Actor Michael Chiklis is in a tough situation: How to talk about his new super-secret gig on American Horror Story: Freak Show, without actually talking about his new super-secret gig, which premieres tonight on FX?
“Wendell's the strongman of the freak show. This is where I get scared, because I have to parse my words here,” said the Emmy-winning actor in a Blastr exclusive. “He's a very complex character, I can tell you that. There's so much going on with him. There's a lot of different emotional levels that I have to play. I love that. That's actor filet. They're definitely cooking me a steak, a really good one.”
Freak Show is the fourth season of American Horror Show, a horror series that tells a brand-new horror story, with a different setting, different characters and a different horror every season.
Chiklis, who is new to the series, plays Wendell “Dell” Toledo, the strongman at one of the last freak shows in existence, which sets up shop in Jupiter, Fla., in the 1950s. What we know, according to the American Horror Story Comic Con panel, is that Dell is married to bearded lady, Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), and is the ex-husband of the three-breasted woman, Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett). The series also stars Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars, the woman who runs the freak show; Sarah Paulson as Bette and Dot Tattler, the two-headed woman; and Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, who has deformed hands. Frances Conroy and Denis O'Hare also return to the series in new roles.
“It is amazingly cool to be part of what feels almost like a theater rep company. I'm happy to be a part of this ensemble. It's a very powerful ensemble,” said Chiklis.
No doubt. With returning actors like Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, “it's just a murderers' row of actors. A great cast. When you've got this talent in the room, some great s--t is going to happen,” he said.
The season will be “a mix, I think, tonally between seasons two and three in that there will be humor, but it will be dark. If you're a fan of horror, get ready. It's going to be scary. There's some very frightening stuff in this. It's downright terrifying in places. It is, after all, American Horror,” said Chiklis.
According to co-creator Ryan Murphy, the season will explore the conflict between the freaks and evil forces. “I thought it was going to be light, but it’s turning out to be quite terrifyingly dark, which it feels much more like the Asylum season. But look -- if you have a character named the Clown Killer, it’s going to be dark,” Murphy told Entertainment Weekly.
Chiklis promises the season will be “tremendously entertaining. Visually stunning. There's going to be powerful performances.” Beyond that, “I can just tell you that there's a myriad of reasons why you'd want to tune in to see this show. It's crazy. I mean, it's just off the hook. I don't think I've ever been involved with a show that is like this. That's saying a lot. I've been around. I've done a lot of different stuff. But in terms of content, it'll make your head spin. Each script has made my head spin and go, 'OK. Oh, no! Now what?'
“Ryan deals awesomely with characters who are voiceless. Underdogs. People who don't have a voice. The freak show happens to be an incredible form for that, because it's basically the extreme of that, isn't it?” he said.
“There are a lot of extraordinary people, aside from the actors that we mentioned, who are involved in the season. People with all manner of special needs and disabilities. They're finding their own voices through this platform, which is pretty extraordinary,” said Chiklis.
One of those people is a very special woman named Jyoti Amge, who is not your typical TV actress. “It's been a learning experience. Sometimes you're just ignorant about certain things. [This woman is] the smallest woman in the world, from India. I don't know exactly what her height is, but I think it's literally 23 inches. Utterly unique and fascinating. She's perfectly proportionate. She's anatomically proportionate, and she's approximately the size of an American doll. But she's 20 years old," said Chiklis.
As far as the dark material on American Horror Story: Freak Show, “sometimes, it can be really disturbing, but I was trained really well. I'm very thankful for my old theater mentors and professors that made it very clear to compartmentalize and commit thoroughly and completely to a character, but always differentiate between yourself and the character,” he said.
“I've been very fortunate, I have to say,” said Chiklis. “The character I'm playing right now has very little to do with any of the characters I've ever played before. I mean, there always seems to be some crossover, but this is an incredibly different character for me.”
Chiklis has had his own “murders' row” of characters, including the loveable The Commish in the 1990s, a corrupt cop on The Shield and the unusual superhero Ben Grimm in Fantastic Four.
“There's a bit of a pragmatist in me that always knows who and what I am and where I'm from, all of that. But I have a willingness to jump into a character. Between action and cut, or between when the play starts and ends, I will go there completely. But then I will let it go completely. You have to. I really think that's important, especially in this day and age, where we're asked to play all manner of different things.”
Of course, one of his darkest roles was playing Detective Vic Mackey on The Shield, the role he won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and other awards for playing. But for Chiklis, Vic was only one of the many characters he's played during this long and varied career.
“I'm proud of the work I did on The Shield and many other things. Those are things I did in the past, and now it's on to what's happening now. People have asked me in the past, 'What's your favorite gig?'”
And his answer? “The one I'm in right now.”
American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
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