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[Interview] Actress Naomi Grossman Talks It Up With iHorror!

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There is no disputing that Actress Naomi Grossman is notably known for her role as Pepper in American Horror Story: Asylum & Freak Show, however, there is a lot more to this talented and versatile actress that goes beyond her most famous role to date.

Grossman took the time to talk with us over at ihorror about it all, including hitting on how it all started for her, her new films Bite Me & IBR, and for all you AHS fans out there, we speak extensively about Pepper. So, kick back, relax and check out our interview below.

 

Interview With Naomi Grossman

Photo Courtesy of Vanie Poyey

Ryan T. Cusick: How long have you been an actress? How did this all start for you?

Naomi Grossman: Gosh, as a fetus? What comes before that, embryo? Pretty sure I busted out with jazz-hands from my mother’s womb! Ever since I could remember, my parents exposed me to the arts and culture. And while we sat, enjoying the cinema, theatre, ballet, opera, you name it-it took everything within me to stay in my seat and not Rocky Horror-style sing and dance and act right along with them in the aisle! My folks took the hint, and enrolled me in some kids’ creative dramatic classes. The rest is history. From age 11 on, I was performing regularly at the “Comedy Works” in Denver, where I’m from, as well as appearing in regional commercials, and whatever television came through Colorado. Got my SAG card on my 15th birthday! So no one ever really questioned what I’d be when I grew up… They (and I, for that matter) figured that’s what I’d been doing my whole life, so I’d probably just stick with that! And they were right. Now, with social media, we know what our preschool crushes had for breakfast-but even if it weren’t for Mark Zuckerberg, et al, folks would still be able to imagine exactly what I’m up to. I’ve never wavered for a second.

Photo Courtesy of Maia Rosenfeld

RTC: Did you grow up at all a horror fan?

NG: Well, yes and no. Like I said, my parents had fairly snooty taste-television was considered the “boob tube” and thought to rot the brain! Never mind what sort of damage horror movies might do! (I remember when I was caught watching “Clueless,” I justified it by explaining that it was based on a Jane Austin novel.) Consequently, there are entire periods of pop-culture I missed (though I’m a whiz at random high-art-trivia no else knows). So, I had to binge most of my horror while away at slumber parties! I do recall liking it, but mostly because it was so forbidden! Even now, I’m not a blanket-fan of all things horror, necessarily. I like high-drama, and larger-than-life characters, which horror trends to have! I just like my stories well-told -the genre is actually irrelevant.

Photo Courtesy of FX Networks

RTC: If you had to choose your favorite role, what would it be?

NG: Well, no question Pepper’s been very good to me! What started as a little-costar-that-could, practically turned into a whole cottage industry, complete with action figures, Halloween masks, fan tattoos, you name it. And to think I thought it’d be some glorified extra-role! So, given how far it’s exceeded my expectations, it’s a pinhead, no-brainer: Pepper 100%. Although I stand by the fact that writing/producing/performing my own solo shows has been the most fulfilling. I trekked, uphill both ways, in the pouring rain, with a backpack full of dildos, to do my show for 40 or so drunken Scotsmen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, every night for a month. If you STILL love a role after that, then bless your little artist’s heart!

Photo Courtesy of FX Networks

RTC: I have to ask, what’s your favorite scary movie?

NG: Probably “Rosemary’s Baby?” I like that it’s female-driven, and the horror is not overt, but rather sneaks up on you! Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” and “The Shining” are a close second, followed by Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and “Vertigo,” just for nostalgia’s sake. In researching Pepper, I came upon Lon Chaney’s “The Unknown,” which, if you know the story, is pretty O.G.! More recently (“The Unknown” dates back to 1927), I enjoyed the Spanish film, “The Orphanage,” and found-footage films, like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.” So, I have pretty electric taste! I do believe less is more, so I’m big on suspense and bumps in the night, and less into graphic gore.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Mekash

RTC: Did you do anything to prepare for your role as Pepper in “American Horror Story: Freak Show?”

