American Horror Story: Freak Show has kept audiences guessing this season with an all-star cast, including Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates. Another mastermind behind the drama is the well-endowed character of Stanley, played by openly gay actor Denis O'Hare.
This Irish actor came out while attending Brother Rice High School in Michigan and studied theater at Northwestern University. He later won a Tony Award for his performance in Take Me Out then took home a Drama Desk Award in the Broadway revival of Sweet Charity. He continued in musicals such as his Tony-nominated role in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins and the more popular-than-ever Into the Woods.
His supporting parts have been very memorable in films such as Charlie Wilson's War, Milk and Dallas Buyers Club.
He has also excelled in television, with roles on shows such as Law & Order and HBO's True Blood, playing a gay vampire king in the latter.
As far as his personal life, O'Hare married Hugo Redwood in 2011; the two have adopted a son.
Windy City Times took part in a conference call to find out more about this actor and his role.
Question: Hey, Denis. I'm calling you from Chicago.
Denis O'Hare: I know you are. I know Windy City Times very well. I used to live in Chicago for years. I'll be back in February.
Question: What will you be doing here?
Denis O'Hare: I'm also a playwright and I write plays with a writing partner, Lisa Peterson. We wrote a play called An Iliad, which is a one-man version of the Trojan War. Our next play is called The Good Book. It's about the Bible. It's being done at the Court Theatre in Chicago starting in early March, so I have to go into rehearsals Feb. 17 as a playwright.
Question: Did this role in American Horror Story make you think about how the gay community has changed, with having scenes in a retro gay bar?
Denis O'Hare: Yes, definitely. I think what's so great about Ryan Murphy and the team of writers is that they're never content to simply write about one thing. They're always using the occasion to raise awareness or consciousness.
Certainly, this series this year seems to be about physical abnormalities and what we consider to be a freak, or normalbut there are subtler applications. One of these applications, of course, is the way that gay people were thought of and treated. It's really interesting to see Dell as one expression of that, somebody who's so deeply closeted that he actually considers hanging himself in the last episode, to someone like Stanley, who just seems to roll with it. It seems to be part of his lifestyle, which is admittedly not a healthy lifestyle; he's a professional liar, but there is a sense in which he's a lot more, I guess, at ease with it.
He's hiring hustlers to basically fulfill himself, so that's certainly not healthy. He doesn't seem to be in any kind of healthy relationship, so I think it is pretty amazing to have that snapshot of what it was like to be a gay person in the 1950s. I think it's really cool.
Question: Do you want for Ryan Murphy to push this character even further?
Denis O'Hare: While watching last week's episodewhile I was standing in the road basically doing obscene things to Michael Chiklis, who plays DellI thought, "Can we push the envelope further? How much envelope is left?" We never know what's going to happen. It's Ryan's world and we just wait for word.
He would love for me to be in next season, but that's an informal invitation. When I joined last year I signed a two-year contract, so the idea is that I would come back for this year. But until he comes up with the idea and until he finds parts for us, we really have to wait. Last year I got a call, I think about mid-January, where he offered me Stanley, so this year if it all follows the same pattern I should be hearing from him sometime in January or February.
In terms of what I want to play again, I trust him. He's got really good taste when it comes to fitting us to our roles. I feel really happy with what I've been able to do so far. I loved Spalding. I thought he was such an unusual character and a great technical challenge. But I really do love Stanley and he's kind of normal, he's not disfigured in any way, I mean, really. He's charming in a way so, I'll take another Stanley.
Question: In past seasons of Horror Story, you have had physical deformities. Why does Ryan like to do that to you?
Denis O'Hare: As far as making me be deformed, he likes me this year. I didn't have to sit in the makeup chair very long. I think the first year it was three-and-a-half hours. Last year it was only about an hour and a half. This year it was really easy. I got some mustache grooming, and I got some bad Florida age spots put on my face, and then I got my lovely toupee on and that was it.
I love, by the way, makeup. I really am a fan of transformative makeup. I feel like it goes halfway to getting you to the character, so I'm always happy about it. We'll see what happens next year.
Question: Stanley has a deformity that most men wouldn't mind having. Does size matter?
Denis O'Hare: Ryan and I have chatted about this a little bit, and we've talked about the limits of what one can show on FX. In a way, I love the fact that we actually don't get to lay our hands on Mr. Snake, or whatever we call him, because it's great in an old-fashioned way to see everybody else's reaction to it. I've actually thought, "What's down there? Is it double-headed? Does it explode? What is it?"
I think there's a size issue and also an anger issue, as he said last week.
I don't think it's really attractive. If people were to look at it and were given the chance they wouldn't go, "Oh, sure; I'll take that." I think it's a great play on a joke amongst men. Size does matter to them. Please, nothing is too big. I think it's hilarious that Ryan's playing it as a joke that well; I guess there is an outer limit.
Question: Is there something your American Horror Story characters have all had in common?
Denis O'Hare: I do feel like all the characters are always yearning for something. I love finding out new characters. It seems obvious to me that they're all yearning for some way of transcending their life into something bigger.
It was most obvious I think in the case of Larry, who was, in a way, wanting to escape the hell that he was bound in by his actions and by the consequences of his actions, his wife and kids being burned up in a fire. What Larry wanted was release. I felt like Spalding was in many ways the same way.
