Why Zachary Quinto Committed to "American Horror Story: Asylum"

The actor reveals the secrets behind his willingness to return as compelling new character

By Scott Huver
|  Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012  |  Updated 5:06 PM EDT
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"American Horror Story: Asylum" star Zachary Quinto.

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Zachary Quinto had a secret, and now the world knows – or at least, the legion of fans of “American Horror Story: Asylum” do.

[The spoiler-averse beware: If you plan on viewing the second season of producer Ryan Murphy’s macabre TV thriller in one horrific sitting, now would be a good time for you to check out.]

When FX’s hit series revealed its master plan to morph into an anthology with season-long story arcs, Quinto was one of several actors who appeared in the debut season to return in a different – and in his case more expansive – role, this time as the innovative ‘60s era psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson.

And in a recent shocking twist, Thredson was revealed to also be “Bloody Face,” a psychotic serial killer terrorizing his victims in both the past and present day. Although more gut-wrenching mysteries and surprises are certain to follow, Quinto reveals when he knew what he needed to know to create his latest evil incarnation.

On when in the production process he knew the true nature of Thredson:

"I knew from the very beginning. It was part of the conversation that I had with Ryan [Murphy] about me coming back to the second installment of the show. It very much informed the character that I was building from the beginning. As a result, I felt like my responsibility became to create a character that people could trust, or at least trust initially, and have some hope that perhaps he is actually the one voice of reason and sanity within this chaotic world. So it was actually more exciting for me to know from the beginning. It gave me more to play with and more to hold back and more secrets to keep."

On his attraction to returning for as a new and more central character:

"Part of the reason that I loved what the opportunity stood for was that I got to know, going in, I got to really build something. With 'Heroes,' that character was built before I was ever attached to it. There were eight episodes of anticipation that were built before you met Gabriel Gray, but I had no participation in that. It was just the character spoken about. So for me, it was really exciting to get to go in and having all the information, and actually be that part of the process of creating a character – that, to me, was a difference. 

It’s not a six-year commitment as it could be with another show. It’s self-contained and it was an immersion that I’m not going to be repeating or carrying on for an extended period of time. It was something I got to go do and contribute and benefit and grow and learn, and then be on to other creative pursuits and that, I think, is an environment in which I thrive."

On what facets of Thredson’s true persona remain intact despite his conflicted dual nature:

"I think he definitely believes in psychiatry. I think part of being a psychopath is an ability to dissociate from one reality and create another one completely. I think he does that expertly. I think his level of training, medical training and intuition instinct—I think he’s very skilled. I mean, that’s what allows him to get away with it as long as he does. So yes, I think he does believe in it, which is kind of another layer of tragedy of the character, is that he could have been something else. He could have made a more significantly positive contribution had he only rechanneled his traumas, his energy."

On finding time in his busy film career to take on a full-time TV role:

"When I did it the first time around, the timing of it worked out really well for me because 'Star Trek 2' had gotten pushed, so I ended up having a little bit of a window that I didn’t expect to have, and Ryan called to ask. I just thought it was going to be a couple, and it ended up being four episodes in that first installment. Then it was in the middle of that, that he actually brought up the idea of the second season being entirely different. That was the beginning of the conversations, which really intrigued me, obviously. I had been exploring the possibility of another specific job that would have been a more traditional sort of TV structure, and it was really exciting in its own way but when Ryan presented the plan to me about this, it just seemed like there was no question that it was a little bit more unique and exciting to me because of that, so that made my decision pretty clear."

On the potent appeal of the series’ boundary-pushing plot lines:

"I think stories that reflect societal fear back at the audience on some level, on some visceral level, is the most compelling kind of horror. I think that’s what this show is doing in a lot of ways. Tackling issues that have relevance to our modern society through another point of view, or another time period, filtered through different perspectives and really getting to the root of what drives us as a society, as a culture, as an audience. I think that can be really scary and I think that that’s what’s really happening in a lot of ways with the characters that we’re all playing this year, and the scenarios in which they find themselves."

On what to look forward to…or dread, as the case may be:

"This week’s show is called 'The Origins of Monstrosity' and so it really dives into a lot of the roots of the characters in this world in 'Asylum.' A lot of things will become clearer and probably even more disturbing in the next couple of weeks….I won’t spoil it by being too specific, but it all traces back to one source of trauma that then sort of branches out to include all of these unfortunate women. The storytelling structure of 'Asylum,' I think, is really going to pay off in a really big way. All of the questions that people have, and that the episodes that are airing right now are generating, will definitely be answered. That’s my instinct, at least, having read up through almost the end now."

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