Exclusive Interview: Actress Naomi Grossman Talks ‘AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM’

Actress Naomi Grossman has transformed herself to portray the seemingly friendly, murderous inmate Pepper, who is quickly becoming the breakout character of this season’s American Horror Story: Asylum. To this point, audiences have only caught brief moments of her shaved head, man hands and crazy eye, but that’s about to change as Pepper will be spicing up the storyline throughout the upcoming episodes of the highly-acclaimed FX show.

Don’t miss Naomi Grossman as this fan favorite, unique, creepy and really odd looking character Pepper on American Horror Story: Asylum which airs on Wednesday at 10/9c on FX.  Check out my latest Versus as she talks all about her character, what’s to come and much more.

Alien Bee – Tell me about your character Pepper and how you got this weird role!

Naomi Grossman – Pepper is based on a real life, famous microcephalic from the 1930’s named “Schlitzie.” He (yes, he was a man) was one of the stars from Tod Browning’s controversial cult-classic, “Freaks” (a film near and dear to AHS co-creator, Ryan Murphy). Schlitzie apparently had the brain capacity of a 3 year old, was mostly dressed in mumus due to incontinence, and was typically farmed out by his guardians to freak shows. Anyway, that’s what they gave me: Schlitzie. I watched and read anything and everything Schlitzie all summer long. I practiced emulating him, though was always mindful about being real and not making a mockery. (Microcephalia is a very real, serious condition — just because I do comedy and role’s kind of funny, doesn’t mean I mean to make fun.) As far as how I got it, I auditioned! It was just me and a bunch of little people in a waiting room (and some Justin Bieber-types — they cast “Glee” at that same office). There we were, all sizing each other up, if you will… I never thought they’d pick me — not when they had so many more obvious character-types to choose from. They didn’t tell us what we were reading for, except that the role was “4-5 feet tall, possibly malformed, and childlike.” Now, I’m short, but otherwise, how do I prepare for that? Hide my arms in my sleeves and pretend I’m a T-Rex? No. I basically just wore a modest dress without cleavage, and prepared to do the best job I could. (At the very least, I hoped they would remember me for some Spanish teacher-role or something on “Glee.”) Because the script and character specifics were so secretive, they couldn’t actually let us read the role (that would give it away). Instead, they just had us do one of Jessica Lange’s monologues from season 1, and then a short improv. I think they just wanted to see our range as an actor. And whether we were anatomically disposed for what they were looking to do. From what I understand, my profile/face/features were the best palate from which to create Pepper. So the moral of the story is: yes, be prepared, but don’t kill yourself over your performance either. You might just not have the right shaped face!

Alien Bee – What all can we expect from Pepper during the rest of this season of American Horror Story: Asylum?

Naomi Grossman –  Well, of course I can’t really say, but… range. Ryan Murphy has teased viewers with Pepper’s “unusual change.” She’s much more than just “Rats” and “Pepper Pee!” It’s such a gem of a role, for that reason. Such a multi-dimensional, complex character is a workout, not to mention a dream showcase for any actor.

Alien Bee – Pepper is a very unique character. What steps do you go through to get into character and how long does it take in makeup?

Naomi Grossman –  Other than the acting preparations I mentioned, I’m in make-up a good 2.5-3 hours. I normally go in for a fresh head-shave the night before, then am called with the makeup crew several hours before anyone else. Since it’s often 5 in the morning, they lay me back in the chair, ask me to close my eyes and stay still — it’s not uncommon for me to fall asleep. Once made-up, I find the character comes quite naturally. Kind of like when you put on a big wig, and it just makes you behave a certain way? For that reason though, I’m pretty much in character the whole day. Crew members will giggle or wave or speak to me in a way they likely wouldn’t if I were just Naomi. It’s fun!

Alien Bee – Can you give me any kind of spoiler for American Horror Story: Asylum?  Make something up if you can’t!

Naomi Grossman –  No way! I want to come back next year! Besides, I kept Pepper a secret all summer long — and that involved shaving my head and everything (which is pretty hard to keep secret). I’m not about to begin blowing my cover now!

Alien Bee – I imagine we may see some AHS collectibles along the way.  Would you like to see your own action figure of Pepper?

Naomi Grossman – (Sheepishly) That’s a secret, life-long dream of mine!

Alien Bee – Now, you’re also big into comedy. Tell me about your YouTube channel
and your comedy shorts!

Naomi Grossman –  It’s silly. I used to be in the Groundlings Sunday Company, which for those out of the LA comedy loop, is one of the preeminent sketch comedy and improv theaters in Los Angeles. A lot of the SNL folks came out of there. In any case, that’s where a lot of my YouTube material first began. It was really just me, trying to keep creative, finding my own voice, casting myself if I wasn’t getting cast, taking advantage of this unique age and resource in which we can actually broadcast ourselves! They say to “be the change you want to see.” Well, I always wanted to be on SNL… So why not be those types of characters, doing those kinds of sketches? And well, it hasn’t exactly led to SNL, but in an indirect way, perhaps it lead me to this? Pepper is the Mac Daddy of big, crazy, SNL-style characters after all.

Alien Bee – What’s up next for you?

Naomi Grossman –  Well, Pepper will be over with the series’ end… For now, I’m just riding that wave. Attempting to parlay her popularity and this momentum into new career opportunities. Lots of meetings… though nothing I can talk about now!

Alien Bee – Where can everybody find you on the net?

Naomi Grossman –  My website is naomigrossman.net. LOTS of Pepper to be found there! My YouTube channel is youtube.com/naomigrossman (subscribe!), and I’m also all over FunnyOrDie. They can also follow me on Twitter @naomiwgrossman or @Pepper_AHS, or “like” me on Facebook.

Alien Bee – Would you like to say anything to all the American Horror Story fans
out there?

Naomi Grossman –  YOU’RE AWESOME! Pepper was really an itty bitty part (I’ve literally said 6 words so far), who’s managed to become a bonafide internet meme! Who knew she’d be a fan favorite amongst such major stars, on such a popular series? Yes, I did my part… but you did too! I mean, “Pepper for President?” Are you kidding me?! Love you guys!









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