AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM Mark Margolis Interview FX

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Mark Margolis, who plays Sam Goodman in American Horror Story: Asylum, took the time to chat about his role, working in the industry, working on Breaking Bad, and so much more. Sam Goodman is a Nazi hunter who comes in contact with Sister Jude [Jessica Lange] in the opening sequence of last week’s episode, “I Am Anne Frank, Part 2.”

Don’t miss a single episode of American Horror Story: Asylum, Wednesday nights on FX.

Patrick G. Keenan:  First, I wanted to say you were just absolutely fantastic on Breaking Bad.

Mark Margolis:  Thank you, thanks.

Patrick G. Keenan:  Do you have a specific process that you use to approach any character you’re given or does it change up?

Mark Margolis:  I don’t know anymore.  When I was younger, I had a whole process that was almost like a textbook kind of step one, step two, step three, but as you get older and further away from your training, it all becomes part of you, and you don’t–I mean I have ways of working at certain things.  I have ways with dealing with problems in scripts that are problems for me or trying to get to a place that the script calls for.  It’s gotten to where—I don’t know–it’s inside of me.  Whatever it is that I do–it just, I don’t know I used to be around a lot of painters.  I have more painter friends than I have actor friends.  I was involved in galleries when I was very young.  I use that as an example.  I mean sometimes a lot of people have gone to art schools or conservatories, even some great painters, especially nowadays, but as time goes on they evolve their own thing and whatever the masters who taught them, gave them, becomes part of that thing plus what they’ve discovered on their own, what opens up for them.  So you end up with your own process, or to use an overused word; the method becomes your method.  I mean that’s basically what it was originally when they use the word method acting, it was a method.  In fact, Stanislavski, who’s the father of that, he evolved his method by watching famous great actors of his time and the way they worked.  Though, the actors that he picked it up from probably didn’t think of themselves as having a method.  They had a way of working at something.

Patrick G. Keenan:  That’s great.  Would you have any advice for young actors?

Mark Margolis:  I always try to talk them out of it because it’s an incredible–well, you know like the combined Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA, now must have 150,000 members, and I think the thing is that like 5% of them make over $5,000 a year.  It’s an incredibly difficult occupation.  The only thing that’s worse is being a professional poet, because even when they’re successful they don’t make money. They sell like 1,500 books.  I guess the only advice I can give to a young actor would be that they have to have what I call a built-in …-meter and know when they’re bullshitting themselves.  Am I allowed to say that on this?

Patrick G. Keenan:  You just did, so it’s good.

Mark Margolis:  Is this HBO?  But that’s the truth, because I’ve found several times when I was really in great trouble with something that I was–a part that I had where I just, whatever it was I couldn’t get there.  It wasn’t happening.  It was because I wasn’t telling myself the truth, and when I finally told myself the truth about whatever it was I was engaged in, I would then relax, and I would start to get to whatever I had to get to, in an honest way.  It was like I was trying to force something to work for me, and I had to get on it that it couldn’t be done that way.  I was once in a situation–what’s an example for a young actor?  You know men don’t cry easily.  We are taught as children boys don’t cry.  Girls are allowed to cry.  Men are allowed to get angry.  It’s part of growing up in most places, right?  So, I was in something where my character needed to have a breakdown and break down into a crying; really crying.  I couldn’t get there no matter what I used from my life, having to do with people I loved and cared about and going over terrible things that happened.  This went on for weeks and weeks while I was rehearsing this play.  I finally got honest with myself and said what’s the truth man, and the truth was you can’t cry. Then I felt relaxed instead of pushing.  Then I started to think about was there ever a time when I could cry.  Then I remembered, you know, the five-year-old boy.  The innocent kid I was at five years old, and that I would never be that again, and that began to bring me to tears. So by telling myself the truth and having a built-in …-meter, that said that you can’t, and then going to when I could.  It brought me to that place and every night I had a big breakdown, a beautiful breakdown in this play, and it was very natural because I would go to that kid that I’ll never be again, and it just brought me to tears.

Patrick G. Keenan:  Great.  Well, I’m glad you stuck with it.

More Press Call Interview Highlights:

Q:  Now that “Sister Jude” has kind of decided that “Dr. Arden” [James Cromwell] may not be a Nazi, what direction will “Sam” go with his investigation?

Mark Margolis:  He may already have done his work before she even made the call to him; he may have done some level of work.

Q:  Does “Sam” meet “Dr. Arden”?

Mark Margolis:  I don’t think so.  I don’t know, really.

Q: Is your character all that he seems or does he have some hidden agenda like a lot of the other characters?

Mark Margolis:  Probably.

Q:  It’s a fair guess on this show.  Can you tell us how you got involved in this production?

Mark Margolis:  I was requested for it.

Q:  So they wrote this part for you?

Mark Margolis:  I don’t think they wrote the part for me.  They had some interest in me; it took a while, and then they eventually decided that I was right for the part.

Q:  Were you familiar with the first season?

Mark Margolis:  Only somewhat, yes.  I had not seen all of the episodes of the first season.

Q:  Had you worked with Ryan Murphy before?

Mark Margolis:  No.  As far as I know, no.  I have a long resume.  I’d have to go back.  I believe I have never worked for Ryan Murphy before.  Actually, I haven’t met Ryan Murphy.  I saw him at a party, but we didn’t—

Q:  Does working in a horror differ for you at all from working with other types of productions?

