Evan Peters | Internal Horror
As though aggrieved, the rats have escaped to roam new territory—a house, in this case, in a town north of Los Angeles. Its Southern charm oozing from its mildewed smell and stained floral wallpaper—or the two burly rat trainers, clearly made of rougher mettle than the assorted dressed sharply types on this photo set. The trainers lumber after the little furry beasts rather out of breath and wheezing. They’ve barely exchanged two words with anyone on the set—but they’re communicating, in tongues or something, with the vermin. It’s all grotesque. And the only one on set who remains utterly unfazed is the principle focus of our day—the young Mr. Evan Peters.
“Don’t let the black rats out! Only the brown ones,” the photographer says with a wild look in his eye. The reason? Black rats are the legendary rats–the ones who harbinged Black Plague, the ones who represent evil, filth and sin, the ones who will bring this world down. Everyone around Peters is a little on edge, but perhaps because he understands evil, horror, and not-so-cheerful notions like the end of the world, he sits quietly and unperturbed on a bed-bug-ridden mattress in an attic where wild mice droppings distribute hantavirus to all around. He does not flinch. He does not register fear or annoyance, even when the rats, with their tiny-clawed feet, scurry desperately all over his body. At one point, a rat attempts to escape the scene, but one of the trainers snatches its tail and drops it unceremoniously back onto Peters. There’s no escaping. But to Peters, this no hell.
No hell compared to Ryan Murphy’s FX-thriller AHS (American Horror Story for the uninitiated, and for those who don’t watch it because they “physically can’t handle it,” as Peters’ manager puts it). On the acclaimed blood-splattered show, Peters is asked constantly to do the unimaginable. “Little did I know that I was going to get tortured the whole season,” Peters says, playing with the dinner knife at a WeHo steakhouse where we meet after the shoot with his manager, explaining the excitement he felt when Murphy called with news that he’d be one of the actors carried over to Season Two (much of the cast was let go, but Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, and Sarah Paulson remained).
First season already witnessed him enduring plenty as Tate Langdon. There he was sliding into a slick latex suit, raping and impregnating mothers with his demon spawn and massacring a high school–all with a sick laughter, a darkness irrepressible, and a tortured soul brutalized but still capable of falling in love, with Taissa Farmiga’s character, Violet. In the next installment, Peters plays Kit, a prisoner of the Briarcliff insane asylum, and shows off a great deal of flesh (fan girls and guys take note) while being pretty much relentlessly tortured, naturally.
Does Peters relish the anguish of his on-screen character, and to any degree reflect his darkness? He picks up the blade and slices through the air, a curiosity in his gaze, and then he gives out an infectious laugh. There’s something mildly unsettling about his laugh. Not just his Tate Langdon laugh. His personal laugh. Even while playing the awkward goofball skater kid in 2004’s Sleepover or the loyal martial arts fighting sidekick in 2008’s Never Back Down, or the other sidekick in 2011’s Kickass, there is something irregular about the cadence of this ha-ha-ha–it contains unpredictability matched with layered emotion. It’s flippant, yet earnest. It is this inability to put a finger on what it is he is thinking that makes Peters so phenomenal as an actor. Peters’ Tate wasn’t just your everyday raving lunatic spree-shooter. That would have been boring. Instead, he imbued his character with layer-upon-layer of intangible, web-like complexity. He wasn’t merely tortured and weird and depressed and psychotic and brutal and cold… He was terribly romantic, vulnerable, joyous, and, himself, a victim. His ability to make all these emotions believable turned Peters into one of the best things on AHS.
When Peters and I meet, four episodes have completed filming and there are seven more to tackle for the second season. Despite the laughter, Peters is anxious, definitely not relaxed. “Oh boy,” he says. “I just pray. I pray that it [the remainder of the season] is not too hard to do. Just make it easy!” Peters laughs his laugh once more, then talks about his other co-star, Paulson, and how they bond together on set, goading one another to crack up during intense scenes of both physical and emotional pain, while the other is off-camera, chuckling. “Her and I get tortured a lot, so we’re not that excited to come to work,” he explains. “We have to make it fun somehow. I mean, it’s not all a nightmare.”
Or is it? Is it possible that the success of AHS might result in him being typecast? Peters shakes his head adamantly. “No. I won’t let that happen. No way,” he asserts, making it clear that he is no torture-porn fanatic. “After Last Tango in Paris Marlon Brando said: ‘I will never hurt myself again for a movie.’ And that is kind of what I am like after this show is over.” He’s serious. He doesn’t know, for instance, how his modern-day icon, DiCaprio, can take on demanding role after demanding role. “He’s the strongest human being alive,” he says. “Maybe that’s why Leo can do it. It’s hard work. It’s too hard for me. It takes too much out of me to do. Maybe because he’s been doing it for so many years, he can continue to do it because he has a grip on it. I just can’t. It’s not for me.” He pauses and explains, “I just don’t like being sad all day. I don’t like doing that. It’s not fun.”
So, before you go imagining every different kind of raging psychopath Peters can be over the course of his next few projects, just stop. Comedy is where you’ll likely see him next. No laughter here. He’s finally built up the courage for comedy. “I have always been pretty scared. I did an episode of The Office, and I think I could have been so much funnier! But I was scared. Now that I have been through AHS I’m not scared.”
As to Peters’ personal life, there’s one thing he might always be afraid of: his mother, or at least he takes serious heed to her warnings. He bears two tattoos. “MOM” on his left arm that he sketched himself, and a teeny-tiny thumbs-up (the thumbs-up a stamp from the previous night’s adventures at a club). “She said, ‘You can get a tattoo as long as it says ‘MOM’ and I was like, okay!” His parents are in St. Louis, and he sends them care packages, generally found on gifts.com. Another favorite gift destination for Peters is Iamastuffedanimal.com, where he’s made himself into a stuffed animal on more than one occasion. “Is that narcissistic?” he asks himself laughing, and shrugs. “They miss me a lot.” The greatest thing about Peters is his honesty, and his apparent innocence at the grind of the Hollywood machine. Changes in his life? He has a new stereo in his Pontiac so that he can plug his phone in to listen to music. This excites him, in 2012, not having to change CDs while driving. He talks about how much he has to learn still and says repeatedly how much work ahead he has. “I want to get, I think everybody wants to get, to that same level like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. So like, in terms of path, you know, there’s just so much more work to do.” He repeats himself. “So much more work. I am happy, but not relaxed.”
Written by Mui-Hai Chu Photographed by Davis Factor
Photography: Davis Factor for DRPhotoMgmt.Com. Photography Assistant: Brad Lansill at ProDigital.La. Styling: Joshua Liebman at JoshuaLiebman.com. Grooming: Sienree for CelestineAgency.Com. Production: Christine Clayton for DRPhotoMgmt.com.