Naomi Grossman is petite, standing at just five feet tall. Her almond-shaped eyes are a piercing blue and her nose is almost classically aquiline. Her smile is warm and engaging — and there is absolutely no hint of facial hair or a unibrow in sight.
All of this makes her seem an unlikely candidate to be the face behind Pepper, one of American Horror Story’s more grotesque characters.
But that’s exactly who Grossman portrays. Pepper is a recurring character, spanning both AHS: Asylum and returning as the same character in AHS: Freak Show. Pepper is a tiny, hunched-up, grotesque little woman afflicted with microcephaly — meaning that her head size is supposed to be significantly smaller. A person born with microcephaly has a head that fails to grow while the face itself continues to grow at a normal rate, resulting in a receding forehead and a loose, wrinkled scalp. They were, at one time, known as “pinheads” and were frequently sold into freak shows throughout history, often being touted as a completely different species.
It is a measure of Grossman’s talent as an actress that she manages to transform herself so completely into her Pepper character for AHS: Freak Show.
As for the audition for Pepper, Naomi opened up about the process during an interview with Salon.“It was an audition like any other. Agent called. Sent some sides to prepare. Of course it wasn’t the real script, since that’s under lock and key, but rather scenes from the first season — just so they could see me act. I had no idea what the character was. Not until I was cast, and they were fitting me for prosthetics and asking me to shave my head, did I have any real sense. Because ‘developmental actors’ (like me, at the time) are typically reduced to itty-bitty costar parts, like second nurse to the left. We say things like, ‘Scalpel, Doctor.’ And that’s it. So it never occurred to me that this might be my big break.”
And it seems as though AHS made the right choice in Naomi Grossman. In this season of AHS, Pepper is twelve years younger than when she appeared in Asylum, and has not yet been kidnapped by the aliens who turned her into a sort of savant. As such, Pepper’s role is limited to just a very few syllables, and so, as Grossman says, “It’s tricky. Less is more. Every little quirk or tic of Peppers has meaning. Because that’s all I get so I’ve got to communicate this character through very little. I don’t get to speak and if I do it’s one syllable at the time.”
As far as the process that Grossman undergoes to become Pepper, it’s pretty intense. The actress did end up shaving her head for the role, which apparently caused some concern. Grossman said, “My agent and manager were concerned about my decision to go bald. They feared I would look like Pepper. I was actually slightly insulted by that! It takes two makeup artists working feverishly for three hours for me to look like Pepper!”
So it takes several hours just to get the look right, and to turn an attractive woman into the strange little Pepper. As Grossman herself said, “Indeed, I’ve never been told I was so pretty until I played the ugliest person on TV.”
For more on American Horror Story and the intriguing theories behind the connections between seasons, read “American Horror Story: The Connections And Implications.”
[Images via Taos News and Salon]