In the 1920s, Mr. James March, oozing charisma, lured a chain of visitors to his Hotel Cortez, where they met untimely deaths at his hand in the most brutal ways imaginable. But, at the Cortez, dead does not mean gone. As a present day ghost, Mr. March still controls residents of the Cortez, both permanent (dead) and transient (alive). Only The Countess (Lady Gaga) possesses the power to bring him to his knees.
[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers about all five seasons of the FX show “American Horror Story.”]
After four seasons starring in anthology show “American Horror Story,” relative unknown Evan Peters held his own sharing the small screen with the likes of award winners Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis and Patti LuPone. He won over hearts as angsty Kurt Cobain wannabe Tate in Murder House, the show’s premiere season, his dark side leading to multiple murders and other atrocities. But Tate’s emotions ruled him, and his evil acts often resulted from altruistic motives, rendering even such an abominable creature sympathetic.
Asylum found Peters playing hero Kit. His Coven character Kyle, after dying in a crash and being resurrected by witches Frankenstein style, turned into a killer, but previous to those events – which were out of his control – Kyle was probably the only decent frat boy on campus, completely without malice. And although Freak Show’s Jimmy killed in the first episode, his motive was chivalrous, and as the season progressed, he definitely achieved good guy status. So, after toying with killer roles, in last season’s Hotel, creator Ryan Murphy went all out, basing Peters’ Mr. March on none other than “America’s First Serial Killer,” H.H. Holmes.
Holmes’ dirty deeds started years before he built a three-story, block-long hostelry in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on the southwest side, which neighbors called “The Castle.” He hired and fired (or disappeared) workmen during construction so he was the only person who understood the building’s strange geography. Hallways and staircases at strange angles, some which went nowhere, secret and soundproof rooms, a chute and an elevator from upper floors to lower reaches (for easy disposal of bodies). The basement contained an incinerator and lime and corrosive acid pits. Sometimes flesh was stripped so Holmes could sell the skeletons to medical schools.
Holmes charmed female employees and lovers into letting him take out life insurance policies on them, naming himself as beneficiary. Then the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition brought in out-of-towners, a plethora of perfect victims. He gassed, asphyxiated, hung, and locked his prey in rooms to die of hunger and thirst. Although 9 murders were confirmed, estimates of women, men and children killed by Holmes range from 20 to 200 (according to Wikipedia).
While not Holmes, per se, since the character March lived in the 1920s in L.A. instead of 1890s Chicago, the secret rooms and passages of the Cortez mimic Holmes’ “Castle,” and March’s occupations mimic the notorious killer. Peters absolutely nailed the role, at once gentlemanly to a fault — alternately donning a rubber apron and protective glasses and exuberantly shooting, stabbing or slicing up his quarry. With relish! With aplomb!
Peters said he studied gallant early Hollywood actors like William Powell, particularly the depression-era classic “My Man Godfrey,” to develop his style of speech and mannerisms. He tried several different voices and asked Murphy to choose the best, resulting in a Mid-Atlantic accent, also employed by his on-screen compatriot Miss Evers (Mare Winningham). Peters also read books and listened to music from the 1920s/30s to “immerse” himself in the era (according to an October 25, 2015 Design&Trend article).
Wes Bentley, starring as John Lowe, The Ten Commandments Killer and March’s protégée in Hotel, says he and Peters had a lot of fun on set. He told E! News, “[The [show is] just so dark you have to laugh while you’re doing it. He and I can’t stop trying to make each other laugh. We can really get dark but then at the core of it we’re just really trying to make each other crack.”
Much of Peters’ success stems from his own innate sense of empathy towards others. In an interview in Details, he says he’s
trying to make people see that there are other sides to people. And even if they are doing bad things, they are still human. Sometimes people are made into monsters; sometimes people are born monsters and can be helped. But I always try to humanize characters. Even when I am driving with a friend who says: “Oh, man, that bitch cut me off!” I’ll be like: “Maybe she’s having a bad day.” The person I’m talking to will say: “What the hell, man? You should be on my side.” And I’m like: “Well, you know. I am just trying to shed a little light on the situation. We gotta try to help each other out.”
So what’s next for Peters? After appearing as Quicksilver in the show-stealing scene from 2014 blockbuster “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” his role has been expanded in the upcoming next installment, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” slated for release on May 27. Also look for him on April 15 as Dwight Chapin, Deputy Assistant to President Richard Nixon, in “Elvis & Nixon.”
And then there’s “American Horror Story” season 6. Word is next season’s plot will be revealed next month, and hopefully along with it, confirmation of Peters’ return! Some fans have gotten so disillusioned with the show’s scattered, messy plotlines and increasingly cold characters the last couple of seasons that, apart from the stunning sets, costuming and great music choices, Peters’ consistent standout performances remain the only reason they’re still watching.