Naomi Grossman was a 2018 Primetime Emmy nominee for “Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama” for her role in “Ctral Alt Delete”. Best known as the first crossover character, the fan-favorite Pepper on FX’s hit anthology series, “American Horror Story: Asylym & Freak Show”. Naomi also appeared as a new character, the satanist, Samantha Crowe in the eighth season, “Apocalypse”. Huffington Post, The Wrap, Screen Rant and Syfy all ranked Pepper among “The Best AHS Characters Ever”, MTV named her their “#1 Good Guy”, Uproxx, their “#1 Most Tragic,” Geek Insider, a “Top 5 Most Underrated AHS Performer” and Entertainment Weekly called her being cast in the role “The Best of 2012”. Fans may also recognize her from cameos in the following feature films: “Table for Three”, “Fear Inc.”, “The Chair”, “An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted)”, “Painkillers”, “Bite Me”, “The Lurker”, “1BR” and “Murder RX”. Naomi prides herself on having paved her own, albeit unorthodox path to mainstream success by writing, producing and starring in several autobiographical solo shows. Her latest, “Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and other Human Oddities”, enjoyed a twice-extended, sold-out run and rave reviews. It was then reprised at the world-famous Fringe Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it received more critical praise and a transfer to London’s West End. It later went on to have a successful run Off-Off Broadway. Naomi’s first solo endeavor, "Girl in Argentine Landscape”, also received critical acclaim and earned her an LA Weekly Theatre Award nomination for best solo performance. Naomi toured with it to Chicago’s Single File Festival, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, the New York International Fringe Festival and screened a subtitled video-version on the big screen in Argentina. Her numerous self-penned/produced, comedic shorts have screened at nationwide film festivals and are available for view on comedy sites like FunnyOrDie. Naomi is a theatre graduate of Northwestern University and a veteran of the legendary Groundlings Sunday Company. Perry from Moov.nl spoke to Naomi Grossman.
001.You act in TV series (“American Horror Story,” “Wizard School Dropout”), movies (“Bite Me,” “1BR”) and theater; you are a writer (the
short film, "4 Point Oh !?”) and producer (“Portal”). If you had to choose one of these activities, which would it be, and why?
I consider myself an actress, first and foremost. Writing and producing is something I’ve fallen into, mostly because I want to see projects get
made… and know that won’t happen unless I make them! I’ve actually been told I’m a “better writer than actor,” which is kind of an underhanded
compliment! But I like to think what they mean is I’m a surprisingly good writer— better than you might expect of an actor, anyway. And well, sadly,
actors aren’t always known for their smarts! I enjoy turning a phrase— though the idea of having to write something and not be able to act in it too,
sounds like torture! I write and produce in order to act.
002.They say the characters actors play often contain something of the person itself. Do you agree? Can you name some similarity and
difference between yourself and Pepper?
Yes, the way I see it, actors are vessels for characters. So, characters are always going to be shaped by the actor playing them. The actor’s own
experience and perception of the world is bound to be reflected in their interpretation of the character, and influence the choices they make re: the
character’s needs, relationships, etc. Obviously, the differences between me and Pepper were vast— physically, intellectually, socially, you name it.
Not only the way we see the world, but the world we actually see, is altogether different! It was finding the similarities that was the tricky part. And
well, we both have great capacity for love, and boundless desire to play! That’s plenty to work with.
003.Pepper suffers from microcephaly. How did you prepare for that?
I researched microcephaly extensively. I hadn’t heard of it before landing the role, so I had lots to do to do it justice; like watching Schlitze (had this
anomaly) from Tod Browning’s 1932 film, “Freaks”. Really, my only direction was just to “do Schlitzie". So, I worked from the outside in— memorized
his physicality: walk, talk, mannerisms, etc— and figured as long as I was emulating those accurately, I was half-way there. The other half was the
inside-job… What’s going on in her head, and in her heart? What’s she thinking? How’s she feeling? What’s her past, and how is that affecting her
world-view? These were all questions I had to answer for myself (with the help of a coach), though I’ve never shared those answers with anyone!
004.How did you feel about the return of Pepper, and Samantha Crowe in “American Horror Story”?
