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Talking 'AHS: Cult' with Chaz Bono

Tuesday Nov 14, 2017
Chaz Bono on "American Horror Story: Cult."
Chaz Bono on "American Horror Story: Cult."  

"American Horror Story" turned political this season with "Cult," a look inside a radical cult inspired in part by Donald Trump's surprise Presidential win a year ago. On it Evan Peters plays Kai Anderson, a blue-haired Trump supporter empowered by his win to seek political gain through nefarious, even homicidal means through the use of some knife-wielding clowns.

One of his followers is Gary, a good-old-boy who when we first see him is wearing a "Keep America Great Again" cap. Gary's life changes drastically when he meets up with Kai, who, in a grisly scene, orders him to cut his arm off in a graphic publicity stunt. Played by Chaz Bono, Gary becomes an integral member of the cult as the season continues.

This was Bono second experience as part of the "AHS" family; the first was last year's "Roanoke." This year he has been given a larger role. EDGE spoke to Bono about his part, working with Ryan Murphy, his thoughts on transgender rights and what Cher had to say about his performance on the show that concludes tonight on FX.


Billie Lourd, Evan Peters and Chaz Bono on "American Horror Story: Cult."

EDGE: What has it been like working on "Cult?"

Chaz Bono: It's been great. Really great. It's a good one to be part of.

EDGE: This is your second "American Horror Story." How did you get cast in "Roanoke" last season?

<Chaz Bono: I did this movie called "Dirty" a few years ago and when I saw my footage from that, my first thought was I have to get this to Ryan Murphy. If he could just see some of my work, he would give me a chance. I never met him before but I have been a fan of "American Horror Story" since the first season and I felt he was the type of person who wouldn't be afraid of casting me. So it took about two years and change to find a connection there to get that to him, but it finally happened, and I got "Roanoke."

EDGE: On the show you play Gary, who is an average Joe that runs a department store. The first time we see him is in an exchange with Sarah Paulson, and you put on a "Keep America Great Again" hat to make a point to her. I take it he represents someone from Trump's base. How did you get into the mind of Gary?

Chaz Bono: That scene with Sarah was a fun one to shoot. It was my first day back on the set, and I had worked with Sarah last season a lot, so it was nice to be back with her. As for Gary, I am the kind of the actor who starts out with just playing the scene. I am not thinking so much a general mindset of a character overall. And I really just approached it initially to play each scene I was doing and slowly I started to get Gary and make some choices about him that carried over through the season.


Chaz Bono in "American Horror Story: Cult."

EDGE: Did you create a backstory for Gary in your head?

Chaz Bono: I just tried to look at Gary - when we first meet him I wanted him to be an average, white working class American who was kind-of disillusioned and feeling somewhat forgotten. And here comes Trump whom he felt spoke to him. I wanted Gary to come across as not a demon, not a bad guy. Just an average guy until he encounters Kye - and that is the thing that starts to change him.

EDGE: As someone who came into the public consciousness when you transitioned, have you been fearful of being typecast when you turned to acting?

Chaz Bono: Again, I have avoided that. I am a character actor who likes to play really different parts from myself, so I never played a transgender character. It is something I have stayed away from. I don't think there is nothing about being an actor who happens to be transgender that gets in the way of my getting any different kind of parts.

EDGE: You had a pretty grisly scene when Kai, the leader of the cult played by Evan Peters, asks you to cut your arm off at the elbow, and you do. What was that scene like to shoot?

Chaz Bono: Yes. The cutting off my arm my scene - Evan made it as easy as it could be because he is such a phenomenal actor and was giving me so much and he was so great to work opposite against. But that was a physically and emotionally hard and challenging scene to do. First, we did all the different coverage - shooting it from all angles and configurations. The very last stuff was the special effects, and it was kind-of gross, but they are good at doing all of that kind of stuff on AHS.


Chaz Bono

EDGE: Before you took the role, did you know that the current political scene was so integral to this season?

Chaz Bono: No. I knew that. That was one of the things that Ryan Murphy had talked about before we even started -- that the theme of the next horror story was around the election. I didn't know how that would work, but I knew politics was going to play into it.

EDGE: Did you do any research into cults?