NG: Yes, of course. I rented Tod Browning’s “Freaks” all summer long, and pretty much watched it on a loop till we started filming—the idea being that I would emulate its star, “Schlitzie,” who was the real-life microcephalic after which the Pepper character was modeled. Up until that point, I’d been mostly immersed in sketch comedy, and yet I wanted my depiction to appear real, not like some caricature from SNL. So I did a fair amount of research on microcephaly. Once I’d really mastered Pepper physically (walk, talk, gestures, mannerisms), I worked with an acting coach to find her internally. Together we established a whole, inner backstory. Little did we know, 2 seasons later, there’d be an ACTUAL backstory, generously bestowed upon me by the writers! But that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that each character HAVE a backstory—whether or not the audience knows what that is, is inconsequential.

Photo Courtesy of Naomi Grossman

RTC: What was the most rewarding & difficult parts about playing Pepper?

NG: The most rewarding was the tremendous liberty I was given as an actor. From day 1, all I ever got were 2 words of direction: “do Schlitzie.” Just 2 words, yet that was enough! So long as I was doing that, I knew I was doing what was hired of me. The fact that they just trusted me to occupy this character, and essentially improvise, without in the least bit micromanagement was incredibly rewarding. The most difficult part was not knowing. I didn’t know Salty was my husband until the night before we started shooting the “Orphans” episode! I just always assumed he was my twin. In episode 1 of “Asylum,” when Sister Mary Eunice says I cut my sister’s baby’s ear off, I just assumed I had! Because again, I didn’t know otherwise. So I gave this little mischievous grin, like “maybe I did, maybe I didn’t” as not to forecast anything. During “Asylum,” I only got the pages I was in, so I didn’t know what was going on half the time. Script says, “Pepper goes pee.” So, I guess I go pee! It wasn’t until “Freak Show” that I was provided full-scripts. So I was having to make a ton of assumptions about my character, relationships, storyline, you name it. It all worked out, but required a lot of trust, which is never easy.

Photo Courtesy of FX Networks

RTC: Can you explain the process of transformation into Pepper? What were your thoughts the first time you saw yourself as Pepper?

NG: Sure. It consisted of a prosthetic nose, brow, and ears, which were all made beforehand to fit my face, then glued down and painted. I had a wonky, contact lens, and of course, they shaved my head (the top-notch was my own thing during “Asylum,” whereas they gave me a piece for “Freak Show”). I had those giant man-hands, and even a prosthetic chest, which I wore for the homemade porno we shot in episode 1 of “Freak Show.” Altogether, it took about 2.5-3 hours to make me up as Pepper. And that was whittled down! The original makeup tests were upwards of 6 hours-and that’s with 2 multiple Emmy-winning makeup artists splitting me down the middle!

I do remember that first time, seeing myself. I was like, “what the… ?” But I was psyched! Why limit yourself to a short career as the pretty princess, when you can have longevity as the hideous, wart-nosed witch?! I’ve always been very realistic when it comes to casting, I knew I’d never be cast for my beauty. Not that I’m so hideous. But if you want to find a beauty-queen in Hollywood, you can throw a rock and hit one. Whereas I’ve always known I had something very different and special to offer.

RTC: You have a new film available on VOD called, “Bite Me.” The film is a Romantic Comedy; however, the plot of this film has a very small stitch of horror to it. Naomi, can you tell us about this film and your character Chrissy?

NG: It’s basically a love story between a real-life vampire and the IRS agent that audits her. (‘Real-life” meaning one who derives energy from drinking blood, not speaking in Shakespearean tongue, nor wearing ruffles and corsets.) My character, Chrissy, is the firebrand leader of the vampire clique. She’s justifiably skeptical of the relationship… Vampires don’t date “mundanes.” It’s a cute, classic, fish-out-of-water rom-com.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Jordan Alvarez

RTC: You were involved in a Horror-Thriller “1BR” and this film recently premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival and has received rave reviews across the board. I saw the trailer and the film looks absolutely bonkers! Can you tell us about the film and your character Janice?

