Evan Peters

Written By
Erik Rasmussen
Photography by
Erik Rasmussen

Role Call With Evan Peters

In which the actor talks comedy, music, and guilty pleasures



In the past five years actor Evan Peters has played the ghost of a murdered teen, a framed serial killer, a reanimated frat boy, a pincered human oddity, a real serial killer, a rich gay ghost, then five historical cult figures plus a fictional one. And that’s just for the FX television series American Horror Story. He also hurtled through three X-Men films as Quicksilver; starred opposite Al Pacino as a rookie journalist in Pirates of Somalia; and stole the lead in the upcoming crime drama American Animals. After wearing so many costumes, Peters felt himself coming apart at the seams.

“I was just doing the roles, and neglecting my life,” says the 30-year-old, describing his prep work over lunch at Pinches Tacos in West Hollywood. For American Horror Story: Cult, in which Peters played a hit list of pop cult personalities — Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Andy Warhol, and the season’s main character, the fictional cult leader Kai Anderson — that meant exploring disturbing sources. Peters poured through “Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple”, and Combating Cult Mind Control”, and watched the documentary films Deprogrammed, Holy Hell, Jesus Camp, and Manson. “Once I get a role, everything I do has to be for research purposes. I’m constantly discovering things that are fascinating, but they aren’t things I’d choose for myself. When I did try and read something for my pleasure I thought: you’re wasting time. You only get one shot to get this right. So what I realized during Cult was that I was profoundly unhappy. It was like, what was the character and what was me?” Munchausen syndrome aside, Peters says he was running on empty creatively. “I needed to take care of myself, and my soul, and do things for me, too, so I had something to draw from. Like, go out and watch a comedy. Or when I go on iTunes, look at what the new releases are as opposed to looking at the movie list in my notes for research.” Salve for Perters’ soul turned out to be just what his latest character needed, too.

Set in mid-1980’s Manhattan, the television series Pose (executive produced by Ryan Murphy, the groundbreaking creator behind AHS, Glee, and Scream Queens), sees Peters as Stan. “My character is going through this inner turmoil of feeling unhappy and unsatisfied with his life,” Peters relates. Co-starring Kate Mara, James Van Der Beek, and Tatiana Maslany, show has features the largest trans cast ever assembled for a scripted series. “The whole thing with Pose is it’s about being true to you, figuring out who you are, and being real,

Required reading for the part? “A book called ‘Homecoming’, by John Bradshaw. It’s about reclaiming and championing your inner child. Look, it’s not like I’ve lost complete touch with who I am,” Peters clarifies with a laugh. “I’ve just become indecisive. It’s like Who am I? I don’t know. What do I like? I don’t know. What do I want to read? Or watch? Or where do I want to eat? I don’t know!”

Good questions. For more, I enlisted two young actors to create a catalogue of queries they’d like to be asked on the rails of a hot career. I read them to Peters over tacos.

Erik RasmussenWhat television shows did you watch growing up?”
Evan Peters I watched a lot of Full House and Family Matters. I loved [Steve] Urkel. He was hilarious. I was always into big physical comedies, like Tommy Boy. I know, that’s a movie, but I loved Chris Farley, and Jim Carrey; really physical comedy actors. I also watched a lot of Nick at Nite: Are You Afraid of the Dark and Ren And Stimpy. And I would watch The Secret World of Alex Mack. I loved Family Double Dare. And the one with the Aggro Crag. GUTS! GUTS was so good.

ER You were born in ‘87. So you came of age just as television developed into its current “golden age”.
Peters Sadly, I never quite got into the bigger performances, like The Sopranos. I need to watch more TV shows. There’s so much available. Look at HBO, it’s incredible. Netflix has turned everything upside down. And then you look at Ryan Murphy and everything he’s created.

ER “As an actor, did you feel there was a difference between TV shows and movies?”
Peters Oh yeah. But it was always movies for me. You’re right, it is a Golden Age for television. But it’s so hard to keep up.

