Zachary Quinto made his initial splash on television in series like 24, So NoTORIous, and Heroes. He gained greater fame playing the coveted role of Spock in the new Star Trek movie.
Lately, the 35 year-old has made headway as Chad Warwick in the first season of the TV series American Horror Story. Now Quinto returns for the second Asylym season of the series as Dr. Oliver Thredson and talks about when he learned he would come back for the current season installment in the series.
“I knew from the very beginning,” Zachary says, “It was part of the conversation that I had with Ryan [Murphy]about me coming back to the second installment of the show, in the first place. It very much informed the character that I was building from the beginning.”
Zachary was asked if he had any reservations about returning to the series, even as a different character.
“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,” he says, “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 were eight episodes of anticipation that were built before you met Gabriel Gray in Heroes, but I had no participation in that. I had no opportunity. 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.”
“That, to me, was something that I thought, yes, that makes sense,” Quinto adds, “And it also has a similar structure to the journey that I had on Heroes, at least the introduction or the reveal, as they say, which proved very effective in that scenario and I felt I could really also serve this story in this particular innovation as well. So that, and that it’s just more rooted in character and relationship, and less rooted in the sort of peripheral elements like superpowers. I liked that this was grounded and real. It’s something that I’m always drawn to is that kind of direction. So I felt like it was, and it wasn’t, 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. So I was really excited about all those elements.”
One scene involves Dr. Oliver Thredson performing aversion therapy and trying to change a girl from gay to straight. Quinto, who came out of the closet last year, talks about his own feelings on the matter.
“I mean I think the scene was very reflective of a pervasive mentality of the time,” Zachary says, “As unsettling as it is, I think it was powerful to revisit it and to present an audience with a reflection of that kind of really abhorrent thinking. Obviously, we’ve come a long ways since then and that’s great. There’s so much progress made and more work to do.”
“So I think it’s always good when you’re able to, as an actor, allow your work to be some kind of a conduit for a social discourse,” he continues, “I think an examination of where we are as a society and I think this season of the show, this iteration of this installment, I believe we call them. This installment of the show is really doing that in a lot of powerful ways, that being one of many, so another reason why I’m grateful to be a part of this kind of storytelling and this kind of environment.”
Zachary was asked whether the viewers will get a chance to learn more about the motives behind his character’s actions.
“Yes, the next 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,” Quinto replies, “So yes, a lot of things will become clearer and probably even more disturbing in the next couple of weeks.”
Zachary talks about his close friendship with co-star Sarah Paulson, who played Billie Dean Howard on the first series and now plays Lana Williams on Asylum.
“Well I especially have a respect for Sarah as an actress, but it’s a rare and unique opportunity to show up to work with a really good friend.” Zachary says, “Oftentimes, friendships are formed on set and through these kinds of experiences working together in such intimate and unusual ways, but it’s even a richer experience when you already have that foundation of friendship. So there’s an implicit trust and sensitivity to each other and our needs and our instincts and our individual process. It’s really a remarkable gift in a lot of ways. So we also are able to have more fun, I think, and laugh at a situation a little bit more.
“There’s less awkwardness to cut through,” he continues, “Yes, so I think it strengthens the connection that the characters share, whether it’s friendship or torture or hostage, whatever it may be, but I love going to work anyway, no matter who I’m working with, but in particular with Sarah, it’s been, and I think she’s doing such wonderful work on the show that I also just love watching her character and the journey that she’s taking. She’s gone to so many extreme and challenging emotional places, and done it so beautifully and dynamically. I just think her work is so incredible, so it’s been a joy for me, really, this whole experience.”
Zachary talked about whether or not Oliver really believes in his psychiatry.
“I think he definitely believes in it,” he explains, “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,” Quinto continues, “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 re-channeled his traumas, his energy.”
Quinto talks about now playing kind of a provoker this season versus the victim he had played the season before.
