January 14, 2015

AHS: Freak Show’s Denis O’Hare Talks Motives And More

[Spoiler Alert: Article contains information about a future episode of AHS: Freak Show]

(PCM) One of the most beloved actors in the American Horror Story universe is without a doubt Denis O’Hare. He has brought fans some incredibly memorable characters throughout his time working on the series. We have seen him as burn victim Larry Harvey in American Horror Story season one “Murder House” and of course as doll fetishist Spaulding in “American Horror Story: Coven”, now O’Hare has taken on the character of Stanley on “American Horror Story: Freak Show” and despite looking a bit more normal, he is every bit as sinister and certainly boasts an extra special package (if you know what we mean).

We recently had a chance to catch up with Denis O’Hare to chat about his role in ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show”, his hope to return for the next installment and the ways in which American Horror Story and Ryan Murphy continue to push the envelope further and further with each and every season.

O’Hare tells us “While watching last week’s episode while I was standing in the road basically doing obscene things to Michael Chiklis I thought, can we push the envelope further? How much envelope is left? But we never know what’s going to happen. It’s Ryan’s world and we just wait for word.”

Denis-OHare2And as to whether he would like to come back next season and if so what type of character he would like to play O’Hare reveals “He [Ryan Murphy] 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 Stanley’s kind of normal. He’s not disfigured in any way, I mean, really. And he’s charming in a way. So, I’ll take another Stanley.”

When asked if there was anything about the role of Stanley that made O’Hare think about the gay community and the ways in which it has changed, he replied “I think what’s so great about Ryan and Brad 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.  And certainly this series this year seems to be about physical abnormalities and what we consider to be a freak, or normal, but there are subtler applications.

And one of the subtler applications, of course, is the way that gay people were thought of and treated. And 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.

But he’s hiring hustlers to basically fulfill himself, so that’s certainly not healthy. And 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.”

O’Hare also explains to us just what keeps him coming back to American Horror Story and we think fans can agree, saying “It’s one of those great things that happens in American Horror Story, mixed in with the horror and sometimes even the camp, are moments of real bathos and real tragedy. And I think that’s what keeps me coming back, at least.”

He also gives us a little bit of insight into Stanley’s mindset in the series revealing “He’s looking to better his own personal world, and he’s very sunny in that way. And 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.”

Denis-OHare3We jokingly say “He’s just misunderstood”, to which O’Hare responds “as an actor it’s always our job to advocate for our characters, and there’s a lot I can advocate for Stanley. Everyone keeps yelling at me for killing Ma Petite, and I’m like “I didn’t touch her. I didn’t kill her.” “Yes, but you encouraged Dell.” I’m like, “I didn’t tell him specifically to kill Ma Petite.” So, I don’t understand. I am misunderstood. You’re right

We were also curious as to whether or not the actors are given any back story for the characters that they will be portraying. O’Hare comments “No, we are given nothing almost, really. 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.”

He goes on to say “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. We had to change the time frame.

But 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. So, 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.

In the service of back story at one point I was told that Maggie and I were probably going to be father and daughter, and then that sort of shifted to no, they sometimes pretend to be father and daughter, and then that shifted to be no, they’re just equals. So, we never quite know what’s happening.

I did know that I wanted a mustache. I feel very strongly about that. And 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. And it was mine, by the way, that I grew, we were trimming my own mustache. And he finally liked one. And before I left I said, “So, I think Stanley’s a whistler.” And Ryan said, “Whistle away.” And that was our last note. I took it from there.”

When asked if there was any type of theme or type of character that he would like to one day explore, O’Hare tells us “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; I felt that was a lot about ghosts. Asylum, obviously was brilliant, and 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. That feels like it’s right. But they did, as I say, touch upon that a little bit. Coven, obviously covered all of witches. And Freak Show is a brilliant idea that covers the grotesqueries of life. So, outside of satanic cults and torture porn, I’m not quite sure what’s left. As I say, I’m glad it’s up to them, because I guess my mind doesn’t work this way well enough. But I’m excited and anxious to see what they’re going to come up with, and I will say yes to whatever I’m told to do.”

Denis-OHare4The characters portrayed by O’Hare throughout the other seasons have always features some kind of physical abnormality, however with this season it is not really a deformity so to say, but ..

