The 13-episode fifth installment of the FX series American Horror Story: Hotel follows detective and family man John Lowe (Wes Bentley), as he investigates a chain of gruesome murders in Los Angeles. When a mysterious tip points him to the enigmatic Hotel Cortez, he finds a lot more within its walls and among its residents than he ever could have bargained for. This season features a cast that includes Lady Gaga, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson, Evan Peters and Finn Wittrock.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Matt Bomer (who plays a hotel resident named Donovan) talked about his trust for show co-creator Ryan Murphy, having been a big fan of the show from the beginning, his experience guesting on Freak Show, the vibe on set, what it’s like to have Kathy Bates playing his mother, and finding himself in a love triangle with Lady Gaga and Finn Wittrock. He also talked about why it’s so important to him to tell Montgomery Clift’s story, via biopic for HBO.
Collider: The American Horror Story family seems like so much fun to get to be a part of, and you get to do some pretty wild and crazy stuff. Was that the appeal?
MATT BOMER: For me, it all starts with getting to work with Ryan [Murphy]. I trust him implicitly and I would follow him wherever he wanted me to go. I just feel very lucky that this is where I got to be. But I’ve been having the time of my life, so far, and I hope that that continues.
Did he pitch this season and character to you, or did you go in completely blind?
BOMER: I did it completely blind. I think we had agreed to it shortly after I did the guest spot on Freak Show. It’s actually gone through a couple of different incarnations since then. Once they had a theme and a setting, he reached out and told me who I’d be working with, what the theme would be, and filled me in on what I needed to know, but that’s it. The rest I just trusted him with.
Had you talked to him about joining the cast prior to Freak Show, or was that the first time it came up?
BOMER: Well, I think he knew I was a huge fan of the series and watched it pretty religiously, from the get-go. Last August, the week before I started Magic Mike, I got a text from him saying, “Hey, can you come down? There’s this really brief but intense role. This is what it is. Do you want to come do it?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course, I want to come do American Horror Story.” So, I got to go in and just have fun for a couple of days, and work with great actors, meet the whole fun cast, and then go home.
How was that experience?
BOMER: It was really fun. That probably surprises a lot of people. There are aspects of those scenes that you don’t want to be doing for eight hours, so you’re very grateful that you’re working with someone like Finn Wittrock, who’s an incredible professional and knows how to get it done, and it was directed really well. It was so fun. I had a blast. I’ve done straight horror before, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I’ve certainly been in my skivvies before. It was just a combo platter, I guess. I knew Finn from The Normal Heart, and I knew how fun it was going to be. Also, I adore Michael Chiklis, who I got to have a really fun, sweet scene with. So, it was all good. It was great meeting all the characters in that world Freak Show world, and we were all hanging out in the trailers and socializing with them. They were all really inspiring and fun and great. When I had heard what they were doing [for that season], I thought, “This is genius!” I’ve never had a chance to go to a freak show, but I would love to.
You’re making an intense horror show, but what’s the vibe on set like? Do things feel as intense as they appear?
BOMER: Yeah, sometimes. More emotionally than anything. When it’s a really dark emotional scene, you have to make the effort to shake it off, at the end of the day, before you go home to your kids and try to be a normal human being. You definitely want to make that effort to shake it off. It just depends, really. The more graphic physical stuff, for me, isn’t as hard to shake off, at the end of the day. It doesn’t seem fake when you’re doing it, but you’ve got to just let it go, at the end of the day.
What can you say about this character?
BOMER: Donovan is a resident of the Hotel Cortez. He is someone who, like many Angelenos, I would imagine, his dreams didn’t all quite pan out the way he thought they would. He has a misunderstanding of his power, and very complicated relationships with women, in general, and specifically his mother, played by Kathy Bates. I think that bleeds into his relationships with all women, as the defining relationship of his life.
What’s it like to have Kathy Bates play your mother?
BOMER: She’s such an icon for me. I’m just watching and learning. For this job, specifically, I’ve really had to come to set in character because otherwise I’m going to be geeking out in the middle of a scene going, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe I’m doing a scene with Kathy Bates!” So, I’m just trying to stay in it when I’m there.
There have been some stand-out song-and-dance numbers in past seasons. Are you personally rooting for one with Lady Gaga, this season?
BOMER: No. I’m a fan of her, as an artist, period. However we get to work together is fun and great. But I never, in the back of my mind, thought about that. It never really crossed my mind. I just thought it would be fun to act together. I think we’ll probably defy expectations, this year. From what I hear, I don’t think anybody is going to be singing.
We’ve heard that there will be a bit of a love triangle between your character, Lady Gaga’s character, and Finn Wittrock’s character. How will that play out? Do you think you’ll get some revenge on his, this season, after what he did to you, last season?
BOMER: Well, I think it’s only fair, don’t you? I know how it all plays out, but I don’t want to give anything away. I’m just excited to get to work with them.
Why has it been so important to you to stick with the Montgomery Clift biopic, that you’re now doing for HBO? That’s something you’ve been working on developing for quite awhile. What’s kept you driven toward getting that made?
BOMER: To me, I have such an empathy and respect for who he was, as a person and an artist, at a time when it was very difficult to be that, in this industry. But more than even the social aspect, I have such respect for his dedication toward artistry. It was unparalleled. I can relate to his work ethic. Sadly, from 0 to 30, there’s a very low recognition factor for who he was. He was really one of the first people to usher in an entirely new school of acting in cinema that was hyper-realistic. He hit the scene before [Marlon] Brando and [James] Dean. I just feel like it’s a life that we can’t discount and forget. It’s important to me that the right version of that story, that we collectively feel pays homage to him in the right way, be told.
Is it more exciting or more scary that it’s actually happening now?
BOMER: Right now, it’s in the beginning phases. I think that when I’m actually doing it, it’s going to be terrifying. And it still is terrifying. Just doing the research, it’s so holy that I’m like, “Oh, my god!” Even doing The Normal Heart, it was the first time that I felt like I was really representing real people and their experience, and I had to do them justice. It wasn’t about getting it right, but about reflecting their struggle truthfully.
American Horror Story: Hotel airs on Wednesday nights on FX.