Naomi Grossman on Hollywood’s Superficial Nature and the Feminist Themes of ‘American Horror Story’

As American Horror Story’s Pepper, actress Naomi Grossman is breaking down Hollywood’s beauty standards. And after years of working, she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves on a high-profile series. But who is the woman behind Freak Show’s most peculiar character? VH1 spoke with Grossman about how she reacted when the world realized she was indeed hot, and what it’s like being the show’s first crossover character. Co-stars Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates have already told us what it’s like working with the show’s dreamboat Evan Peters, so naturally, we had to get her input, too.

Get to know the star behind the freak, below.

VH1: You recently said, “I’ve never been told I was pretty until I played the ugliest person on TV.” Since appearing on AHS, what have you learned about Hollywood and more importantly, yourself?

That’s a really good question! It’s not to say that no one has ever told me that I was pretty, but the fact is, I’ve never had 100,000 people tell me I was pretty on the Internet all at once. I’m not used to that reaction. I think it really said something about women and our self-image. A big reason why that interview went viral was because it really speaks to the common woman who wants to be pretty. We’re so used to seeing beautiful, plastic people on television and seeing someone that’s not pretty at all, like Pepper, and then seeing the face behind her, who’s not traditionally pretty — I’m not saying I’m not pretty, I just think of myself as a traditional girl from next door, pretty.

When Ryan Murphy revealed Asylum and Freak Show were connected, he said that your character was the common thread. Was it rewarding for you being the first crossover character?

I literally got goose bumps as you said it. Like every day someone says that to me, it sinks in a little more. To this day, I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. It’s awesome! It’s so incredibly flattering! It makes sense in a way. This role honestly resonated with audiences; I understand why she was there.

You’re pretty active on Twitter. Have any fans tweeted at you with a correct theory of how the seasons are connected?

I guess I only know from having read the episodes. It wasn’t clear to me until the past episode, which is happening next week. So I think all of those answers will be reveled within a week.

You’ve received interesting gifts from your fans. What has stuck out the most?

This weekend, someone baked me a Pepper cookie. I think the creativity that this little character has inspired is amazing. I thought, “I need to move at this point ‘cause I don’t have room for all this stuff!” I’m not complaining, but there’s not enough wall space! I’ve gotten Pepper dolls, pendants, mugs, t-shirts, paintings, candles, ceramics.

You must feel so loved!

I do, I do! I mean, my fans are so good to me and I wouldn’t be here without them. I go to these Comic-Cons and whatnot and people say, “God, you’re so good with your fans.” And I think, “They’re so good to me!” Just today I was named part of IMDb’s Top 10 Breakout Stars because of their support. Face it, you watch the show and it’s all about the big star, the big star, the big star. You [wouldn’t] see the little no-name actors like me getting opportunities like this if it weren’t for the massive Internet explosion that followed my appearance.

Has anyone made you feel star struck?

When I’m working with Jessica Lange I am very aware that I am in the presence of greatness. You just look in her eyes and she’s giving you everything you need. When I first read my episode, I thought, “Oh God, this is intense!”

Were you nervous meeting her?

Oh sure, of course! Especially because when I first met her it was for Asylum, and I was really a nobody. I was scared of my own shadow at that point. For this season, it was different. I definitely felt like I belong. I had a permanent seat at the big kids table.

When I spoke with Angela and Kathy, they both said that Evan Peters is the stud on set. Is he the cast heartbreaker?

He’s adorable! That’s very funny that [they] said that. Evan is too young for me! When you look like Pepper, you’re probably not gonna get any lovin’. I feel truly sexless when I’m in the Pepper suit, so I wouldn’t really go there. I do remember watching at the premiere at our first episode, and thinking “Wow, that was a hot scene!” I even remember having maybe a glass of wine at the premiere, and actually saying, “Evan, you’re… yeah… I get it.”

When Ethel died, Angela’s character says, “She didn’t need a man to take care of her.” Are you happy that these kinds of themes are being incorporated into the show?

Absolutely! I totally relate to that, that’s how I am. That’s how I go about my life. I’m actually single for that very reason. If someone’s not willing to improve upon my life, then I’ve got a pretty good life as it is, so I don’t have any room for drama. If you can enhance my experience, fantastic, but otherwise, I’m pretty good.

If you weren’t a part of the show, do you think you’d watch?

As it is, it’s the only thing on TV that I watch. I love the theatricality, I love the colors, I love the costumes, I love the sets, I love the story. I think it’s such a well-made show. There’s not a single detail that hasn’t been thought through. There is a man whose job it is just to pull the rope to make the tent look smooth. The fact that it happens to be horror, fantastic!

How do you feel about reports of Jessica Lange leaving?

It’s not to say the show can’t go on, of course it can — there’s an expression for that: the show goes on! Ryan [Murphy] has stacked the show with enough heavy hitters, but boy, things are going to change. I know there are rumors and maybe it’s not over. I’m not her lawyer, I’m not her agent. I have no idea.

On a Friday or Saturday night, where would we find you when you’re not on set shooting?

I have so many insane stories for another time. My mom came to visit for Thanksgiving at one point, [when we were out] she actually jumped up on stage and literally danced for probably 200 20-year-olds. And you know that was a typical Tuesday out. That’s who I am! It’s not to say that I’m a party animal — you know, Lindsay Lohan, [or] those girls — but I definitely have a good time.

What do you want people who primarily see you as Pepper to know about you?

Anybody who would see me as Pepper would think I’m just this overnight success — like it just came out of nowhere. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve worked really hard for this. I’m an experienced actress, I’m a room shaker, and I make things happen. I wasn’t just waiting around for my agent to call. This isn’t some Hollywood 1920’s system, where you sit on a bar stool and wait for some French casting boy to scoop you up and give you a deal.

[Photo Credit: Getty/FX]

Pizza is bae. And yes, I still say bae.
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