chat room

Clea DuVall on Playing American Horror Story’s Closeted School Teacher

Actress Clea DuVall arrives at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala presented by The Los Angeles Times held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.
Clea DuVall. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

If you came of age in the nineties, Clea DuVall probably has a special place in your heart as a result of her work in The Faculty, in which she played an outcast named Stokely who said things like “Fuck you, gutter slut.” DuVall went on to play other supporting misfits in movies including She’s All That and But I’m a Cheerleader, and the latter — in which she played a lesbian who makes out with Natasha Lyonne — ultimately landed her in the lap of Ryan Murphy. (He gave DuVall a small weirdo role in his teen dramedy Popular, which was frequently helmed by Cheerleader director Jamie Babbit.) And so, here we are today with DuVall back on a Murphy show, this time playing American Horror Story’s closeted 1964 school teacher, Wendy, who had her lover committed to an asylum so as not to be outed by its evil head nun. In last night’s episode [spoiler alert], Wendy was killed by the show’s mysterious Bloody Face. We spoke to DuVall about Wendy’s fate, Hollywood’s embrace of gay characters, and her most recent big-screen role in Argo.

I am glad that Bloody Face killed Wendy. It’s total poetic justice.
[Laughs.] It’s extreme justice, but it is definitely justice.

I guess we have to remember that it was 1964 and Sister Jude was threatening to out her. But still … don’t you think?
It was such a different time. You and I can look at it from the perspective of people living in 2012, but I think that the fear at that time was very real, and you could have your entire life destroyed by who you love and by being who you are. And I think Wendy was caught in a moment that she probably never expected to be in, and she’d worked so hard to hide who she was. And then to have someone just walk in her house and tell her that the person that she loved more than anything had been hurt but then also say that she’s going to tear her life apart — I definitely have compassion for her and understand the position she was put in.

Did you have any hesitations about taking the part? Are you ever worried about being typecast?
No, I don’t think it matters much anymore. I think that there was a stigma playing gay characters before that there just isn’t now. When I started acting in the early nineties, that was a bigger consideration, but now it doesn’t feel like that much of a big deal. You look at how many gay characters are on television and in movies and actors just aren’t afraid to do that any more. I think because there are more of those roles, the fear and the novelty of it have kind of gone away, and now it’s just like, Oh, characters. It feels like a bigger Who cares? now than it did before.

So you think Hollywood has changed a lot between now and 1999, when you had your first onscreen kiss with a woman [in But I’m a Cheerleader]?
I think it’s changed a lot. When I did But I’m a Cheerleader, what Jamie went through with censors was ridiculous. There was the scene where Natasha goes into the office and masturbates, I think, and you couldn’t even really see what was happening, but the shot was too wide, and they wouldn’t allow it; it had to be in close-up or the censors wouldn’t allow it. Now it just doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. But I’m a Cheerleader would probably get a PG-13 today, whereas they wanted to give us an NC-17 with the first cut. And the movie is so tame. The love scene that Natasha and I have, they would probably show it on the CW today.

In terms of audience reactions, though, two women kissing is still a “lesbian kiss,” not just a kiss.
Yeah. It still makes news, and people want to pay attention to it. It’s more interesting; it’s less common. The same reason a blue lobster is on the Yahoo news page. There’s millions of red lobsters out there, but when there’s a blue lobster, everybody’s like, Oh my god, did you see the blue lobster?

But really there are more blue lobsters out there than people think.
Oh, definitely. We’re seeing them more and more. Or yellow lobsters.

Do people still bring The Faculty up to you?
All the time. All the time. [Laughs.] It was a surprisingly popular movie among people my age [35] and a little younger. I have one friend that, every time I see her, she brings it up. And sometimes she calls me Stokely. She thinks that’s funny.

That is pretty funny. Also, Jon Stewart playing the biology teacher?
I know. I think about that. It’s crazy. I haven’t seen him since then. But I think he did all right for himself.  

Can we talk about Argo for a little bit? You guys all look so much like your real-life counterparts, except for Ben Affleck. Did you guys ever call him out for that?
Yeah. We teased him a lot. He definitely got teased about it. Especially when Tony Mendez came to set. We were like, What?

The six of you had to stay in a house together to prepare for your roles. Did Ben ever come to visit?
No, but Victor Garber came one night for dinner. We weren’t allowed to go outside. There was one cast member who did repeatedly go outside to go swimming in the pool — Tate Donavan. And he justified it by saying that his character goes outside in the movie, so it was okay. But the rest of us stayed inside the entire time. No cell phones, no computers. There was a phone in the house for emergencies, but we weren’t allowed to talk on the phone. And they stocked the house with all magazines and newspapers and movies from the seventies. And during the day, we did research and watched movies. And then at night, we would eat dinner, and we would get drunk. And play games. Really, we would start playing a game, and then we would just all be drunk and completely forget about the game and just talk.

Did it ever come up that you and Rory Cochrane have nineties nostalgia in common?
[Laughs.] We actually knew each other in the nineties, and then I just never saw him again until the first day that we all met and sat down with Ben.

How did you know him?
I think through Natasha Lyonne. He remembers. We talked about it, but I don’t remember.

Okay. Can you tell us what your future is on American Horror Story? Do you have one?
Well, like with the first season, if something happens to someone on the show, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re gone. It’s American Horror Story.

Clea DuVall on Playing AHS’s Closeted Teacher