ER I didn’t have a television for 15 years. Now I watch so much TV it’s disgusting. I’ve almost stopped reading.
Peters See, there you go, that’s the problem. There’s not enough time.

ER But I feel like TV’s so good that I’m getting more out of it than distraction. I watched The Sopranos this summer. I was blown away. It was like Shakespeare. Probably. I haven’t read a lot of Shakespeare.
Peters TV has caught up to the movies. It’s of an equal of caliber, it’s just different. It’s a longer story. I always loved movies because it has that beginning, middle, and then boom, you’re done.

ER: Right, with TV there’s more speculation about what’s going to happen. The excitement keeps growing.
Peters It’s that cliffhanger, man. I love that feeling. What’s so incredible now is, with Netflix and streaming, you can just click to the next episode. You don’t have to wait a week anymore.

ER “Between the X-Men franchise and the American Horror Story series you’ve got action and thriller locked down. What’s next for you? What’s your dream role?”
Peters I love comedy. You have to be passionate about what a film is saying. And to do that, there’s a huge part of me that loves to make people laugh, and not take things too seriously. Because life can be so much more fun that way. Yes, there’s obviously serious things in life, and sometimes movies are an incredible form of escapism. But when you can watch somebody be silly, they make you forget about your problems. That’s why I always watched comedies as a kid. Not that I had a hard childhood, but when things went wrong, or when I was worried about something, I’d watch my favorite movie and everything would cool down.

ER What was your go to?
Peters I would watch Tommy Boy all the time. And I’d watch Jim Carrey in The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. I’d watch Forrest Gump a lot. And I would also watch The Making of ‘Thriller’. It drove my mother insane because I watched the same movies over and over and over. They were my happy place, my meditation. I would go there, and everything was the same, everything was funny, and the characters were cool.

ER “If you could have a drink with anyone, dead or alive, who is it?”
Peters Marlon Brando. I didn’t know anything about him until he died in 2004. Everybody was like, You’re an actor and you don’t know about Brando? I did all this research and I learned, oh god! He’s like the greatest film actor of all time. So I’d love to sit down and talk with him and go, What is the secret? What are some techniques I can do, or should I just say fuck all that and do my own thing? I’m sure he would say it’s ridiculous and stupid, but I would just love to get to the bottom of it.

ER “If you could do anything what would you do?”
Peters I think it would be incredible to be musician and to go on tour for one year.

ER What instrument would you play?
Peters I don’t know. Probably guitar or bass. Bass is always fun. Whenever I’m on the dance floor or something, I play the bass. It’s really embarrassing.

ER: “What’s your earliest memory?”
Peters We had this bean bag chair at my house. On the weekends I would go downstairs at like 6 a.m. and get leftover pizza, Pringles—all sorts of junk food—and sit on the bean bag in front of the TV and watch movies until everybody else woke up.

ER: “How do you kill time?”
Peters I’ve played guitar since I was 15, and all through my childhood I played piano. Lately I’ve been learning music theory to try and figure out scales and chord progressions because I want to be able to improvise when I’m playing with people and immediately know what all the scales and other cords are. So what I’m really focussed on now is learning the Ableton software, because if you record but don’t know how to mix, it just sounds like shit.

ER “What, if anything, is holding you back?”
Peters Indecision.

ER Really? You’re an actor. Making decisions is what you do.
Peters I know, but there’s also that weird grey area where you see both sides of the coin. Once you make a decision, it’s made. And there’s that, “oh shit, I have to live with that decision. What if it’s the wrong decision?” So I go back and forth a million times. It can be with anything. Even just picking out a shirt. It’s a crippling indecisiveness, and it comes from a place of insecurity and self-doubt.

