Zachary Quinto on ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’

Quinto speaks out regarding last night’s big reveal about Dr. Thredson.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

After last night’s “American Horror Story: Asylum,” everyone has a lot of questions for Zachary Quinto. As Dr. Thredson, he’s quite different from last season’s tragic lover, Chad Warwick, but not entirely sympathetic with his outdated sexual orientation aversion therapy. Now we have all learned the truth about Dr. Thredson and Quinto gave a conference call with the media to discuss.

Of course MAJOR spoilers follow if you’re not caught up. You've been warned.


Q: When did you know Dr. Thredson was Bloody Face?

Zachary Quinto: I knew from the very beginning. It was part of the conversation I had with Ryan [Murphy] about me coming back for the second installment of the show in the first place. It very much informed the character I was building from the beginning.

I felt like my responsibility became to create a character that people could trust, at least initially, and have some hope that he’s the one voice of reason and sanity within this chaotic world. It was actually more exciting for me to know from the beginning because it gave me more to play with, more to hold back, and more secrets to keep.

Q: Since you played a villain on “Heroes,” how was this character different from Sylar?

Zachary Quinto: I think any time an actor revisits territory that they’ve been in before, it can be a source of trepidation as it was for me. But 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 was 8 episodes of build up but I had no participation in that. It was just the character spoken about.

So for me it was exciting to go in having all the information and being part of the process of creating the character. That to me was a difference and to me that makes sense, and it also has a similar structure to the journey I had on “Heroes,” the reveal as they would say, which was very effective in that scenario and I felt could serve the story in this iteration.

It’s more rooted in character and relationship and less in the peripheral of superpowers. I liked that this was grounded and real. Something I’m drawn to is always that connection. And it’s not a six year commitment as it could be with another show. It’s self-contained.

Q: What were your thoughts on the aversion therapy scene, which hopefully seems horrific to the audience but there are still people who believe it works?

Zachary Quinto: I think the scene was very reflective of a pervasive mentality of the time, as unsettling as it is. I think it was powerful to revisit it and present an audience with a reflection of that kind of really abhorrent thinking. Obviously we’ve come a long way since then and that’s great. There’s so much progress made and more work to do.

I think it’s always good when your’e able to allow your work to be some kind of a conduit for social discourse. I think an examination of where we are as a society and I think this installment of the show is really doing that in a lot of powerful ways, that being one of many. Another reason why I’m grateful to be a part of this kind of storytelling and this environment.

Q: Will we get into the psychosis behind the psycho?

Zachary Quinto: Yeah, next week’s show is called “The Origins of Monstrosity” so it really dives into a lot of the roots of the characters in this world, of “Asylum.” So a lot of things will become more clear and more disturbing in the next couple of weeks.

Q: How has your real life friendship with Sarah Paulson impacted your scenes with her on the show?

Zachary Quinto: Well, I have such a respect for Sarah as an actress but it’s a rare and unique opportunity to show up to work with a friend. So often these relationships are formed on the set. It’s even a richer experience when you already have that foundation of friendship. There’s implicit trust and sensitivity to each other, our needs, our instincts, our individual process.

It’s really a remarkable gift in a lot of ways. We also are able to have more fun and laugh in situations. There’s less awkwardness to cut through so I think it strengthens the connection that the characters share, whether it’s friendship or torture or hostage, whatever it may be. I love going to work anyway, but particularly with Sarah. She’s doing such great work,

I love watching the journey she’s taking. She’s gone to so many extreme and challenging emotional places and done it so beautifully. I think her work is so incredible, it’s been a joy for me this whole experience.

Q: Was everything about Dr. Thredson so far a ruse? Does any part of him really believe in psychiatry?

Zachary Quinto: I think he definitely believes in it. Part of being a psychopath is an ability to dissociate from one reality and create another one completely. I think he does the expertly. His level of training, medical training and instinct, he’s very skilled. I think that’s what allows him to get away with it as long as he does. I think he does believe in it. Another level of tragedy in the character is he could’ve been something else. He could’ve made a much more positive contribution.

Q: What do his victims have in common? They’re all women, right?

Zachary Quinto: You’ll find out much more about that in the coming weeks so I won’t spoil it by being too specific. It all traces back to one source of trauma that then branches out to include all of these unfortunate women.

Q: Do you think you’ll be back as a different character in Season 3?

Zachary Quinto: I just read today that the show got picked up for a third installment so that’s very exciting. I’m so glad it’s doing well and people are responding to it. FX has been so supportive and innovative with the stuff that they’re doing so it’s great to be a part of it.

I haven’t had any conversations with Ryan about the third season so I have no idea. I love my job, the people I’m working with so I always want to keep doing that. If he has plans that involve me I’m sure he’ll call me.

Q: What did you think of the fan reaction to the big reveal?

Zachary Quinto: At least the things that I’ve scrolled through seem supportive and excited about the direction the show’s going in. I’m sure I’m more likely to have those people reach out to me than people who aren’t excited about it, which is sort of the nature of Twitter in the end. I hope people are on board with where it goes from here.

Q: Will we find out if he’s still present day Bloody Face?

Zachary Quinto: Wouldn’t that be cool? Yeah, you’ll find all that out. I just read the next episode last night. It was pretty freaky and cool. It’s really driving to a point very, very well. The story of “Asylum” is really going to pay off in a really great way. I think all the questions people have and that the episodes airing now are generating will be answered.

Q: Did Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy allow you input into your character?