“Yes, I mean there are different styles,” he says, “I feel like the story last year was just told in a different style. This year is a period piece and there are other considerations that go along with that, just in terms of characterization I think. I don’t know how much it has to do with like being the antagonist in a lair, the sort of threat this year myself rather than the victim. I mean, that’s all just circumstantial.”
“There are still a lot of psychological manipulations going on from one end that makes it a little bit more veiled, or always holding something back this year,” Zachary adds, “But that’s just all fun. I don’t really think of it in terms of—I just think of it in terms of who’s the person, what’s driving the person. Obviously, those motivations are very different for Chad than they are for Thredson.”
Zachary talks about why he believes Oliver’s victims he targets are women.
“You’ll find out much more about that in the coming weeks, so I won’t spoil it by being too specific,” Quinto remarks, “But it all traces back to one source of trauma that then sort of branches out to include all of these unfortunate women.”
Quinto was asked if American Horror Story will be picked up for a third season.
“I just read today that the show got picked up for a third installment, so that’s very exciting,” Zachary says, “I’m so glad it’s doing well and people are really responding to it and FX has been really great and so supportive and, I think, innovative in the stuff that they’re doing. So it’s great to work there and be a part of it. I haven’t had any conversations with Ryan about what he’s thinking for the third season, so I have no idea.”
“I love my job and I love the people that I do it with and I always want that to be the case,” he adds, “So I know he has plans and if they involve me, I’m sure I’ll have a call at some point; but I don’t know anything about it. I’m just focused on getting through the rest of this season and moving onto the next phase of stuff that I have lined up.”
Zachary talks about what it was about American Horror Story that set itself apart from other TV series.
“I do think it’s uniquely American,” he says, “I think in the way that it’s structured in the certain instances where it’s imaged to stories that have come before it, and also in what it’s looking at. The sort of Catholic institutions in this country, in particular, and the social history of racism and homophobia, and sanity, psychiatry, the idea of how to treat people who are mentally ill. I mean, I think those are all very American ideas and concepts and I think the way in which we dive into them is also really American in the style of storytelling.
I thought episode 5, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed and I thought did an incredible job,” Quinto adds, “I mean, it was like I was so inspired by his direction and the camera work. It felt like such a wonderfully composed episode. I think that is really somehow reflective of America now, in the modern world, and also where we’ve come from and that’s what excites me about the kind of show that we’re making as well.
Quinto was asked whether or not he and the cast were allowed to give input for their new characters in the Asylum season after having done the first one.
“Yes, I had a few conversations with Ryan and Brad [Falchuck] before we started,” Zachary says, “Ryan and I had a couple of connections about what he was thinking and I had some questions and had a chance to contribute to what I would like to see.”
“But once they got going, it’s like their engines just drive them and all of us forward in such surprising and unexpected ways,” he adds, “But the vast majority of that comes from them and actually bring it to life. That’s how I see it.”
Zachary talks about what character has been his most favorite to play.
“I feel like each one of those experiences were so profound and unique and my last side of six years has been just full of growth and creative fulfillment,” Quinto says, “I don’t know. It’s hard to sort of narrow it down one, but my favorite, I feel like they are accumulative in a lot of ways. As far as the T.V. aspect of it goes, I would say that I feel more settled as I’m getting older and sort of like my experience of things feels kind of more complete.”
So Thredson has been very satisfying to me in that regard,” he continues, “I just feel like I’ve been carrying more of my experience with me into my work and as I get older, that deepens naturally. So that’s kind of cool, but I just like to do good work, or try to do good work with good people and I’ve been really so lucky in that regard. As long as I continue, that’s all I could ask really.
Quinto was asked whether he knew the series was going to be an anthology.
“No, I didn’t know,” Zachary replies, “I mean, when I did it the first time around, the timing of it worked out really well for me because Star Trek had gotten pushed, so I ended up having like 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. But I didn’t know what it would be, and 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,” he adds, “I had been exploring the possibility of another specific job that would have been a more traditional sort of T.V. 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. This season is more challenging just because I’m more of an integral part of it and there’s just more work to do to build the arc of the character, because it’s a more extensive arc. But also, therefore more rewarding and more fulfilling in a way, because you’re really seeing something through from the beginning to the end. So that’s cool. I have a good time with that.”
