On Wednesday night's (October 28) episode of "American Horror Story: Hotel," did the man playing real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy -- who murdered at least 33 teen boys in Chicago, Illinois in the 1970s -- look familiar to you? If so, that's because you've definitely seen him before: on last season's "Freak Show," John Carroll Lynch also played Twisty, the grotesquely deformed murder-clown who would make even Pennywise feel deeply uncomfortable.
However, even though Carroll Lynch -- a popular character actor who has made his mark on television ("The Drew Carey Show," "The Americans") and in films ("Zodiac," "Fargo") over the past 20 years -- has played quite a few roles that are downright nasty, we at MTV News are huge fans. Therefore, we relished the opportunity to chat with "Twisty" about everything from working with Evan Peters to Twisty masks and the dark "Wikipedia hole" that comes with playing a real-life serial killer. Have fun at the circus, kids!
MTV: How does it feel to officially have "does good Murder Clown" on your resume?
John Carroll Lynch: That’s a rare subsection of character actor ability. It’s right next to "bowling 160" on my special skills on the bottom of my resume.
MTV: People really fell in love with Twisty last year, but he was gone too soon! Did you know his arc would be so short when you signed on?
Carroll Lynch: I knew how long the arc was when I signed on, and I mean, they used it beautifully as a misdirect for the season. The audience thought they were on one roller coaster, and it turned out they were on another. I think that’s something that Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy do as a matter of course, they introduce you to one thing and then they switch to another. It’s pretty bold storytelling, and something you can do in an anthology really successfully.
MTV: You made a lasting impact, though! Just today, I saw that EW readers named you the best "AHS" villain ever, and there are Twisty Halloween costumes all over.
Carroll Lynch: I will say that I’m in such a pantheon of horrible, terrifying figures, to be ranked number one is not like being ranked the worst killer clown in the "Kindergarten Cop" series. You’ve really gotta rate to reach number one, so I’m honored...
It was really incredible, the explosion last year for the character, but it continues to have kind of an echo. It’s very disturbing to see people take pictures of themselves in an extraordinarily lifelike mask of me at Hot Topic. A friend sent me a picture of himself standing next to that -- a guy I went to high school with -- and it was like we were standing in the same room and I was wearing the Twisty makeup. It’s uncanny, the resemblance. Last year my nephew went as Twisty, my 12-year-old-nephew went as Twisty. He terrified me in his picture.
MTV: So what went into the decision to come back?
Carroll Lynch: When I found out they were going to do this episode, “Devil’s Night,” with all of these famous serial killers... I’m like... That’s the perfect twist, isn’t it? Pardon my use of the word.
It’s perfect to play a fictitious clown, and then play someone who dressed up as a clown. The interesting thing about Gacy is he didn’t kill in clown makeup. That was just something he did for fun. That was like a vocation, a hobby, to dress as this clown character and paint clown art... But he didn’t kill anybody as a clown. He was never dressed in the makeup as far as I could tell, which is weird, isn’t it? Doesn’t that make him even weirder in some way, that along with capturing and killing young men, and then putting them in his crawlspace, he would just, for fun, go out and dress like a clown and do parties?
MTV: Did you go down a dark Wikipedia hole, doing that research?
Carroll Lynch: With John Wayne Gacy, there’s nothing but dark Wikipedia holes. Since he basically spent a good amount of his time digging dark holes, that’s not surprising. He’s a terrifying guy, and honestly extraordinarily disturbing to get to know, even to the little I did get to know his history.
There’s videos I watched of him close to the end of his life where he was trying to convince this news man that he didn’t do it, and it was all a mistake. The degree to which he believed it was chilling. Chilling. No remorse, no sense of anything but “I just want to live one more day.” No sense of giving people closure; nothing like that. None. The way in which he spoke about the victims of the crime, even if he didn’t do it, was callous. But the fact that he did was just horrifying. Much more horrifying than Twisty ever was. It’s one thing to play someone’s fictional nightmare, it’s another to put on the skin of somebody who really did all that. It was much more uncomfortable.
MTV: Was this a role you could have sat with for an entire season, or is John Wayne Gacy just too much to live with?