Mark Margolis:  I don’t think–in fact, I just did a horror film in Connecticut.  I think it was after I came back from LA; from American Horror Story, which I thought was a weird coincidence.  There is a guy who does a lot of horror films, Larry Fessenden.  He had a film that was pretty well received not too long ago called I Sell the Dead.  He had been wanting me to be in one of his films for quite a while, and it turned out that within a few days of coming back from American Horror Story, I ended up in his film in Connecticut.  There is no real difference between working in a horror film and working in any other kind of film.  It’s a character in certain circumstances, whether it’s horrible circumstances or pleasant circumstances is beside the point I think; for me.  I don’t know how it is for others.

Q:  How did working on this set of American Horror Story compare to maybe the work you did on Breaking Bad or one of the other series that you’ve been involved with?

Mark Margolis:  Well, they took the bell away from me.  I had to actually speak, so that was tough.  They soon discovered that the guy is better with a bell, but it was too late because they had already employed me.  I mean, Breaking Bad is a whole other thing.  It’s in a whole other locale, in New Mexico, which is a whole other feeling and this was a strange 1964 kind of shabby motel room.  It was just a whole other–it was something about working in American Horror Story; everything was very brown and gray, which is the complete opposite of New Mexico, even though my character in New Mexico was sometimes in a grim nursing home; whatever.  It was completely different.  It was a whole other kind of man with a whole other demeanor, a whole other world, and had come from a whole other world etc., etc.

Q:  Do you find the character of “Tio” being–obviously it had to be a little bit more of a challenge without speaking much compared to the “Sam Goodman” character?

Mark Margolis:  Not really because all of it is–in both cases, it’s just like in life, we’re responding to what’s coming at us.  Even though “Tio” can’t speak, his mind works well, and he’s responding to what’s coming at him.  In this case, my character was able to speak and respond.  There is an equivalence in that area of acting, I guess I would say.

Q:  What was it about maybe portraying a Nazi hunter, what lured you to the role?  What brought you–what interested you about this particular role?

Mark Margolis:  Nazi hunters are kind of fascinating characters.  I was actually–about a year and a half ago, I was up for a film with Sean Penn, the part of a Nazi hunter, and it was a marvelous character.  I think the film is coming out in a couple of months called This Must Be the Place.  The part eventually went to Judd Hirsch, but I was really hot to do it.  Those are fascinating characters.  I’ve read over the years–I’ve read a great deal about Simon Wiesenthal, who is probably the world’s most famous Nazi hunter.  I think he’s the one that located Eichman in Argentina, or he’s located others.  They’re fascinating people with a certain kind of a mission of devoting their lives to catching these people who are aging and dying–I think that world is almost disappearing at this point.  If there’s anybody left, they’re in their 90s.  When I heard that it was a Nazi hunter, I was quite excited about that.

Q:  What is it that maybe you think is the reason why people really enjoy American Horror Story?  Maybe it’s the format, or maybe it’s just something inside of us that we just love to be subjected to this kind of visual trauma?

Mark Margolis:  Well, it’s got wonderful actors on it, the principles.  The regulars on the show are quite incredible.  I mean Jessica Lange is amazing.  Cromwell is amazing.  There’s a whole group of them that are quite terrific; the regulars.  I’ve never seen a show like that.  I worked in all of Darren Aronofsky’s films.  On some level I find a lot of the way that they cut from one thing to another to an eyeball.  They’re always going to eyeballs.  It’s very reminiscent of what Aronofsky did in his first film Pi where there were these very quick cuts.  You know; you’d see a needle, an arm, and then an eyeball expand.  They seem to have–I mean I don’t know, they seemed to have gotten some inspiration from the way that Aronofsky’s films cut from one thing to another.  That also used in other films of his, but I don’t know, I’m sure there are other people that have possibly done what Aronofsky did, and that kind of movement is pretty exciting I think in a way as opposed to things that go on for five minutes and nothing much changes.  It’s kind of exciting.  It’s a jump from one thing to another thing to another thing; it’s like pop, pop, pop.  I almost missed it because it was in the very beginning of the show, and I had just popped onto that show, in fact, I was recording it.  I went back, and I saw I had missed a little piece.  It wasn’t a very long scene, and it was all in the very beginning.  I never saw the whole script of that show.  They’re very secretive about all of their material.  I only knew what I was doing in it.  So, I didn’t even know where my scene came in the show.

Q:  Did you feel like that maybe challenged you little bit more or did that give you a little more flexibility to maybe kind of create on the fly?

Mark Margolis:  Well, you’re kind of creating on the fly.  For instance, when I came on to that show, I knew nothing about the Anne Frank character.  I never saw that previous script of the show before my show.  I didn’t know what she did in this show.  I think they kind of–it’s part of the way they operate on American Horror StoryThey like the actors not to have too much information, which in a way is a lot like life.  We go through a whole bunch of things, and other characters come into our world, but we don’t know the script before we get into all of it.  I’ve never worked in a situation like that where I didn’t know what the others were doing by reading the script and how it all goes and where it turns out.  That, in a way, is very exciting because you don’t quite know how you fit into the whole piece.

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