Yahoo! TV Q&A: Dylan McDermott on his return to 'American Horror Story'

Sarah D. Bunting
Yahoo! TV
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Dylan McDermott, "American Horror Story"

Dylan McDermott doesn't look like he's been in the business 25 years, but he made his debut in 1987's "Hamburger Hill," and went on to play Julia Roberts's husband in "Steel Magnolias" (…right? We forget that one ourselves), Bobby Donnell on "The Practice," and of course Dr. Ben Harmon on the first season of "American Horror Story."

Now he's back on "AHS: Asylum" as troubled Johnny Morgan, a pale and twitchy former foster kid who's figured out that his biological father is actually Dr. Oliver "Bloody Face" Thredsen. McDermott spoke with Yahoo! TV last week about happy accidents, upcoming projects, and being a part of the Ryan Murphy Players.

We're starting off with kind of a shallow question; there was a comment that Brooke Smith's character made in the opening scene that you had together, about you not needing any help with weight loss.


You DID look a lot thinner to us. Was that just costuming, or did you De Niro it for this episode?

I'm trying to think if I was the same weight. You know, it's funny, playing different characters … our bodies are always changing, but I've been getting in good shape because of maybe "The Campaign," so I'm just trying to track it. But I'm usually around the same weight…I don't think so.

[Related: "AHS" star Chloe Sevigny on the show's increasing creepiness]

We haven't spoken to Brooke Smith, but of course, among other things, she's known for being the girl down Buffalo Bill's well in "Silence of the Lambs." Do you know if that was a purposeful casting choice?

I think it was just one of those happy accidents that happens -- you know, the office kinda looked like my office last year; Brooke being on "Silence of the Lambs"; me now playing the patient -- I mean, you could write a thesis on this. There's so much going on in that scene, you know?

Yeah. And we have a feeling a thesis WILL be written about it.


How long ahead of time did you know that Ryan Murphy and/or the writers wanted to bring you back in THIS way?

He called me the day the show opens, so he must have had it in his head somewhere -- because he tweeted it on the day the show opened that I was coming back, so, you know, somewhere in his masterful mind he was plotting this and he hadn't told me.

I wanted to come back in some capacity; I wasn't sure, you know, what character, and I think this is a perfect character for me to come back [in]; it was just so different from Ben Harmon.

We were going to ask if you had any input on what kind of capacity you'd be back in, or if you were just waiting to see what he would brew up.

Yeah, it's pretty much, I trust him, he knows me, and he knows what I'm capable of, and I think HE wanted to create a character that was radically different from a psychiatrist, [who's] sort of white-collar, and he's going to a blue-collar guy. I think he was kinda aiming for something like that, because … I played those guys in "Wonderland," and a movie coming up called "Behaving Badly" with Selena Gomez.

A lot of times people see me as, you know, still the guy from "The Practice" somewhere? So, I have to kind of keep fighting that off, and I think that he wanted me to play more of a blue-collar guy.

We were on a call with Jessica Lange last week, and she was talking about how Ryan Murphy's concept for the show is sort of a Mercury Theater-style repertory company -- would you say that that's accurate?

Yeah, absolutely -- and you know, by me coming back and playing a smaller role, guest-starring and having the lead role last year. I'm sure that'll happen next year, and maybe the leads from the show THIS year [come back] and play guest-starring roles. I think that's what he wants, and it keeps it interesting.

So you think you'll be called upon again for Season 3 in something that's another ninety-degree turn? Or you're not sure yet?

I don't know what he has in store, you know? It's hard to figure out exactly where the show's gonna BE, he keeps everything under wraps, so I'm not quite sure. But I'm always standing by for him. I love working for him, and I love the characters he's created for me, so: whatever he needs me to do, I'll be there.

Without asking you to spoil anything -- we take it we haven't seen the last of Li'l Thredsen. Can you tell us anything about what's coming up in that regard, without getting in trouble?

(Laughs) He'll keep coming back, and you'll see -- you'll get to meet him a little bit more each time, and by the finale, we really get a sense of who he is. So I'll be in three out of the next four.

What was your process like for this? Not to be too "Actors Studio" about this question, but did you meet with Zachary Quinto at all? Did you study how he was playing Oliver Thredsen?

Yeah. I had looked at tape on him, and his vocal patterns, and some of his gesticulations and movements; I studied that a little bit. In most of that stuff, these people, they're my [character's] parents but I wasn't AROUND them, so I had no mirroring, really. It's sort of unconscious.

But I spent some time on the street, and I just wanted -- and most of this guy is instinct, you know, being around people like this when I was a kid, not serial killers per se, but guys who were…rough trade. I think I pulled from my own history a little bit.

And how much information did you have about how this backstory was gonna be filled in for us, the viewers?

Ryan had told me pretty much what was going to happen, who this guy was, and how it all was going to go down. So it wasn't a mystery in terms of what's unfolding. He kinda laid it out for me.

Any other projects you've got cooking?

I have "Olympus Has Fallen" coming out in April, with Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler; and then I have "Behaving Badly" with Selena Gomez coming out; I start a picture next month called "The Freezer"; and then I go into another horror movie called "Mercy," from Jason Blum, who did "Paranormal Activity." So that's sort of my calendar.

And then you'll be back on Season 3 as a lady?

(Laughs) Yes! How'd you know?

We won't tell a soul.

"American Horror Story: Asylum" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.