Last year, American Horror Story took eight episodes to reveal the identity of its rookie season’s hideously kinky house devil, Rubberman. The sophomore season’s masked monster – Bloody Face, a serial killer who skins and decapitates his female victims – has shown his true face after just five episodes. If you haven’t watched the Wednesday Nov. 14 installment of FX’s freaky fantasia on national themes (racism, sexism, homophobia, religion, reproductive rights, mutant monsters, alien abduction, satanic possession, Anne Frank — you know, the usual hot-button issues), then in the name of the Infantata, turn back now or we’ll puncture your eyeball with an orbitoclast of spoilers! So… SPOILER ALERT! It’s Dr. Oliver Thredson (Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto), the dashingly square Don Draper-meets-Bobby Kennedy psychotherapist. Turns out the brilliant fiend was only masquerading as a heroic headshrinker inside the Briarcliff Manor Sanatorium run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) in order to pin his filet-o-femme crimes on Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and abduct crusading journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) for reasons to be determined. “I didn’t want to do ‘here’s the reveal and here’s how it’s wrapped up,’” says AHS co-creator Ryan Murphy. “I wanted to do a five-episode arc [exploring] the mythology of this man and why he is this way. Zach Quinto is not just going to sign on for a stereotypical bad guy.”
Especially since this isn’t Quinto’s first serial killer rodeo. The actor rocketed to fame as mass murderer Sylar on NBC’s Heroes, a star turn that earned him the role of Spock in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. He admits he was “hesitant” to go psycho anew, and he says he discussed he matter at great length with close friends and associates before committing to the part. “But I was drawn to the fact that he’s not a super-powered serial killer who’s telekinetically slicing people’s heads open,” says Quinto, 35. “ I think sometimes the things we resist in our own creative journey can be the most exciting to revisit. It was an opportunity to revisit similar territory in a different context, in a different way.”
Quinto says Murphy first pitched him on Thredson last year while the actor was shooting his arc on the first season of American Horror Story. (He played Chad, an interior design trapped in a turbulent, unfaithful relationship.) He knew from the start that Thredson was a monster, “which made it all the more fun for me to build the character in a way that made it seem like he was compassionate and supportive and concerned about the welfare of the patients at Briarcliff, but carrying these ulterior motives.” Of course, he’s wary of saying much more. “He carries a lot of secrets with him. He’s very intelligent. But he’s also very experienced at covering those sects and hiding them and maintaining them,” says the actor, becoming increasingly cryptic. “There’s a plan. He’s fiercely intelligent, and obviously ruthless in his willingness to create this world he’s making for himself. He’s delusional within himself. He’s not trying to sell you a story. He’s trying to believe it himself. You will learn more in the coming weeks about what motivated him to these horrific crimes.” Quinto adds he wasn’t told the entire arc of the character, and with the show’s writers still working on the season’s last three scripts, he still doesn’t know how it will wrap up. “I’m as excited to find out as anyone.” he says.
Playing Thredson has involved “some of the most brutal, unsettling and personally affecting stuff I’ve ever done,” says Quinto. “This more than anything I’ve ever done has affected me emotionally.” Among the more trying moments: The disturbing, stand-out scene in last week’s episode in which Dr. Thredson subjects Lana Winters to degrading aversion therapy in hopes of ‘curing’ her of her homosexuality. (It doesn’t work.) Quinto hints that more intense scenes are to come between the two actors and friends. “It’s been a dark world to inhabit, but also really rewarding,” he says. “I feel really proud of the work Sarah and I have been doing. I love working with her and we’re really good friends. I think she’s doing such incredible work.”
As for American Horror Story in general, Quinto believes this season distinguishes itself from the first in at least one regard: “I think this season more than the last really holds a mirror up to the audience and brings people into direct confrontation with their own fears. … It’s a very heightened world, and that’s what makes it so delicious, but what’s underneath it is even more interesting.”
While the Asylum experience has been rewarding, Quinto says he’s also ready to “go in a different direction” with his career after Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters next summer. “It’s like an era of association with certain roles – a specific part like Spock, or a kind of part, like Sylar — is coming to an end,” he says. “I think it’s safe to say this will be the last serial killer I’ll be playing for the foreseeable future.”
And in case you’re wondering: The mask? “Gross.”