As for Pepper’s return, I was thrilled! That had never happened before, so it was tremendously flattering. Besides, I was so in love with this little
character— being her is WAY more fun than being Naomi— so I was excited to revisit her. Never mind LEARN her ACTUAL past, which, incidentally,
is way better than the storyline I’d created for her! As for Samantha Crowe, I was just psyched to be back. The role, and character were obviously
much smaller and more subtle. But it was still fun to explore someone new, and show sides that fans of the show hadn’t seen before.
005.What is the point in your career of which you are most proud, and/or have the best memories?
I think my proudest, and most memorable moment was taking in 2009 my one-woman show, “Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and Other Human
Oddities” to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Producing theatre in a foreign country is difficult! Schlepping uphill both ways in the middle of
the night in the pouring rain to perform for a hundred drunk strangers? That’ll separate the true artistes from the dabblers. It’s the thespian
equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. You’ll know by the end of the summer whether you’re cut out for this. And well, I cried like a baby when it was
over. I wanted to perform for drunk strangers forever! Obviously, I’ve had other high-points since… Like revealing Pepper’s backstory in “Freak
Show”, or being Emmy nominated “Ctrl Alt Delete”. But the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s still up there as one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
Because it was all me. The success of “American Horror Story” can be credited to hundreds of people, and a massive studio-budget. Whereas my
little one-woman-show-that-could was funded by my side-job as a Spanish teacher at the time.
006.You worked with some of the best actors working in Hollywood. Which one impressed you the most? Who was not that nice to work with? With which Hollywood star have you not worked, but hope to one day?
Jessica Lange’s been a legend for as long as I’ve been alive— she’s one of those people you just never get over is actually real, and breathing your
same air! Dylan McDermott “impressed me,” so to speak, simply because I think he’s so hot! And well, Sarah Paulson’s directorial debut
on “Apocalypse” was definitely impressive. Honestly, there’s not a bad apple in the bunch! My personal, Hollywood touchstone has always been Lily
Tomlin, with Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman and Gilda Radner as a close second, third, and forth. If we could resurrect and cast that dream-team
together, I could maybe retire.
007.How long did it take to transform into Pepper? Can you explain how the transformation worked? Do you remember how you reacted when
you saw yourself for the first time as Pepper?
The transformation took 2.5-3 hours, and consisted of a prosthetic nose, brow, ears, and arms, as well as a contact lens, false teeth, fat suit, and of
course, they shaved my head. To start, they created casts of my face and body, which enabled them to sculpt the various prosthetic pieces. So not
only would those pieces not fit, but they’d look completely different on someone other than me! After they’d glued those pieces down and made sure
the edges were completely seamless, they’d paint with an airbrush so that the skin-tone was even. Then they’d go in and hand-paint freckles and
blemishes. Like I was some Rembrandt! It was awesome to behold such mastery so intimately. As far as how I reacted, Pepper’s look evolved over
time… At first, there was a wig-cap, as well as a prosthetic piece for the top of my spine. Then they abandoned that… So I had MANY a makeup
test to get used to what I looked like! There wasn’t this “one moment in the mirror” I think people imagine.
008.What can we expect from you in the future? It looks like you’re playing the role of Natalie Roquefort in the movie, “Sky Sharks” and that of
Jolene in the movie, "Short Straw". Is there anything else you can tell us about?
To be honest, I’m not sure of the status of those productions… What I think people don’t realize is, the actor often plays his/her part, and then they’re
essentially done— despite the fact that the lion’s share of the filmmaking has yet to happen! We often don’t know anything till they invite us to the
premiere. The last I heard, “Sky Sharks” is waiting on financing, and “Short Straw” is “setting creative differences". So, who knows! As far as what’s
next, I have cameos in two movies that just came out this month: “1BR” and “Murder RX". And I’m working on my third one-woman show… Maybe I’ll
take it back to Edinburgh? Ideally I’ll sell it to a streaming service as one of their one-hour comedy specials.
Follow Naomi Grossman at @naomiwgrossman.
For more information, visit https://naomigrossman.net.
For the transformation from Naomi to Pepper, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GqUgqx62v8.
Check out Naomi’s comedic shorts at https://www.youtube.com/naomigrossman.
Photographer: Vanie Poyey
Interview: Perry Krootjes