Ask any fan of this season of "American Horror Story," and they'll tell you who the true HBIC is at the Hotel Cortez -- and no, it's not Lady Gaga's Countess, even though she definitely wins the award for "Largest Number of Disgruntled Vampire Exes." Instead, it's Denis O'Hare's sensitive, soulful bartender slash front desk aficionado Liz Taylor who has won over the "AHS" fan base the most, with her sharp one-liners, her kind soul, and her heartbreaking journey to self-acceptance.
However, Wednesday night's (November 11) episode, "Room 33," should change things for Liz -- who is transgender -- since the Countess essentially put a stake in the trusting relationship between the two of them by brutally murdering Liz's first love, Tristan (Finn Wittrock). MTV News hopped on the phone with O'Hare after the episode, to discuss what's next for Liz, the fan response to the character, and all things Gaga:
MTV: I know you're on social media, so I assume you've seen the enthusiastic fan response to the character?
Denis O'Hare: I know! You know, it's surprising only in that you never know how people are going to respond, and I'm very pleasantly overwhelmed by it, and just trying to keep perspective.
MTV: Liz has really emerged as the emotional core of the show, which I think was surprising to a lot of people. How do you think she remains so relatable, even though she hangs out with literal murderers?
O'Hare: I think she's a truth teller. Early on, Ryan [Murphy] and I were talking about the scene in the elevator where she meets John Lowe and she turns and says she lost something, can't go forward, can't go back. She's one of those characters who gains her moral authority through hard won pain. She comes by it honestly. She has walked through so much awful s--t in her life and so much pain, and continues to walk through that pain, that she can get bitter and mean, or she can become sort of a wise person, and try to steer others in their moment of desperation. And she does it wise-cracking, and she does it with ruthlessness, but she's a truth teller, and her ultimate goal is to save people from their own worst choices.
MTV: But she still lets people be murdered at the Cortez.
O'Hare: Yeah, I think there's a certain level of denial she goes in to, in order to do her job. Part of her approach is don’t ask don’t tell. Literally, if I don’t see it it's not happening. She sits at the front desk with the books in her face, and she's got one eye up and one eye down. At any given point she sees something and goes, "Oh dear, oh no! What can I do?" And when she can, she tries to intervene, but she's certainly not going to risk her own life.
The funny thing about all the victims of the hotel is they can tend to be a little on the annoying side, so as an audience you're kind of thinking... [with] the hipster couple, you shouldn’t kill them, but they are pretty annoying. When you're asking for grilled romaine, truly, come on, it's time to go.
MTV: It's been a monumental year for trans representation on television. That being said, was there a lot of conversation in the writer's room about a need to make Liz likable, or relatable?
O'Hare: Actually, no, which is interesting. Ryan is interesting because he really trusts his actors -- he knows us, we know him. There's a certain level of a mature responsibility he entrusts with us with his characters, so we didn’t have any conversation about that. There wasn’t the pressure for us to make a character that was likable or not likable, what I feel is really important is just to have a character that has integrity.
It's interesting, because coming up, Liz is going to experience other emotions. We're going to see her depressed, we're going to see her lashing out, we're going to see her despairing. Not all of the emotions are going to be pretty, so we need to see if the audience hangs in there with her.
MTV: Yeah, it's "AHS," so you never really know.
O'Hare: I mean, and the thing about transgender issues is -- I think in a really cool way -- Ryan is being matter of fact about it. Here's a character who is transgender -- she just is, she's on a journey, and we show the backstory which is fantastic -- but once we show the backstory and establish her, we then move on. It's not just about being transgender, but about being a human being with certain desires and certain experiences, and she finds love and then she loses love and that’s something that everyone experiences.
MTV: The love story with Finn's character, Tristan, was very sudden and didn't have a lot of time to develop. How did you make that love come across, in only a couple of scenes?
O'Hare: He's a great actor, and that helps... they let us do what we want, and there's an amazing moment in that scene where he turns to me and he says, "Do you love me?" We shot it three or four times, and of course, most of the time you're shooting it thinking "What am I going to say," or, "How do I feel about what I'm going to say," or, "What do I think?" I suddenly, in one of those takes, just looked at him for the longest time and thought "Oh wow, he really needs to know, this poor boy really needs to know."
