Fans of the last season’s installment of “American Horror Story” may have had to take a moment to recognize returning cast member Dylan McDermott this time around. No longer playing the yuppie therapist Ben Harmon, McDermott goes blue collar to portray the tattooed son of Bloody Face (Zachary Quinto) this season. In a conference call with reporters, McDermott, who says his character is in “the next three of four episodes” and comes face-to-face with his serial killer dad, talked about playing a serial killer, why he doesn’t remove his character’s tattoos when he goes home, and why he loves “Rosemary’s Baby” — but would never do a remake.
What did you want to do when you returned to the show?
[Ryan Murphy is] the one who designed the character… we talked at length about how he would look and what we wanted. We came up with this mullet idea and tattoos, [to] have him be a really blue collar guy as opposed to the psychiatrist Ben Harmon. I think we were both looking to do something radically different than we had last season.
Would you consider a third season of the show?
I love the show. If I wasn’t on the show, I’d be watching it. I’m a fan of the show. I really trust Ryan and he has a great instinct with me, and if he asked me to come back, of course I would.
Are there other characters you particularly like this season?
It’s funny, because I’m actually following Zach’s character and Sarah’s character, so it’s funny they would end up being my parents. I had no idea, then all of a sudden I’m their son, so it’s funny it worked out in such a way.
Why do you think people are so drawn to horror television and films?
It’s a funny thing. I think that people, as much as they deny it, they want to be scared. It’s a phenomenon why people want to be scared when there is so much violence in the world. It’s a conundrum to me. It’s an unconscious thing why people like that so much. I don’t like the slasher stuff myself, but I do like the psychological horror of Roman Polanski and that world.
How did you come to be involved with “American Horror Story” in the first place?
It’s funny; you have these instincts every once in a while, and when I was on “The Practice,” I had an instinct it was going to be very, very successful. Then again, when I heard the story of “American Horror Story,” I had a similar instinct about the show. I remember my agent pitching me the idea for it, and I was immediately attracted to it. When I sat down with Ryan, it all came to fruition. I have those instincts very rarely in my career, and the practice and AHS were both of them. I don’t know what that is; maybe it’s just my gut telling me “this is the show.” I was looking for something really different and something that would be successful and resonate, and I found it.
Are there aspects of this character that are hard to shake?
There [are] a lot of things that are disturbing and hard. There’s a lot of violence in the show and it’s hard to get around that, and it’s real and it’s upsetting. As an actor, you can’t judge it, you have to be in it. I’m playing a serial killer; I’m not judging him, I’m not judging his environment, I’m just looking for the why, why he is the way he is. If you’re a good actor, you’re gonna take this stuff home with you.
Do you have a favorite type of horror?
I do like the Polanski stuff more than anything else. “Rosemary’s Baby” is one of my favorite movies of all time. The idea of her being impregnated by the devil is so frightening, and being in New York at the Dakota, it’s so scary. I’m doing a movie in February called “Mercy” and there’s similar themes to “Rosemary’s Baby,” so I am somewhere attracted to that idea in some way… the demon baby.
Is the atmosphere this season similar to last season?
I’ve sort of been in a bubble of my own work, but I tend to think it’s what it was.. the show is like going home at this point. It’s strange to say, but it’s this safe home for me.
Will we get closure this season?
Not to give anything away, but I think you’ll be satisfied in terms of what happens. Other characters definitely, you’ll have closure with all the characters. It’s hard to wrap up the show in one season, but having read it… you’ll be satisfied for sure.
What’s been the most fun about playing this character as opposed to Ben Harmon?
Going to a blue collar guy who’s a serial killer who has enormous problems with his parents, it’s been fun to play. The idea of diving into his past and creating this guy, a wounded person who’s lashing out at the world. I refer to both of [these American Horror Story characters] as twin brothers by a different father.
What’s going to happen with your character?
I think we’re gonna look into what, if he really is after some sort of closure with his mother. I think he can’t wrap his head around why someone would want to throw him out, so I think we’re gonna peek into his psychological world in the next three episodes. And then we’re going to have closure with his character in the finale. It goes into the psychology and the pathology of who he is. He’s not just a serial killer and out here on the run with no reason. We really get into the reason. People behave badly and people are in prison and there’s no excuses for their behavior, but most people are coming from abuse, and Johnny is not alone in that. He suffers from an enormous amount of abuse… We’re gonna peek into his world.
Since you love “Rosemary’s Baby,” what about a remake?
Some movies you just can’t remake. Some things should just be left alone. Maybe a sequel, but not a remake.
Is it hard to shake a serial killer character at the end of the day?
It’s funny, because this role, you don’t know it when it’s happening because it’s unconscious. But this guy has got under my skin a little bit. I don’t take the tattoos off, I keep them on, and I’ve been living with him a little more than other characters I’ve played. It just sort of happens. I have an understanding of who he is, don’t ask me why. Some characters fit more than others.
Is there anything you asked the writers to include for your character?
In the next episode, I wanted him to have an outlet… [so I wanted the character to] start smoking crack. I wanted him to be high, because a lot of these guys are high. A lot of people who do terrible things are on drugs, so it was important to me for him to be a drug addict as well.
Was it a rush to put on the Bloody Face mask?
When you put that mask on, you can hear your own breathing, so it’s like a mini horror show inside your own head. I took a picture of myself with it on holding a machete and underneath it says beware. It’s truly a frightening picture. But this guy, he came to me very naturally. Sometimes you have to search for inspiration, and sometimes they just drop out of the sky and arrive, and that was this for me.
Did you work with Zachary to create your character, since he’s your father?
I kind of just watch him and picked up a few of his mannerisms. There is a scene coming up where we’re in the same room, and I guess in the writers’ room they put up a picture of me and Zach and Sarah to see if I could be their son when they were casting, and I guess I passed the test, but I think we have some similar qualities, darker features. I don’t think it’s much of a leap. I tried to listen to his voice and pick up his mannerisms a little bit.