For Stanley, oddly enough, we have those glimpses of him at the morbidity museum while they're doing a toast, and he's sort of assuming he's going to be fÃŞted, he's going to be the one who is called out for recognition. What Stanley wants is to be respected. He wants to be accepted into larger culture. I think that has to do with a lot of the characters I've played, is they're yearning for some sort of transcendence. They want to arrive somewhere, a place of peace, or a place of recognition. I think it's really cool.
Question: How are you similar to Stanley?
Denis O'Hare: You know what? I'm not very much like Stanley. I have to sayI hate to admit itbut I'm a rather conventional person. I'm afraid of breaking the law. I'm not a liar, and I'm not a cheat. Stanley is a liar and a cheat. What I love about him is that he's ultimately an optimistic person. He believes in the fact that in any given day he can make things better, and I do share that with him. I tend to be an optimist. I tend to believe that every day's a new day, and today I'm going to get things right, today I'm going to actually be able to make a difference.
Stanley does the same thing. He's looking to better his own personal world, and he's very sunny in that way. He represents a strange strain of American optimism that sort of gets married to that can-do spirit, and that American entrepreneurial spirit, and he's all of those things wrapped into one. I share a little bit of that, but I don't share the more twisted aspects, I think.
Question: Are you given a backstory with these characters for American Horror Story?
Denis O'Hare: We are given almost nothing. It's really crazy. I think part of Ryan's brilliance is his trust in who he hires, and I think he hires us because he knows we're all creative, inventive people and game.
When I first got this part there was a notion that he might be based on Tod Browning, and so I ran around and got all of his movies and we watched Freaks and we watched some Dracula movies, and I got a great biography called Dark Carnival, and absorbed that. Then as we got closer to shooting I realized that that wasn't going to happen, because the time frame was wrong.
What I took away from that was the idea that I think all con men, all grifters, all hustlers, have dabbled in many things, and so I made up the story that he was a vaudevillian, that Stanley, somewhere in his background was a song and dance man. I tried to always have him a little bit light on his feet, a little bit whistling and singing, and having music always in his fingers and his head, and that really informed something about the character for me.
I remember I came in when Ryan was shooting and I was on set for approval, and my one conversation with him after we had first talked, I came in and he didn't like the mustache I first had, it was too fat, and he wanted something more Errol Flynn-like, and so we did two more versions. We were trimming my own mustache and he finally liked one. Before I left I said, "So, I think Stanley's a whistler." Ryan said, "Whistle away" and that was our last note. I took it from there.
Question: What has fan feedback been like since the episodes have aired?
Denis O'Hare: I love the American Horror Story fans. They sometimes scare me a little bit. But I really do love them, and I love their enthusiasm, and I love the stuff they come up with. There's a guy on Instagram who has done all of the characters [in] makeup; I don't know if you've seen it but it's pretty amazing. He's taken on all the characters. He does me, Jessica and Patti LaBelle. He does Dandy and even does Ma Petite. So that kind of interesting devotion I think is to be fostered. I think it's an interesting evolution. We'll see where it takes us but for the moment I'm finding it fun.
Question: Do you watch television much?
Denis O'Hare: Oh, dearI do like to watch TV. That wasn't always so. I didn't watch any TV from 1985 to 1993. It was just a weird part of my life when I didn't have a TV and I was reading a lot of poetry and trying to be a waiter.
My husband actually is a big TV watcher, so he got me more into TV. We don't watch the same things. He's more of a Scandal, Revenge, How to Get Away with Murder guy. I'm more of Homeland, The Americans, and well, Project Runway, which doesn't really fit into that. We do have some crossover with me watching How to Get Away with Murder; I also watch RuPaul's Drag Race, I have to admit. I like reality shows where people actually do things, where there's some sort of skill at stake. I'm not so big on the Survivor shows, because I feel like that's just kind of exploiting bad human behavior. That's all we're doing.
I'm happy to be part of the Golden Age of TV, as they say, because I think it's a remarkable time to be working in the medium. Oh, The Good Wife, how could I forget The Good Wife. I'm on The Good Wife, and I also get to watch it, which I just love.
Question: If you return next season of American Horror Story, is there a type of character you would like to explore?
Denis O'Hare: You know, I've been racking my brains about this and thank God it's not in my hands, because I feel like they've covered so much territory so well. They really have touched on ghosts pretty extensively in Murder House. Asylum had the alien abduction theme, which if anything I'm going to say I would expand upon that on a body snatcher-type thing, or something to do with aliens among us, or transformation. Coven, obviously covered all of witches. Freak Show is a brilliant idea that covers the grotesqueries of life.
Outside of satanic cults and torture porn, I'm not quite sure what's left.
Question: What do you think about the series all being connected all together?
Denis O'Hare: It didn't surprise me, because Ryan is an awfully clever guy. The biggest, obvious resonance this year was Pepper being in both Asylum and in our season. There are actually two other ones coming up that are very, very strong resonances which are fascinating, I think.
As far as what he will do for the fifth season, now that he knows that that's his game plan I think it makes it a little easier in terms of figuring out who the characters are and what the setting is. The biggest challenge, of course is the setting. That dictates some of this. If you set it too far in the past you actually make it difficult to make connections. This Asylum and Freak Show being so close together, only 10 years or so, made that a lot easier. I'm just as excited as you are to see what he'll do.
American Horror Stories: Freak Show only has a few episodes left. Click over to FX at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays with more info at www.fxnetworks.com .