Carroll Lynch: Well, I was surrounded by a bunch of people in dark places, so it actually got really kind of strangely surreal; strangely fun in a way. We had an oddly delightful time. I thought that the scene, in the dialogue, had a lot of things about the glorification of these people, and there are a lot of people who do glorify these monsters. I thought it was an interesting idea... pushing the edge of glorifying, but at the same time, asking why we do it. I thought that was pretty bold. I hope that’s what happened with the audience; that they were left with their own kind of, “Why am I interested in this? Why does this touch me in the way in touches me?” I hope that’s what happened.
MTV: Was there any talk, then, of being sensitive to the real-life victims of these guys?
Carroll Lynch: Again, I hope that the scene did grotesquely honor the victims by asking the question, “Why are we so fascinated by people who are willing to throw all social convention, morals and ethics into the trash and hunt other human beings as if they were game for sport?” I hope people wondered, in themselves, why they’re so interested in that. It’s a tricky business when real people die, when real victims are involved, it’s a tricky business.
MTV: I can certainly say that I wasn't rooting for you guys to succeed.
Carroll Lynch: Good! I’m glad you were disgusted by them. I hope you were disgusted by them, because they’re pretty horrible; up and down the table are horrible people. And boy, it was amazing to watch actors really go to those places, one after the other after the other. It was really impressive. Evan Peters does not get his due. Character after character, if you were going to put one next to the other to the other, it’s unlikely you would imagine the same actor played them. I just think he’s going someplace, in terms of the work that I’m very excited to see.
MTV: Did you guys have fun between takes, or was it like, "Uh, Seth Gabel just put acid in a dude's head?"
Carroll Lynch: There was a lot of, “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” there was a lot of that. But in that, there was uncomfortable humor. Amongst us, there was a, “Oh wow, this is really, really freaky.” When Jeffrey Dahmer pulls out the drills, you’re like, “Okay, this is really freaky now.” To try to play your character and what your character’s interests are, it’s... I don’t know, I’ve played quite a few killers in my life, and I’ve come to believe that the impulse to do that, to take a person’s life, is much closer than we expect it to be.
I think that the dehumanization of another person can happen in the matter of an instant. It doesn’t have to be murder that does it. We walk by people on the street who are in great difficulty and pain, all the time, and in some ways we just decide that they’re not going to be people for us for those five minutes, or ten minutes, or thirty seconds that we walk by them. We do this a lot, so to ramp that up in a dramatic sense and to start to play somebody who not only has driven past that, but actually relishes in the idea that he or she has the power of life and death over another person, or people, is a shorter walk than you’d want it to be in your mind and heart. Did I gross you out, there?
MTV: It's just not fun to think about. Was this what you were thinking about on set the whole time?
Carroll Lynch: Well, I had an emotional hangover for a few days afterwards. I was really disconcerted. I didn’t realize that’s what happened, because in between takes they had this really amazing bacon at craft services, and the people are funny, and I got to see old friends. Mare [Winningham] is an old friend, it was so wonderful to be around her, to chat and catch up. To see Sarah [Paulson], also, another person I’ve known on and off for a long time, and to get to know Evan a little better -- because we had so few scenes last year together, and to discover that we have similar senses of humor, and to enjoy that, and then to say action and hear, “Listen, when you stab this person, could you make sure that you stab him in the back as opposed to the..." It becomes weird.
MTV: Is there a big difference between the "Freak Show" set and the "Hotel" set?
Carroll Lynch: Um, claustrophobia would be part of what makes “Hotel” work. Part of it is the pressure of the building itself that they’ve created. Even though the sets are ridiculous, as they are on all of them, the difference between that outdoor, swampy heat that was “Freak Show” and the oppressive nature, the rich lavish oppressive nature of the Hotel Cortez, is part of the joy of the show. They make the location a main character.
MTV: We saw in the previews that you're back -- and in clown makeup! -- next week. What do we have in store?
Carroll Lynch: Well, it’s the dinner party that keeps on giving. All I can say is, if you felt disturbed last week about the dinner party, this week won’t make you feel any better.