summer. It’s just so humid and I was wearing wool pants. It was brutal in terms of that. Also if you make a horror movie, it’s two months, five months at the most. But to stay in that space for five or six months, it does start to prey on you. It didn’t get to me at first but then after awhile, especially after I started to do the darker stuff, I had to sort of leave it behind me. I watched a lot of comedy.
I bet! I think I asked Paulson about that during Asylum.
By the way, funnest person ever! She is the best! Phenomenally talented actress but quality human. She broke up all the tension for me. I felt bad for her this year from a technical standpoint. From the Fantastic Four, I know about really oppressive costuming and so I was able to help her in that way and make her laugh when she had that second skull on her shoulder all day.
Would you do a season five?
Absolutely. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t. I will say that I don’t know that’s going to happen. I don’t know if they’re interested in that happening. In all candor, I don’t know what’s going to happen at this moment. But would I go back there again and play with those people? In a heartbeat.