Chaz Bono: You know, it's funny because when I was growing up, I was fascinated with cults. I have seen a lot of movies and docs about cults all my life. I thought of myself as one of those people who would never end up in a cult. Never. But being in this show, especially when the story moved to the point when the younger guys came in, and it was me and them and Evan, I can understand the cult mentality. In being in a group of like-minded people who are blindly following what someone else is saying. You don't have to think for yourself. You don't have to question anything. Like today, I realize I am so often filled with angst over what is happening in our politics, that there is something comforting about going to that place.

EDGE: Are you distressed by current administration?

Chaz Bono: Very. It is hard to elaborate because it is something different every day. It's like pick your day. Overall, I have large fears. Nuclear war would be the biggest one. Facing a constitutional crisis. Changing our government from a democracy into dictatorship. I worry about our checks and balances holding up. I have always been very politically active and am an avid reader of the news. I read the Post and the Times every day, I am an avid MSNBC watcher. I am very involved.

EDGE: I am also a bit MSNBC watcher, but do you feel that people like us are in a bubble?

Chaz Bono: From what I have seen and read, I think we are in -- I don't think bubble isn't the right word. I just think there are people that just see the world differently now. I don't think MSNBC is the culprit because I think it is the truth. I think there are things a helluva lot more dangerous than that in the media. I know that Fox News has always lied, but now it is almost like state-run television. And all the conspiracy stuff is very scary, and I don't rely on any one source of anything, but I think we have moved onto the point where it breaks down between cities vs. rural America. And I don't see how we can get back to a world where we a closer together, especially when there is so much invested in keeping us divided.


Chaz Bono in "American Horror Story: Cult."

EDGE: Working with the company regulars - Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters?

Chaz Bono: Last season I got to work at lot with Sarah -- all of my scenes were with Sarah and Cuba, which was great. Sarah is just phenomenal to work with. I barely got to work with Evan - just one small scene with him. This year virtually every scene I am in is with Evan. He is just so extraordinary, such a talented actor and he is so good this season. He does so much and I love working opposite him. All of my real intense acting scenes are with him. And he's an amazing joy to work with. It was a great cast - a lot of different people that hadn't been on the show before. We all got along - it was a really great atmosphere.

EDGE: Are you looking at other roles right now?

Chaz Bono: I am auditioning. Nothing has come up yet. This is my chosen career, but it can be difficult...

EDGE: What - the process of finding roles?

Chaz Bono: That part of acting that is difficult. Not so much the auditioning because that's just going out and doing it. It is Not working as much as most of would like that is the most frustrating part of being an actor. I think that goes for the majority of us. I know many talented actors, people I have done plays with, people who are at my acting studio - I was just talking to a young guy who is enormously talented and a friend of mine about just that frustration. It is just getting those breaks, so people get you on their radar and hire you for stuff. It is a process, but it can get frustrating over time.


Chaz Bono (photo: Marc Cartwright)

EDGE: What do you of the increasing trans visibility in pop culture and the media?

Chaz Bono: Honestly it is not something I think about that much, but if I stop and think about it, it is a very good thing. Especially people who are figuring themselves out, or are in early in transition. It is helpful for any group of people to see themselves reflected in the media - in films and television.

EDGE: Being in Hollywood right now, are people talking about sexual harassment scandals rocking the town?

Chaz Bono: Yeah. It is definitely out there, for sure. I think it is really disturbing. I hope it is something that at least in our industry we can start to change. It is a power issue, ultimately. It is people with power abusing their power over people that don't have any. It is a horrible thing, a horrible feeling. It makes you feel small and little and abused. I hope that at least in our industry we start to really have zero tolerance for that. That this is not a passing thing, but something we crack down on as a whole.

EDGE: Your mother Cher tweeted how proud she was of you on the show. What did you think of that?

Chaz Bono: Well, my mom has been really supportive of all of my work. It always feels good have her be proud of what I am doing. It is a great thing. She has come to every play I have done, she has come to small movie premieres, she came on set to "Roanoke" last year. So it always feels good, I think, to have people have their parents appreciate what they are doing, and I am no different.

"American Horror Story: Cult" is currently on FX on Tuesdays at 10pm. For more on Chaz Bono, visit his website.

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