Naomi Grossman was worried.
She knew that an acting challenge as large and important as Pepper doesn’t come along very often, and that it likely could be her career breakout. But, Pepper — one of the pivotal characters in “American Horror …
Naomi Grossman was worried.
She knew that an acting challenge as large and important as Pepper doesn’t come along very often, and that it likely could be her career breakout. But, Pepper — one of the pivotal characters in “American Horror Story: Asylum,” the hit television mini-series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk now in its second season on the FX network — is a microcephalic patient in a hospital for the mentally and physically challenged.
Although her appearance is clearly a reference to one of the characters in Todd Browning’s controversial 1932 film, “Freaks,” there are many real families who are dealing with this also very real affliction who might not take kindly to her interpretation of a part described in press materials as “a sweet, murderous, beguiling resident.”
“At the same time I knew this was more than some silly, three-minute sketch at the Groundlings — where I performed many years, whose work I love and respect. This was a real person with a real condition, so it was important I play her very straight, without an inkling of mockery or making fun,” Grossman wrote for an Entertainment Weekly article.
The proof of her approach is evident in her instant celebrity status since this season premiered Oct. 17.
Mostly, the buzz has centered on her startling transformation from a petite athletic woman with a hugely expressive face in real life to the distressingly un-Naomi appearance as Pepper. “The makeup is incredible,” Grossman says of the two and a half to three hour sessions involving latex application, extremely detailed makeup and a “fat suit” under her wardrobe.
After her initial audition, during which she was kept in the dark about this season’s plot and character details, she said in a Friday (Nov. 23) phone interview, she was “shocked” at the level of change she was asked to undergo. “I mean, I’m a character actor,” she said, one who bravely thrives on taking on just about anything tossed her way — training that came via years of experience doing improv and comedy theater.
Ultimately, though, she came to embrace Pepper.
“I love being characters,” she said. “I love the weird and wacky. It’s kind of what I do. I spent a lot of time with The Groundlings comedy theater, which is all about the kind of ‘Saturday Night Live’-style characters, and honestly this is not a big ‘Saturday Night’-style show but it is very much in tune with what I do.”
A Taos native whose mother, Martha Grossman, is well-known here as an accomplished pianist, Naomi has an extensive resumé as an actress and comedienne. Her last appearance in Taos was in July when she performed her first solo show, “Girl in Argentine Landscape,” at Metta Theatre in El Prado. From here, she went on to acclaim from LA Weekly (which named her “Pick of the Week”) and earned her an LA Weekly Theatre Award nomination for best solo performance.
In Taos she has also performed, “Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust, and other Human Oddities.” “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 at the New York International Fringe Festival,” according to her website.
Grossman continues to write, produce, and star in comedic shorts under her “Red Meat Entertainment” banner, which have screened at the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival and many others.
Right now, Grossman is riding a wave of popularity.
“American Horror Story: Asylum” is still in production with shows yet to air. Although, the cast is sworn to secrecy about what’s to come, Grossman hints that Pepper may have more to say, other than “Play with me?” “rats” and “Pepper pee.”
“I’ve still got episodes to shoot so I’m still very much in it,” she said. “It’s hard to say what’ll happen next. Obviously, Pepper is extremely popular ... We’ll see how this goes. The show has been reordered for a third season so I can only hope that maybe I’ll be included.”
As last season has shown, cast members do reappear playing other characters, mostly because they resonate with the audience.
“I’m not a ‘name,’ ” Grossman says, “but then again I guess I’m becoming one, or at least Pepper is.”
For more on Naomi Grossman, her shows and various projects, visit www.naomigrossman.net
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