ER “What is your guilty pleasure?”
Peters South Park? That’s not a guilty pleasure. I love South Park. I’m proud of that. Let me think. You know, sometimes Emma [Roberts, Evan’s girlfriend] will put on reality TV, and I’m like, “why are you watching that?” Five minutes later I find myself laughing at something that happened. Like with [Keeping Up With] The Kardashians, my favorite part of that show is between segments, when it cuts to different shots of L.A. and some thumping techno music plays. And then it cuts back to the cast, on their BlackBerry, deciding what to eat. “I guess I’ll have a salad.” And it’s insane that I’m watching it, but then I can’t look away. The techno music has swooped me in. “Lord” [Scott] Disick cracks me up. He reminds me of people I knew from grade school. Some, like, popular guys that just did all that crazy stuff and it just fascinates me. All that shit, driving around in a Rolls-Royce.

ER “What are your expectations when you travel?”
Peters Usually when you go to a place you have things you want to see. I love museums and ruins. I’m a big fan of really old dilapidated ruins.

ER Not many of those in Los Angeles.
Peters I was in New York last week, and I downloaded this app [Urban Walks]. It’s a walking tour guide. I love looking at old buildings. I like architecture, stuff with a lot of history to it. I walked around Little Italy and Chinatown and the app tells you about the buildings and when they were made and their history. I just I find that fascinating.

ER “Where do you want to travel next?”
Peters I want to go to Peru and climb up Machu Picchu. Or see the Amazon rainforest.

ER “Is it better to know what you want to do with the rest of your life, or to figure it out?” Does that question make sense?
Peters Yeah, that makes sense. I think knowing what you want to do is better, because you can apply yourself and go after it. But when you get to the finish line, the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just the beginning of another marathon that will last the rest of your life. So you’re still going to have to figure it out. Does that make sense?

ER Totally. “What advice do you give a young actor fresh into Hollywood?”
Peters Get into an acting class. Even if you start working and booking jobs, you can get overly confident and stop growing. When you’re involved in an acting class with your peers, or a with teacher that keeps you in check, you stay grounded. Work on your acting, focus on that.

ER Okay, lightning round. “What’s the first thing you do in the morning?”
Peters Make my coffee.

ER And then?
Peters Drink my coffee. After coffee I meditate.

ER You meditate on coffee?
Peters Oh it’s so good. You get jacked up. I’ll drink about half of my coffee, and then I’ll meditate because you’ve got that focus, and your imagination is all there. If I just wake up and meditate I’m liable to fall asleep again.

ER “What’s your pick up line?” Sorry, Emma …
Peters I honestly don’t have one. I’m horrible at that. I’ve never been good at it.

ER You know what Jack Nicholson’s line is? “Hi, I’m Jack.” I think I read that somewhere.
Peters “Hi, I’m Jack.” Yeah that’s a good one.

ER “If everyone was just like you …”
Peters Oh shit.

ER “… how would the world be better, and what would be worse?”
Peters I think that the world would not be better if everybody was just like me. And the world would be worse if it was.

ER “Where do you rehearse your lines?”
Peters At home. In the family room. Just walking around. In my car, everywhere.

ER “If you weren’t an actor …”
Peters I would like to be a musician. And if not that, I would have gone to school and gotten a BA and gone on to do some sort of business, or accounting.

ER “What’s one thing every man should be able to do?”
Peters Tie a tie.

ER “What possesion would you not part with at any price?”
Peters There’s a rabbit’s foot hanging on my rear view mirror right now, and I’ve had it my whole life. I don’t think I would get rid of that.

ER “One thing you must do this year?” Hm, it’s a little late for that, maybe that’s a question for January.
Peters I wanted to skydive this year. And I wanted to go to Six Flags, but I failed to do both of those things. Maybe next year.

ER “One thing you wouldn’t do again?”
Peters Get a dog and then have to give it to my mom. That was really depressing.

ER “Do you have a motto? “Words to live by?”
Peters It’s nice to be nice.

ER “What will your dying words be?”
Peters What’s that over there?