The actress says that playing Margaret Booth on the ninth season of the FX anthology series was a role of a lifetime.
Leslie Grossman has played a lot of snarky women over the years, from the spoiled Mary Cherry on Popular to the selfish socialite Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt on American Horror Story: Apocalypse. But Margaret Booth on the latest installment of the FX anthology series is easily the most vile woman she’s played -- while also being the most fun to watch.
“It was really freeing and fun to play a character that really had no redeeming qualities,” Grossman tells ET. “I didn’t have to be burdened by making her likable or wondering what her redemption story was going to be.”
While initially presented as the religious owner of Camp Redwood and the sole survivor of Mr. Jingles’ murderous raid of the campgrounds years before, it was soon revealed that Margaret wasn’t as innocent as she seemed. She, in fact, was a killer with her own insatiable murderous appetite who was hellbent on making the lakeside camp a bloody tourist trap.
So how did she wind up playing this season’s main villain? Co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy took Grossman out to dinner several months before filming started to discuss her role on 1984. "'I’m thinking about what we’re going to do with you next season, and I would like for you to play the killer,'" Grossman recalls Murphy telling her. “My reaction was like, ‘Oh, god. I hope I can pull this off.’ I was just really excited to get to do something that I’ve never had the chance to do before.”
Facing the challenge head-on, Grossman delivered. To bring the maniacal character to life, the actress drew inspiration from the likes of Ivana Trump and mothers like Dee Simmons from the Real Housewives franchise while the creative team completed her look with some incredible wigs and clothes that “commanded attention,” she says, adding that without the hair and makeup and wardrobe teams, “those characters don’t exist. Because once you get into those outfits and put that wig on and get that face of makeup on, you’re that character. I would look in the mirror and be like, ‘Oh, god. Who is that?’”
Of course, then there are the “incredible lines and all of the stabbing” that makes Margaret so much fun to play. When forced to choose a favorite scene from this season, Grossman finally settles on when she gets to kill Gus Kenworthy’s character, Chet. “I had been dreading that scene for weeks,” she says of the moment when Margaret lures Chet into taking a boat across the lake to look for help. While out in the middle of the water, she reveals the truth before killing him. “I did not want to go into that lake, which Gus ended up having to go into, because I’ll tell you, the water was pretty disgusting.”
Thanks to the help of returning director Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Grossman eventually got comfortable enough at the moment to take stock in the fact that she was out in a canoe with an Olympic athlete shooting a death scene at four in the morning. “And I ended up really embracing it with gusto, and enjoying psychotically clubbing Gus to death.”
“I don’t know what it says about me,” Grossman jokes, but adds that she likes that scene because “it’s when Margaret truly seems the most unhinged.”
And when it comes to working alongside franchise newcomers like Kenworthy, Matthew Morrison -- who made a welcome return to Murphy’s TV universe -- and Pose breakout star Angelica Ross, Grossman had nothing but praise for her co-stars. “They fit in seamlessly,” she says. “I thought Angelica came in so strong and what she did with her character was so brilliant... It’s always fun to have new blood in the picture.”
Murphy, she says, has such a good sense for putting actors in the right parts, which is perhaps why Grossman thinks of Margaret as a role of a lifetime. “I don’t know how I can ever repay Ryan for all the wonderful things he’s done for me,” she says. “I’ve known him for 20-plus years and it’s been so gratifying to see him take over the world. And I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to even have a small part of that universe. It means everything to me.”
While season nine only just ended, it’s hard not to wonder what’s next, knowing that American Horror Story has been renewed for season 10 -- and according to Murphy, could possibly be the last installment in the franchise. “I’ve heard little bits and pieces, but it’s still so preliminary, and all of that could change,” Grossman says. “He always manages to top himself… so whatever the idea ends up being, I can promise you that it will exceed expectations.”
In the meantime, 1984 set a high bar for the actress. “I loved all the characters I’ve gotten to play. Mary Cherry will always be my most favorite and always have a place in my heart,” Grossman says. “But right now, because we just finished filming so recently, I still feel quite attached to Margaret. And also, Margaret, more than anything, pushed me the farthest and that was so rewarding. So I have special feelings for that psychopath.”
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