Zachary Quinto: Yeah, I had a few conversations with Ryan and Brad before we started. Ryan and I had a couple connections about what he was thinking. I asked some questions and had a chance to contribute to what I would like to see, but once they got going, their engine just drives them and all of us forward in surprising and unexpected ways. The vast majority of that comes from them and I bring it to life as I see it.


Q: What are you excited for people to find out more about as the season goes on?

Zachary Quinto: I think the Kit storyline I really love also watching Evan I think is fantastic. I love what Lily is doing now that she’s got the devil inside. I think that’s such a delicious [angle], she’s doing such great stuff. I can’t take my eyes off Jessica Lange. She’s so committed to her ferocity of instinct. It’s so riveting and inspiring at the same time. I love working with these people. I wish I had more to do with James Cromwell. He never really crossed paths with the doctor in the asylum but maybe there’s something to look forward to there.

Q: Now that we know about Dr. Thredson’s double life, will you have to get more physical in your scenes as the killer?

Zachary Quinto: Well, I think it’s an interesting point you bring up in terms of the physicality of a show like this. A lot of us have had to go through some pretty intense physical experience, whether it’s Chloe’s characters legs being removed and Chloe having to embody that, or Sarah Paulson having to endure the physicality of her character’s electroshock therapy or any of the people who’ve been murdered, attacked or killed.

We all have the capacity to understand the difference between fantasy and reality in the make believe pretend world we go to work every day, but our bodies are not so discerning. When you put them through intense situations it can have an effect. Taking care or ourselves, exercise is an important level for any actor.

Further than than that, making sure we shake it off. I’ve never had trouble shaking things off but this character has had some things that were harder to leave at work. I think it’s important to maintain that.

Q: How much does this character effect you?

Zachary Quinto: It does to a degree but I consider it my responsibility to myself to be able to discern the boundaries in my life, so I really try to separate myself as clearly as possible and as a trained actor, that’s part of what I learned how to do as well, going to college and studying, cultivating a technique that allows us to enter some of these really complicated psychological landscapes and not get lost in them.

I have outlets and things I can do and do to make sure that I stay grounded and clear but also that’s what’s kind of fun about it. I know that I can let myself go in certain ways because I won’t go in others, the ones that are important.

Q: How does the asylum itself help you get into character?

Zachary Quinto: I think our production designer and the art department have done such an extraordinary job creating this immensely oppressive overwhelming environment which does have actual characteristic depending on what part of the set your’e shooting in. I just think it’s a gold mine of information and opportunity for action and activities along the way.

It’s just such a full environment we work in, it’s great. And that continues in the coming weeks because you get to see much more of the lair in which Lana is being held captive and those scenes are great. The asylum itself, the hydrotherapy room, what happens in there and what that evokes, the bakery, all the cells and offices, that institutional feeling, that heavy footed concrete, olive green brown beige.

I went to Catholic school growing up and it really evokes a lot of the same industry. The icons and iconography, statues, all that stuff is so well realized in the world i’m really grateful to the creative team behind that. They do such great work.

Q: How do you prepare mentally to play this dark demented role?

Zachary Quinto: It depends on the scene. There’s different levels and preparation for different kinds of scenes and work so i have a combination of things I do. I usually just find some quiet and solitude, a corner of the set where there’s not much traffic.

I listen to music if I need to get into a particular space. Other sorts of stretching, just breathing, taking time to mostly be quiet, find the stillness, I think that’s important. I love playing characters that go to extreme places and I love to explore different kinds of psychological landscapes, so it is ultimately a kind of fun, but it’s also complicated and colored by the depth of the nastiness of it at certain times as well. That can be a challenging part.

Q: Did the writers and producers ever worry about going too far?

Zachary Quinto: Well, I think that they’re certainly sensitive and Ryan’s a very sensitive artist but he’s constantly striving for balance in his work, never wants to go to one extreme or another. So I think there’s a process of refinement any show goes through as its post production process.

Ryan’s a part of that and there are checks and balances to make sure it’s going in the right direction. It is more uncompromising this year, tackling a lot of things at once. It feels like it’s pulling an audience along in a really dynamic way so hopefully that seems to be a response of people coming back week after week.

Q: What is too far for you?

Zachary Quinto: Funny you should ask that. After I read the episode last night I was asking myself the same thing. There is a line I won’t cross. I haven’t reached it yet on this show. It’s circumstantial and I’d know it if I was ever in that situation but things are handled with enough respect and professional and creative acumen in “American Horror Story” that I’ve always felt safe and supportive. So those are the two most important elements: trust and professionalism. We have those in excess at “American Horror Story” so that’s good.

Q: Was he actually trying to help with aversion therapy or was that just a test?

Zachary Quinto: I think it was a test and I think a lot of his actions in the first four and a half episodes of “Asylum” were serving some ulterior motive so I think he was trying to gain Lana’s trust, gain some proximity to her and some intimacy to her. I think he was definitely trying to show her that he could be there for her, that she could rely on him even through something as ugly as that and as brutal as that.

As barbaric as we could see it today, at the time it was a pervasive social mentality that homosexuality was something that could be treated medically or psychologically. I think to that end, he was implementing the forward thinking of the time to try to help her or try to feel like he was helping her at that time to get her out of there.

Then when it didn’t work, to devise a more radical approach to getting her out that she would go along with because he’s already tried the more prescribed traditional route. Let me see if I can prove it cured you and they have to let you out. When it doesn’t work, which he knows it won’t, she already has more faith and trust in him. It’s an incredibly manipulative tactic that works to a tee for him.