NG: It IS bonkers! It’s about a young, Hollywood-hopeful, who moves to town into what appears to be her dream, 1 bedroom-apartment, only to find out it’s run by a cult. I play the cult leader’s wife. It’s a small part, yet the cult is obviously essential to the story! It’s ultimately an ensemble piece, of which I’m proud to be a part!

Photo Courtesy of Lori Anne

RTC: Over the years you’ve acted in every major genre which is amazing! Do you prefer a particular genre over another?

NG: Interesting enough, it is changing! I used to be of the opinion that this business was so competitive, you really had to find your niche, and hone just that. So I chose sketch comedy. My dream was always to be on SNL, as the next gen-Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Tracy Ulman, or Gilda Radner. While those are all fine touchstones to have, I now realize how myopic that was… Instead of limiting myself to sketch comedy, I should’ve thought about what it was about sketch comedy that attracted me, and done that! The answer, of course, was big characters, which, lucky for me, exist in EVERY genre! Let’s face it, a character like Pepper could totally exist in the SNL universe! Right up there with Pat, Gilly, and the rest of them! Yet you dial her down a few notches, and turn up the dramatic circumstances in which she exists, she makes or one of the saddest characters in all of AHS! So anyone, I prefer not to limit myself. While my all-time favorite film will always and forever be “Borat,” these days, I’m passing on broad comedy for more grounded, subtle, serious stuff. I figure we’re artists, constantly growing and staying truthful to our own artistic integrity. You can’t blame Picasso for ditching his Blue Period for Cubism! Thank goodness he did—now we have Cubism! Not that I think I’m Picasso, but you get the idea.

Photo Courtesy of Luis Garcia

RTC: I see that you have written an array of shorts, do you plan on writing any feature films or any aspirations of becoming more involved behind the camera, such as directing?

NG: Not really. Those shorts were just a means to an end. I wasn’t being cast by traditional means, so I cast myself! Directing doesn’t really appeal, though I have been told I’m better writer than actor! (How’s that for an underhanded compliment?) But seriously, I love writing and agree I have a distinctive voice, and lots to say! So I’m working on finishing up my third solo show now. I like to think of it as my secret weapon—something Pepper fans don’t necessarily know about me! Ideally, it’ll appear on Broadway, and/or as a Netflix comedy special. But that’s the extent of my off-camera plans.

Photo Courtesy of Naomi Grossman

RTC: Do you have any funny or memorable moments that you could share with us from one of your films or television shows? Or better yet-something creepy?

NG: I have so many! From those first couple months wearing a wig, unable to tell people-particularly guys I was dating-why I’d suddenly forsaken my conservative bob for a crazy, Hare Krishna, top-notch! Or being transported to set in a burka, in case anyone touring the Paramount lot at the time tried to snap a pic! Or being stopped by security while grazing craft services after I was out of makeup—they claimed it was “for cast and crew only,” not realizing I was one of them! I remember how oddly the crew behaved towards me as Pepper—at first, they didn’t want to make eye-contact, then it was as if I became the set-mascot! I’ll never forget shooting “The Name Game;” the A.D. called out over the megaphone, “everyone can go bigger, except Pepper.” Or that time they did me up onstage during a makeup demo at Monsterpalooza; afterwards, I stormed the comic con floor! “Asylum” had only aired once at that point, so only a limited few even knew what they were witnessing. (You can actually watch it all on YouTube!) Afterwards, I had a couple hours to kill (as Pepper) before my evening, Halloween plans… I’m proud so say I remained well-behaved, but you can imagine the mischief I might’ve had! Speaking of which, you had to be there with me and the freaks on our days off at the clothing-optional country club in New Orleans! Needless to say, I have plenty of memorable moments. I could go on and on…

Photo Courtesy of Devin Dygert

RTC: What’s next in the pipeline for you?