Zachary talks about how he prepares to play a character like Thredson.
“It depends on the scene,” he says, “There are different levels of preparation for different scenes in different kinds of work. So I have a combination of things that I do. I usually just find some solitude and some quiet in a little corner of the set where there’s not a lot of traffic and not a lot of people around and do what it is that I need to do. I listen to music a lot, if I need to get into a particular emotional space, I use that and just other sort of stretching, just breathing, taking time to mostly be quiet and find that kind of stillness.
“I think that’s important,” Quinto adds, “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.”
Quinto was asked why horror series American Horror Story and AMC’s The Walking Dead, a genre usually considered too risqué for TV, have become so popular lately on cable TV.
“Well I imagine there might be something,” Zachary answers, “I mean I think the networks already know it and it’s that the boundaries can be pushed further on cable and unfortunately, that’s not necessarily anything that they can do about their own restrictions in the kinds of stories that they’re telling on network T.V., which are also compelling and really rich and good in their own way in so many cases. But I mean I think there’s obviously a sense of collective anxiety, I feel like, in the world that we live in and it’s very complicated, precariously perched in so many ways, environmentally, politically, socially.”
“I think that some of these shows reflect that back,” he adds, “That’s what I was talking about before when I think about the most affective kinds of horror storytelling, it taps into that kind of primal fear that all of us share and that builds within a society and that needs an outlet. So these shows that are able to be so bold and graphic and uncompromising, unflinching, stand to serve that purpose and be the sort of receptacle for all that collective anxiety. I think that’s important, actually, in a social function; especially in a world that has as much anxiety as the one that we live in does. I think in some ways, it’s exhilarating, but it’s also a little bit scary that that reflects the world we live in as well.”
Zachary was asked whether Ryan Murphy and his creative team ever have any concerns about pushing the envelope too far.
“Well, I mean I think that they’re certainly sensitive and Ryan is a very sensitive artist,” he replies, “I think he’s constantly striving for balance in his work and never wants to go too far in one extreme direction or another. So I think there’s a process of refinement that the show goes through as its post production happens and Ryan is an integral part of that. I think there are checks and balances and measures in place to make sure that it’s driving in the right direction.
“I think so far, it is in a lot of ways,” Quinto continues, “But I do think it is more uncompromising this year. It is sort of tackling more things at once and really diving in and examining. It feels like it’s pulling an audience along in really dynamic way, so hopefully that’s generating a response. It seems to be, anyway, with people coming back and watching week after week. That is, after all, I believe how they assess those things, at least at the network and the studio.”
Quinto was also asked whether he was nervous about doing another TV series after coming off the huge success of Star Trek.
“No, not at all,” he says, “The unique configuration of this particular show is really different than going to television in a different capacity because each season is self-contained. It is creatively more engaging because if you are going back to the show for another installment, then you’re definitely going to be playing a completely different character than the one you just played. So it’s not a sense of—there’s no sense of stagnancy or fatigue because you’re constantly recreating and reinvesting in the character. Then from just a business standpoint, or in terms with like the challenge with television, sometimes getting what you can get; in success, you can get into a situation where you are obligated contractually to a show for years at a time. Sometimes six, seven years if the show is enormously successful, and that can be outrageously beneficial and satisfying.
“It can also be really frustrating, I imagine,” Zachary continues, “I spent four years on one show and there were its own set of challenges with that, but that’s the other cool thing about it is, there is no stuck because there’s always a finite amount of episodes. So I think it’s structured really beneficially and I think that’s why actors like James Cromwell and Joe Fiennes and Jessica come to an experience like that. It’s attractive in a different way for somebody that’s used to doing features and used to having more flexibility with their schedules. We can come and do this and then still have that in other ways.”