Hollywood character actress, Naomi Grossman is beloved by television and horror genre fans for her amazing and critically acclaimed portrayal as Pepper, the Pin Headfrom American Horror Story: Asylum & Freak Show. This talented gal, who struggled for years while pounding the pavement is now Emmy nominated for her role in the internet short format series ctrl alt delete. Entertainment Scoop caught up with Grossman to chat about her career, Pepper and that Emmy nom!
ES: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for ctrl alt delete. How does it feel to be acknowledged by your peers for your talent and hard work?
NG: Thank you! It feels amazing! For a long time I felt like I was acting into a void… I had ittle successes here and there (rave reviews for my solo shows, the occasional Youtube vid gone viral). But I basically worked 22 years (starting when I first got my SAG card) before I made SAG insurance and could even go to the doctor! 24 years till I could say I solely made my living as an actor. Quitting my day-job was the ultimate— but this is a close second. It was a long time coming, which makes it all the sweeter. Consequently, I never take anything for granted. I worked too hard for it! I remember not being able to get arrested in Hollywood, vividly and recently!
ES: The premise of ctrl alt delete is somewhat controversial. Can you explain what the show is about?
NG: It’s an “abortion comedy!” Based on real women’s stories, it aims to normalize the conversation, bringing humor to an otherwise serious subject. Essentially, it’s a female-driven, work-place comedy, set in an abortion clinic. My character, Lorna, is a self-proclaimed “abortionado,” a.k.a. “a regular” at the clinic, who makes jokes about needing a punch-card and having her own chair there. Ultimately, while it’s not my “mission” to convey this show’s message per se, Lorna is a broad, quirky character— and playing roles like her is my mission. Plus, I support the process. The filmmakers both took this otherwise unpleasant time in their lives, and turned it into something beautiful, creative, thought provoking, and funny. Those are the kinds of projects I want to be a part of.
ES: How did you get the role of Lorna? Did you know the series creators or did you go into a cold audition?
NG: They reached out to me. Co-creator, Roni Geva and I share an alma mater (Northwestern), so she knew me through our alumni network. Her producing partner, Margaret Katch and I occasionally auditioned together, and knew each other that way. The way they tell it, when they wrote Lorna, they immediately, coincidentally, both thought of me. I’m flattered they would each think to endow me with, hands-down, the juiciest, most fun role!
ES: You are known by millions of television fans for the role of Pepper in American Horror Story Asylum & Freak Show. Many people thought you should have gotten an Emmy nomination for your work on this show. How did this role come about for you?
NG: That’s very nice! That I auditioned for. Got a call from my agent at the time, said they were looking for a “4-5 feet tall, possibly malformed, child-like actress to play the part of Pepper.” There was no mention of “pinhead,” or her affliction at all. It wasn’t until after I was cast that I learned who Pepper was supposed to be. So I went into the audition fairly blindly— they had me deliver one of Jessica Lange’s monologues from season 1, and gave me a ball and asked me to try to get them to “play with me,” as if I were a child. None of this made any sense to me at the time, though it’s obvious in retrospect: they wanted to see that I had range— that I could go seamlessly from the early, simple Pepper to the later, evolved Pepper. Then, the callback basically consisted of a meeting with makeup— they took a bunch of pictures of me (as well as the other actresses they were considering), which they later manipulated to see what we’d look like with the makeup on. I guess my silhouette looked the best! I always tell aspiring actors this story… No sense in taking things personally, or beating yourself up after an audition. It could, and often does, come down to the shape of your nose!
ES: You look and are nothing like Pepper. Millions of people googled you after watching your performance for the first time just to see who the actress was behind this tragically wonderful character. What did you have to do everyday to get into costume and character for this role?
NG: I didn’t have to do much but sit back, relax, and shut my mouth! (Which for me, ain’t easy! Though I suppose I did have to anticipate needing to scratch, go to the bathroom, etc.) But yah, it was mostly up to the makeup department to do the actual, outward transformation. They would typically split me down the middle, and two artists at a time would position, glue, paint, and seal my prosthetic nose, brow, and ears. I also wore fake teeth, and a wonky contact lens. The entire process took about 2.5-3 hours. At the end of the day though, it’s not just about the makeup. You actually have to do something with it too! Otherwise, it just sits there. So yes, once I was properly “Pepperfied,” it was up to me to bring the walk, talk, gestures, and demeanor, not to mention her deep emotional life.
ES: American Horror Story employs some of the biggest and most talented actors in the business today. What was it like working with such legends and talented actors?
NG: It’s extraordinarily flattering! You said it yourself— if they want Gaga, they get Gaga. Whatever they want, they can likely get. So, of all the people in the world, why little ol’ me? It’s something I’ve had to work on— realizing that I too bring value, that I was cast for a reason… I’m an extreme character actress, with an improv background, and comedic chops, who can also do drama! So why not me? Just do your job and stop doubting yourself, Naomi! But yes, it was a dream to work with such legends. They give so much in the scene— so long as you’re tuned-in and present, they make your job as an actor really very easy.
ES: You worked brilliantly opposite the great Jessica Lang. How was it working with her? Can you share anything about your working relationship with her?
NG: Again, she’s a legend. It was thrilling! I don’t think I ever unclenched my butt around her. As much as our relationship evolved, from her consigliere (in “Asylum”) to her adopted daughter (in “Freak Show”), I never let my guard down, nor forgot who she was. You never would have known it, obviously— but I was in constant awe.
ES: Do people have a hard time recognizing you from American Horror Story? If so, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
NG: It depends where I go! I’m always recognized in gay bars! And when I travel out of town to horror con, people obviously know I’m coming. Otherwise, I still go to the grocery store without any makeup on! (That’s the beauty of playing Pepper— even without dolling up, I’m better looking!) I remember when I was first recognized on the street in Los Angeles (where people are often too cool to say anything), I wondered, like you said, if it was a good thing… I mean, I’d just been recognized for playing the ugliest person on television! Is that really the legacy I want? Ultimately, I think it is. I’m flattered to have portrayed such an iconic character that fans were compelled to google, and find out who I was… enough to even remember, and recognize me! I love their reactions when they meet me— almost like they’ve won something! Like I said before, I went a long time without acknowledgement, so of course it’s a good thing! It reminds me that I’ve created something special that touched people, which is what I set out to do to begin with.
ES: Once you are an Emmy nominee, you carry that title for the rest of your career. How has you life and career changed if at all having now been Emmy nominated?
NG: Welp, I still pee and poop! It hasn’t changed much, really. Though I love being introduced now as “Emmy nominee, Naomi Grossman.” (I also go by “Na-Emmy Grossman” and “Emmy Nominee-omi.”) I suppose I do more interviews, like this one, and think about what I’m going to wear in September. But mostly, I’m just always in a good mood! That’s certainly something!
Follow Naomi Grossman on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter: @naomiwgrossman