NG: Great question! Once I wrap something, I tend to forget all about it… I figure it’s out of my hands, so best to move on. Then, I’m (hopefully, pleasantly) surprise when it eventually comes out. Come to think of it, I’m actually due for several surprises! I’m anxious to see what happens with “1BR,” and some of these other films I’ve done recently—how they fare on the festival circuit, and whether they get theatrical distribution, or go straight to video. At the very least, I will have shown the world new sides of me, in different genres and ways they’ve never seen me before! And well, work begets work! So I can only imagine what all that will lead to… All the while, I’m preparing that new, secret weapon-solo show! So, who knows? Your best bet is just to follow my socials! ? @naomiwgrossman

RTC: Thank you very much, Naomi, it was a such a pleasure!

Photo Courtesy of Molly Scyrkels

Didn’t get enough Pepper? We got you covered! Check out the YouTube Videos Below –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=_bsmFX1amrA

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New Body Horror Film ‘The Substance’ Releases Teaser

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We haven’t seen Demi Moore in a movie since The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent back in 2022. She has been busy though, she had a part in Ryan Murphy’s latest Feud chapter and now she is contemplating altering her body to make it more youthful in the body horror film The Substance.

Apparently, according to the official synopsis, there is a newly developed beauty regimen that “generates another you. A new, younger, more beautiful, more perfect you. And there’s only one rule: You share time. One week for you. One week for the new you. Seven days each. A perfect balance. Easy. Right? If you respect the balance… what could possibly go wrong?”

A still from the film (used in out header) suggests that this new technology requires a lot more than dabbing it under your eyes or administering a sticky mask. The film premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival and was bought by Mubi. No US release date has been announced.

The Substance

The Substance reminds us of another FDA nightmare, The Stuff (1985) in which a commercially marketed whipped treat turns people into zombies. That film is a dark comedy about consumerism and gluttony. While Deadline reports that The Substance is humourous as well as gory, they don’t say how rooted it is in satire.

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Airbnb Scareprank Pits Influencers Against ‘The Strangers’

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The Strangers: Chapter 1 was released this week. This is the first part of Renny Harlin’s trilogy which appears to be a retelling of the 2008 original. Early reviews are passable, but many have said it is not as scary as the original and hope this first installment is just a taste of what is to come.

However, social media influencers got the scare of their lives after they were invited to an Airbnb for a special screening. As they watched the film masked home invaders visited them and their reactions were recorded.

The stunt was put together by actor/executive producer Madelaine Petsch and producer Courtney Solomon. You can watch how it played out below.

Soloman was recently interviewed by iHorror and attempted to clear up some questions about how this trilogy fits into the Strangers universe:

“The one thing that seems to register confusion amongst the OG ‘The Strangers‘ fans is that we remade the movie, or that it’s a prequel. Not really. What we did is we took the DNA of the original setup, and wanted to use that because you really can’t do better for a setup, we’re using that as the jumping-off point. Our characters are different. Our scares and our beats are very different. It’s all setting up a bigger story. You’re following these characters, and you will really get to know the protagonist and antagonist, and as they go through, it’s like they almost know each other.”

The Strangers: Chapter 1

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New ‘Insidious’ Movie Scheduled For August 2025 Release Date

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Get ready for another chapter in the Insidious universe. Variety confirms today that another movie is in the works and it could be in theaters as early as August 2025.

Unfortunately, the cast has not been revealed, nor how this entry will fit into the series overall. That means series regulars Patrick Wilson, Leigh Whannel and Lin Shaye haven’t been confirmed as returning actors.

Variety also stated that this isn’t the spinoff Thread: An Insidious Tale, starring Mandy Moore and Kumail Nanjiani that Deadline announced in 2023. They also point out if this newly announced title releases before Thread, it would be the sixth chapter in the franchise.

Insidious: The Red Door

Insidious has been a hot property for Blumhouse. Initially created by James Wan, the movies have done very well at the box office. Although the last one, Red Door got mixed reviews, it managed to rake in $189 million worldwide, a hefty haul considering the film only cost $16 million to make.

Jason Blum is cited as saying after Red Door the series would take an extended break, “It may not be a forever rest, but it’s certainly going to be a very long rest. … There’s not a plan — as there has been with every prior ‘Insidious’ movie — there’s no current plan in place for number six.”

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