Other than his all-too-brief appearance as Ben Harmon in Apocalypse's return to Murder House, Dylan McDermott hadn't been seen in American Horror Story since Asylum concluded in 2013. But the actor officially joined the 1984 family last week as a bone-chilling, hitchhiking serial killer, Bruce, who set his sights on Donna (Angelica Ross) and Brooke (Emma Roberts) as his next targets.
While ghosts and Satan's right-hand man plotted murder and mayhem at Camp Redwood, Bruce didn't need any special abilities to strike terror into the hearts of Donna, Brooke, and viewers. His manipulative charm (if you can call it that) and sadistic plots provided some of the most genuinely terrifying scenes in American Horror Story in recent years, and we're already nervous to see what Bruce will do next in Wednesday's penultimate episode of the season — even without his thumbs.
TV Guide caught up with Dylan McDermott to discuss his excitement at returning to American Horror Story, how Bruce compares to Asylum's Johnny Morgan, and whether he might return for Season 10 full-time.
You obviously returned last year for the Murder House episode, but before that you hadn't appeared in American Horror Story since Asylum. What made you want to return this season?
Dylan McDermott: I think after The Politician, Ryan [Murphy] asked me to do [the upcoming Netflix series] Hollywood. So we started working on Hollywood, and then I think he had the idea for me to go on Horror Story. They had this role that came up of a hitchhiker, and there was some kind of gap in between us shooting Hollywood, so they're like, "Oh, let's just figure it out." We all had such a blast, just the best time. And to do two roles at the same time, I mean, it was a dream come true for me. To go back and forth between two sets, playing two wildly different characters at the same time, it's just the greatest.
You've been a part of American Horror Story from the beginning, but this is only the third character you've played. Were you excited at the chance to get to play in this universe, but not as Ben Harmon or Johnny Morgan?
McDermott: Oh my god, yeah. It's so great to create different types of characters. I mean, they're all crazy, which is fun about the American Horror Story world. With Ben Harmon, he obviously has his own problems even being a psychiatrist. And then to go to Johnny next and that's just a wild experience. And that's just the greatness of Ryan Murphy, you know. He allows you to create character. He allows you to have fun and gives you permission to be your craziest self.
This is the second time you've played a serial killer in this show. Are you concerned that Ryan Murphy thinks you're so perfect for playing psycho murderers?
McDermott: [Laughs] No, because in Hollywood I'm playing a radically different character. So there's relief there.
How does Bruce compare to Johnny Morgan?
McDermott: To clarify, I think that Bruce probably is a psychopath and Johnny is a sociopath. So Johnny was made, Bruce was born into it. So I think they both have done horrible things, but I think that they're different in terms of their psychology, if you will. Johnny, he is born from the abuse of his childhood, where Bruce is just on a tear and I'm not even sure why he's doing what he's doing.
Was Bruce inspired by any real serial killers from the '80s?
McDermott: No, he was really inspired from the porn world. I think it all starts with the mustache. [Laughs] You see, I have a mustache on Hollywood, so we couldn't use that mustache, my own mustache. So then we had to put a mustache on top of the mustache, so then it's a double mustache, which never happens by the way. It may be the first time in the history that we have a double mustache.
Did it make you consider being a mustache person full-time? Because I think it looks great.
McDermott: No. No, I don't actually enjoy wearing a mustache, but you know, I had to for a couple of roles now. It just does something to you, the mustache. I don't know what it is. No one really appreciates the mustache, it's not something that people appreciate, it's out of style. But for these roles, it was absolutely perfect.
We don't really know a lot about Bruce, so what do you imagine his past and backstory is like?
McDermott: I think always with these people is they come from — I think Bruce especially is someone that's a child of abuse, child neglect, child abandonment. You know, got into a lot of trouble as a kid. No empathy. I think that he just learned from a very young age to seduce and to trick. And I think that he was always in trouble. I think that he just has absolutely no empathy at all. ... And I think that he has an inability to feel, besides anything but rage.
Your scenes were some of the scariest I've seen on the show all season. What is it about someone like Bruce that is so terrifying?
McDermott: You know, he's a scary guy. He's a scary guy because, as like Ted Bundy was, there's some kind of seduction that goes on with him. You know what I mean? You know, "Oh, I'll help you fix your car." And you think that he's sort of like a nice guy somewhere. With these guys, they always say, "Oh, he's such a nice guy," "But he was a nice guy," you know? Everybody always says that. And I think he has this ability to charm. [He's] very charming at the same time, but obviously very evil.
Why do you think Bruce targeted Donna and Brooke specifically?
McDermott: I think he was looking for victims. He saw them roller skating. He probably saw them having a good time. And I think he zeroed in on, you know, they're both beautiful and it's like, "Oh, there's something there maybe I can exploit." And that's what he's looking to do: exploit people.
So much of this episode touched on the theme of karma. Do you think Bruce got what he deserved?
McDermott: Yeah, absolutely. I think you can't outrun your own karma. Then certainly yeah, if you're playing with fire you're going to get burned. And if you stick your thumb out long enough it's going to get cut off. [Laughs]
Was it a mistake of Brooke and Donna to not kill Bruce or do you think it was good of them to hold onto their own humanity and show mercy?
McDermott: I think they just kind of taught him a lesson. I think that that was probably better than killing him. I mean, it's pretty severe to take somebody thumbs. You really, by the way, you do need to use your thumbs. Cause I was walking around, I couldn't do anything without [my] thumbs. They come in handy though, no pun intended.
They were trying to teach Bruce a lesson, but is he someone who can actually learn a lesson or will he only be more driven toward revenge now?
McDermott: You know a guy like Bruce — there are no good endings with Bruce. You know that he's coming back, he's going to be in the next episode. So he's coming back. He's not done yet. [Laughs]
It was so much fun seeing you back in American Horror Story. Do you think you'll ever consider returning to the show as a series regular?
McDermott: Listen, I always say whatever Ryan wants me to do, I do. I never question it. I just say yes because he's been a big advocate of mine and he's employed me in such a way that I've always enjoyed it and he's created amazing characters for me. Wait till you see this character in Hollywood as well. So, you know, I trust him and he trusts me. So whatever he asks of me, if there's a place for me, absolutely. I trust him to decide that. If he thinks there's a role for me in the next couple of seasons, I'll be there.
What type of character would you like to play next?
McDermott: I don't know, but I love the extreme world of it. Whatever it is, there's something about AHS that allows you to create the most extreme characters, and that's the fun part. ... It taps into some kind of part of us that wants this extremity. So I don't know why it does what it does. And I think the permission that he gives actors to go to these places is so much fun for people to watch.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.