O’Hare tells us “It’s funny, there are a lot of resonances or uber themes that come back from season to season. Kathy Bates lost her head in two seasons, which I think is pretty funny, this season and then last season. There was a weird thing between Jessica and I, we always were in some sort of symbiotic relationship, never healthy. In year one I was her lover but being used by her. And in year three I was her servant/wanna be lover. This year I’m definitely not a romantic interest in her, but I’m in an unhealthy symbiotic partnership of sorts. But I love the fact that he creates these large uber themes.

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. And 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.

And 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.”

O’Hare also jokingly reveals his love for the incredible American Horror Story fan base saying “I love the fans, 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’ 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. He does Jessica. He does Patti LaBelle. He does Dandy. He 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.”

During his time on American Horror Story O’Hare has played three very different character types, but we were curious if there was any common thread linking them together. O’Hare reveals “That’s interesting. I do feel like all the characters are always yearning for something. I love finding out new characters. And these, it seems obvious to me that they’re all yearning for some way of transcending their life into something bigger.

Denis-OHare5-2It 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. And what Larry wanted was release.

I felt like Spalding was in many ways the same way. I joked with Ryan, I said, “I think Spalding’s ultimate dream is to become a doll,” this is before we got to the end, and I thought wouldn’t it be cool if at the end we saw Spalding on the shelves and he finally had achieved his dream.

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 fêted, he’s going to be the one who is called out for recognition. And 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. And I think it’s really cool.”

We have recently learned that all of the seasons of American Horror Story are connected in some way or in the same universe. We asked Denis just how that may affect any future seasons. He replied “I know that they put a lot of thinking into the resonances, as I said. The biggest, obvious resonance this year was Pepper being in both Asylum and in our season. But there are actually two other ones coming up that are very, very strong resonances which are fascinating, I think.”

AHS4We may have just seen our glimpse at another one of those connections that again tie Pepper to Asylum with the new released still photos from this weeks all new episode which feature actress Lily Rabe reprising her role as Sister Mary Eunice.

O’Hare also adds “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 Story as a franchise is very much into expressing various forms of fear. When asked which fears he would like to see explored O’Hare responded “Wow! That’s a very good question. What I think is so brilliant about what Ryan first said when he set upon this course is that they were going to explore the different genres of horror, and I love that notion of that there are different kinds of horror. And you’re right, there are different kinds of fear. I don’t feel like we’ve really, well we did claustrophobia because Kathy Bates was buried alive last year. But I don’t feel like we’ve really, really explored the idea of things closing in on people. That’s a real big fear.

I think it’s really hard to do agoraphobia, fear of open spaces. That’s kind of a hard one. But we haven’t explored animal fears, like fears of dogs and fears of spiders, and icky things like that. We had snakes, but really, really icky insects we haven’t really explored that a whole lot.

And as I said about the alien thing, we haven’t really explored the whole fear of extraterrestrial monsters. And if you think about all of the movies in the ’50s where part of the thing was whether it was Godzilla or some sort of, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, actual creatures who are actually fearful, the minotaur from Coven certainly comes to mind, but that was more to do with witchcraft than to do with the actual monster itself. I guess monsters would be an interesting fear to explore.”

To conclude on a fun note, obviously Stanley’s deformity, or lack there of in some people opinion, would be one that maybe 99.9% of men would like to have, so would he dispel the rumor that size really doesn’t matter?  O’Hare replies “Ryan and I have chatted about this a little bit and we’ve talked about the limits of what one can show on FX, a different cable maybe, HBO, watch out. But 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, and I’ve actually got people going, “What’s down there? What is that? Is it double-headed? Is it like—does it explode? What is it?”

And I think there’s a size issue. I think there’s also an angry issue, as he said last week. I don’t think it’s really attractive. Actually, if people were to look at it and were given the chance they wouldn’t go, “Oh sure, I’ll take that.” “Oh, wait a minute I’m not sure where I’d find a willing partner for that.” But I think it’s a great play on a joke amongst men. Size does matter to them. Please, nothing is too big. And I think it’s hilarious that Ryan’s playing it as a joke that well, I guess there is an outer limit.”

Be sure to tune in for an all-new episode of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” airing at 10pm on FX. Please note that the show will take a brief hiatus for the holidays and will resume with episode 11 on January 7th, 2015.

This article originally appeared on

About the Author

Kristyn Clarke
I am a journalist and interviewer who is completely obsessed with music, TV, film and all other aspects of pop culture! I am currently the Director of Operations for and my work can also be found on,, and! Have my B.S. in Television/Video Production from Wilmington University and have been working in online media for the past ten years and loving every moment of it!



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