Cody Fern is certainly having a moment in Hollywood. The Australian actor gained critical attention this summer for his role as David Madson in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and this fall he’s on another Ryan Murphy hit as Michael Langdon, the son of Connie Britton and an evil latex gimp monster in the current season of American Horror Story: Apocalypse. As of last Friday, viewers can also see Fern in the final season of House of Cards. He’s everywhere! But let’s focus on the truly important questions: What did this horror-meister do for Halloween, and what does he love about playing the Antichrist? Mostly the wigs, it turns out.
What did you do for Halloween?
I’ve never been to the parade in L.A. before — it’s always been an unfortunate series of events, like last year I had food poisoning. This year I was incredibly tired and I was like, “No, now is not the right time for that. I just finished Horror Story, and I’m emotionally drained and I can’t go.” But as soon as friend asked if I wanted to go, I said, “Let’s put on a mask and do it.” So I walked around West Hollywood with some friends and beheld the spectacle before me. It was cool and overwhelming and too many people. I’m not used to Halloween. We don’t care about it in Australia.
What was your mask?
Do you remember Mortal Kombat? I went as Scorpion. I just walked around in disguise. There were a lot of people like, “You’re Cody Fern.” It’s so weird to hear people to say my name, especially my first followed by last, just based off of seeing my eyes.
After American Horror Story, is horror too spooky for you?
Oh no, I like psychosocial horror films. One my favorite films is Let the Right One In. I’ve always been a fan of Horror Story and Ryan’s work. I don’t get scared easily. It’s really thrilling, if anything.
How did you end up with the role of Michael?
Ryan asked me into his office at the end of Versace and offered me a role. It was a particularly trying period of time — I was just off to do House of Cards and we had been in the process of filming and a nuclear bomb went off and Ryan very graciously said, “What you need right now is to act with extraordinary women.” All of my role models as an artist have always been women actors. When he said, “I want you do Horror Story. You’ll be opposite Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates,” I burst into tears. He said my character had long hair with an affinity for capes and that’s all I needed to know.
Which was better, the wigs or the capes?
Both were really fun to play around with. You put the wig on and the cape on and a lot of the work is done for you. When you know what he’s going to look like beforehand, it’s helpful in forming how he walks and talks. But I love that wig. It was a beautiful thing.
How did you feel when you found out you’d be playing the literal, actual Antichrist?
I was thrilled. How many people get to play, essentially, the Devil? It’s such an iconic role. Instantly I was aware of the pressure because people have been waiting for him since season one. I didn’t know I was playing him until two days before I stepped on set. All of the details were under wraps, so I didn’t know that it was Michael Langdon. I put all of that Antichrist stuff out of my mind and came at Michael from a human angle. You can play his journey, you can play the Antichrist’s sense of purpose, but the Antichrist as a whole is just a symbol. How can I play that? It’s like saying, Here, play this mug.
What is Michael’s journey and his sense of purpose?
We see two main versions of him: We see him as a man in Outpost Three and how far he’s come, and we see him as a lost betrayed man with instincts and impulses he can’t understand and control. He’s betrayed by everyone around him, which calcifies a sense of pain about the human condition that pushes him closer to his purpose or what his perceived purpose is. He’s a boy who is used by those around him. The Satanists use him to fulfill their prophecy. He’s used by the warlocks who want to rise up and be more powerful than the witches. He’s a symbol for the witches of all that is evil, but they don’t know him and know his journey. He’s a lost young man who needs help.
I want to say there is a big separation between the character and the actor.
Oh, you don’t say!
Someone said, “How can you see him as a righteous character?” I don’t know what evil is. You tell me what it is. Michael kills people and this, that, and the other, but he’s not leading the country after sexually assaulting dozens of women. He’s not in the higher court in the country. What form of evil is Michael? In Michael’s mind, the evil he is enacting is righteous. He sees the dirty, dark secrets inside a person’s soul because he understands these pains and desires. That’s not him — it’s in the people in the first place. He’s tempting them towards it. I find that interesting, his sense of righteousness. If everyone is going to murder their family members and step over each other to get to the Sanctuary, is that Michael’s fault?
What is the grossest thing they asked you to shoot?
The black mass in episode six, where they rip [a woman’s] heart out and I had to eat it. The girl who played her, I can’t think of her name right now, was so good. She was such a fine actress. She has only a few hours to film, no one knows who she is, and now she’s laying on a table and her heart is being ripped out. It was really disturbing. I had nightmares after filming that scene. Eating the heart was fine, but watching her go through it was tough. A young girl screaming for dear life in front of you, that’s hard.
Which scene was the most fun for you to play?
The most fun I had, the most gleeful, all-out fun is in Outpost Three. Adult Michael is so delicious to play — he’s just fucking with people. It’s just psychological torture and that’s great to play. You’re playing that with Sarah Paulson as Venable. It’s just thrilling.
You mentioned that your role models have always been actresses. Which of the legendary Horror Story actresses were you most intimidated by?
They were all intimidating in their different ways. I grew up watching Kathy Bates and Misery is one of my favorite films. That was intimidating. Sarah Paulson is pioneering a new form of acting. She is acting evolved, so that was intimidating. Then I’m in a scene with Miss Jessica Lange. I’m like, Oh my God, here we go. Francis Conroy is this really quiet, almost delicate person and then she steps into Myrtle Snow and she’s this fiery, fierce, powerful witch and that was intimidating. You better bring it with these people.
What’s the American Horror Story initiation ceremony like?
My first day was shooting a nine-page interrogation scene with Sarah Paulson. It was like, Here is your costume. Here is your makeup. Get out there. The initiation ceremony is you’re led to the edge of a cliff and you’re asked to jump. And when you jump you have no idea where you’re going to fall.
They don’t make you drink blood in Jessica Lange’s basement?
No, they did not make me do that. I wish! I would have done that in a heartbeat.
I know you can’t give away the ending of this season, but are you satisfied with how Michael’s story ends?
It’s going to be a very satisfying ending. It’s an ending that, I will say, has many surprises. It’s an incredibly twisted, tragic, gleeful episode.
This interview has been edited and condensed.