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Wes Bentley on Why American Horror Story Gets Addiction Right

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of American Horror Story: Hotel.

On Wednesday night’s American Horror Story: Hotel, John Lowe is invited to a dinner party along with Aileen Wuornos, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and the Zodiac — a murderer’s row of serial killers. “John is clearly not yet our kind,” their host James March tells them when the detective balks at their idea of amuse-bouche and desserts. Was Lowe invited to this strange soirée because he’s a guest of the hotel, because they enjoyed the idea of a helpless law-enforcement official in their midst, or because he might actually be a kindred spirit? Wes Bentley, who plays Lowe, helped shed a little light when he chatted with Vulture about AHS theories, understanding addiction, and why he wants Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box.

Why do you think John Lowe was invited to the Devil’s Night dinner?
We’re not quite sure why, and whether it’s in his head or not, if he’s having a breakdown. Because this is the episode where John takes a drink for the first time, and soon as he takes a drink, Aileen Wuornos shows up, played by the great Lily Rabe. So is it because he starts drinking, all these fantastical things start to happen? That dinner-party scene was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as an actor. John was just taking it in. He doesn’t believe what he’s seeing. It might be a trick. It might be people pretending to be these people. And we’re starting to learn that John is not the most stable person. He has issues, and part of that is drinking, and what happens when he drinks. But it could all be real. You never know in this hotel! [Laughs.]

Well, there seems to be some debate over whether he’s actually an alcoholic. His wife says he’s not, but then again, Hypodermic Sally is drawn to him, and she’s only drawn to addicts …
What happens a lot is that people don’t really know if you’re an addict. And a lot of times, people who are addicts, or do have a problem, the people closest to them don’t want to believe it either because it destroys their life, too. Or maybe they’re right — some people aren’t. But this is a typical thing that happens, so I thought it was a cleverly written scene. Does he have a problem? Maybe he didn’t hardly drink before that, but he wants to blame things on something. He’s got to figure it out, but it’s a fine line, and some people struggle with that identification. That’s the first part of the process of recovery, to say, “I am an addict.” And a lot of times, if you say it, you find out if it’s real or not.

The Addiction Demon also seems drawn to John a bit, but it’s more subtle. What do you make of the Addiction Demon?
Oh, I think it’s brilliant! I know it’s disturbing. I know it’s really challenging for people to watch that, but in my experience, that’s what it feels like. It feels like there’s a manifestation in your life that controls you and treats you violently and could kill you. It’s a great metaphor. Horror is really great for that, because it opens up a part of you that is dark, and it itself is open to exploring different elements that you can’t always get to — you got to get to work, you got to feed the kids, and you want to shut yourself off to that. But if it’s in such a violent way, or such a blatant way, you can’t ignore it. And when the Addiction Demon comes up, it kind of informs us as an audience to what John is struggling with. What’s he trying to keep control of so hard? What’s his addiction?

You probably can’t give this away, but some people theorize that John Lowe himself is the Ten Commandments Killer.
Hmmm. It’s kind of like when someone who is married dies, the spouse is the first suspect. You look at who is closest to them. But there’s also an element with these deaths — are these real? Is that even real? Are those real events taking place in his life, or a manifestation of the struggles he’s having? Is it possible that these things are happening around him, or that he’s even a part of the investigation?

Well, if he is the killer, it would explain why he’d get an invitation to the serial killers dinner …
[Laughs.] I guess! But he’s also in the hotel, and he’s a bit of a target, being a detective in a hotel full of crimes. And he could also be a target for being killed. There’s a lot going on, and maybe this is a conspiracy against John, to get him out of the hotel and away from them? If I could design John’s death, though, body parts being sewn together is about as brutal as you can get. Torn apart and sewn together, which would be kind of poetic for his separation of self.

Have you gotten in the habit of checking under your bed yet? To see if anyone’s there?
[Chuckles.] No. At home, we have a really low bed, so there’s nothing to check for. But when I was living alone, I would have those moments, walking around with a fire poker at night, to see whatever — or whoever? — was around the house. And one time, when I was driving cross-country, I was staying in a lot of hotels, and at one of them, someone started trying to open my door in the middle of the night! They kept yelling at me that I was in their room! For a split second, I thought I had made myself comfortable in someone else’s room — and I was looking around, did I miss a suitcase or other stuff laying around? — but it turned out they were just drunk.

John’s children Holden and Scarlet are blonde. His wife, Chloë’s character, Alex, is blonde. The children’s grandmother is blonde. Lady Gaga’s character the Countess is blonde. Coincidence? Could they be related? Is this a clue?
Well, my son has blond hair, like my wife. And my brothers, they had sandy blond hair. None of them had jet-black hair like I did. It’s strange. I don’t know how that happened either. It’s beyond my pay grade! [Laughs.] But I don’t know whether or not they could be related. That’s a good theory. Maybe? It certainly could be a possibility. I honestly don’t know, though. I barely know my own story line! [Laughs.] But I have wondered, because she seems to have a thing about a particular-looking man, and a thing about a particular-looking child. If Lady Gaga stole my child, I would kick down the door, tear the place down, do whatever I had to do! I would lose my mind. I would go ballistic. That’s what happens, that’s what we wanted to explore with John this season, with his buttoned-down rage — you turn into someone else. You become a beast. And then, if you can’t get them back, what do you then turn into? I would try to hold onto myself, but I would lose myself. And if I knew where they were, it would take an army to hold me back.

Since there are a lot of Se7en undertones to your story line this season, will someone’s head end up in a box? What if Ryan Murphy could convince his friend Gwyneth Paltrow to do a cameo? She’s blonde, so she fits the lineage theory.
[Laughs.] Oh my God! God, I hope that’s true! That would be hilarious. That would be genius!

Wes Bentley on Why AHS Gets Addiction Right