That’s the take they ended up using, and it was so amazing, because it was one of those moments as an actor where I wasn’t planning anything, I wasn’t doing anything, I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was just looking at another human being -- in this case Finn, who is Tristan, and literally looking in his eyes and thinking about what he needed and wanted, and thinking about how beautiful it was that he needed to ask that question in that way. I think those kinds of moments are what help get across the emotions we are feeling, and then of course he says, "I think I love you." That’s such a scary thing for her, because she's thinking, "Are you making fun of me?" She's much older and he's beautiful, so a part of her is thinking, "Is this real?"
What was it like shooting the love scene together? I feel like Finn is naked more than any other actor in this show's history.
O'Hare: There was one moment where Finn was getting out of the bed and, you know, he shows his ass. I, as another actor, naturally turned away. I'm gay, but I wanted to give Finn his privacy, and the respect not to be ogling at him. So I turned away and started reading a book. That was the first take, and I thought, "What am I doing? Liz would never turn away! She would stare and go, 'That is mine, baby!'"
For the next take, I made sure I looked. But that's the weird thing, when you're shooting sometimes you're two things: you're a human being who is a person who knows the other person... and then you're also the character, and I went through that and realized on subsequent takes, oh no, I have to look at him, I have to look at him.
MTV: What about those intense final moments with Finn and Gaga?
O'Hare: It was actually really, really tough -- that was over like two days... it was emotionally draining. Stefani is such an amazing actor. She's come to really discover herself in this, and she was really conflicted about it, because she really feels like she doesn’t want The Countess to be a simple villainess. She has her reasons, so she was really leaning in to the idea that she was betrayed by a person that she loved and made, and by another person that she loved and made, and what does she do about that?
She really brought that, and even in the very last moment where she says, "Okay, you can have him" before she kills him, we have a very tender sort of three-way embrace... and then it turns into the throat slashing. It's just an awful moment, my head was pounding afterwards, and I had a headache for like two days. This rarely happens to me; I was really depressed, and I'm not that kind of actor. I usually have a very firm grasp on reality, but this character is very, very intense for me. I found the next day I was really in kind of a bad place, and really, really depressed, and I had to keep calling home to re-anchor myself to my husband and my son.
... It is a very weird thing, there's a real kind of hollowness you have when you film something like that. The thing that I value about that scene is that it proves the value of life, and that death is not easy. To watch a character die and watch what terrible impact it has on somebody else makes the violence not senseless.
MTV: Might he come back? Can vampires be ghosts?
O'Hare: You know, that’s a very good question, and one that I don’t have answer to yet. I myself would love to know that answer. That’s a very good question.
MTV: Got it. Well, The Countess made Liz, and now she's destroyed the one thing Liz really loved. How will that change their dynamic moving forward?
O'Hare: You know, I think things are going to get frosty. There's definitely some stuff coming down the pike. I have a couple little scenes with her where Liz is just sort of done. She's snapping more, she's less patient, and she's just... taking no prisoners. We're shooting episode 10 right now; there's some really, really intense stuff in it. It's "American Horror Story"! Stay tuned!
MTV: You've done four seasons of "AHS" now. Is there a noticeable difference on set between the Jessica Lange-led cast, and the Lady Gaga-led cast?
O'Hare: I guess the biggest difference is that it doesn’t feel like it's necessarily Stefani-led, meaning it feels more like an ensemble this year, and that’s nobody's fault. I guess, just by design, that’s how this year got written, but it definitely feels like it's spread around more, and that’s been a bit of a difference. Another big difference is we're back in L.A. -- we were in Louisiana for two years, and that’s home for none of us. And while L.A.'s not my home, at least I have a lot of friends here, so it's great to be back in L.A. to be so close to Ryan and the other writers. I feel like we have much more of a back and forth conversation; when we were in Louisiana it felt like we were marooned; the forgotten children.
O'Hare: Now, I'm not going to try to ignore the question, but I am going to say I left on the early side, so I don’t have that knowledge. I know that Kathy [Bates] left early-ish, I know Angela [Bassett] had a birthday cake there, and that was pretty crazy. I know that Ryan and Evan [Peters] were having a grand old time, laughing pretty heartily, and I know Finn was having a really good time. So I don’t know, I don’t know who had been the last, that's all I'll say. I actually gave Evan and Emma [Roberts] a ride home, so I know they weren't the last.