The fifth season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s award-winning American Horror Story ventures into The Cortez, an infamous Los Angeles hotel. Series regular Denis O’Hare returns, this time as Liz Taylor, the Cortez’s transgender bartender who possesses an insight into the dark secrets the hotel holds.
With each season of AHS exploring a different theme, O’Hare admits the subject of Hotel is difficult to narrow down, noting that parents and children figure prominently.
“[There’s] John and Alex and their obsession with their lost child, Holden; I have a child who I abandon – I can’t say too much given what episode we’re in, but other people have children. Iris and Donovan… the dominant theme for her life is her tortured relationship with her son. The Countess, in a way, makes children by making vampires, and so there’s a fear attached to losing your children, to losing your family, but it also dovetails with the idea of identity.”
The actor adds that many of the hotel’s residents are attempting to escape their past and must face personal demons, as opposed to literal ones.
“As Liz, I run from a past, which at some point I’m going to have to deal with, probably. So many characters are looking at unrequited love or the wreckage of a past and they are fearful of facing that wreckage. It’s funny, it’s a really mature theme and it’s actually nothing to do with classic horror or fear of monsters. It’s fear of things within you that you haven’t resolved, in a way.”
It’s not just facing your fears that this season explores, but also evoking fear from ordinary locations. In discussing the idea behind American Horror Story, O’Hare acknowledges the worldwide phenomenon of horror, and finds that the typical American landscape makes for a specific kind of horror that he regards highly.
“I think of The Amityville Horror as being the exemplar. There’s something about east coast old-fashioned houses with attics – big rambling houses are very American. You think about a slasher movie where you’re in the middle of a plain, in a farmhouse in Kansas. I mean, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s great novel, is a horror novel in many ways and what makes it so horrible is that it’s about an ordinary town; these are normal people and things just don’t happen there.
“America has a patina of wholesomeness, whether real or imagined, that I think this exploits,” he adds. “You take the underbelly of America and you open it up; America prides itself on being so moral and so wholesome and so clean cut, so to subvert that I think is a very American opportunity.”
On facing the challenge of his fifth – and incredibly unique – AHS creation, O’Hare confesses that the process of makeup plays a huge part in discovering and encapsulating his characters over the years.
“I would let that makeup dictate me, and once I was in the wig and makeup, I stopped speaking. I wouldn’t speak anymore because I just felt like I was being jokey if I went in and out of character like that,” he says.
“And Liz, the same thing, I’m not an outrageous, fabulous person in real life, but put me in heels and something happens, something comes out. I tend to be a little more aggressive than I normally am.”