A Conversation With Dylan McDermott
The actor talks "Hostages," "American Horror Story," and more.
It’s hard to believe that Dylan McDermott, who rose to stardom playing the decidedly charming and compassionate lawyer Bobby Donnell on “The Practice,” is the same actor who so convincingly inhabited the character of Johnny Morgan, the creepy, serial-killing spawn of Bloody Face, on “American Horror Story: Asylum.” You certainly can’t pigeonhole the guy.
Dylan's latest role casts him as rogue FBI agent Duncan Carlisle on the CBS series “Hostages,” premiering Monday, September 23 at 10 p.m. EDT. Carlisle is a man on a mission—he wants the president of the United States dead, and he’ll stop at nothing to see the deed done. In fact, he takes the family of a famed surgeon (played by Toni Collette) hostage and threatens to kill everyone if she doesn’t assassinate the president during an operation she is about to perform on the world leader.
WhoSay recently spoke with Dylan about his intense role on the new thriller, the reason why he and co-star Collette click, and whether the actor, who also played sex-addicted therapist Dr. Ben Harmon on season one of “American Horror Story,” will appear in “American Horror Story: Coven,” the third season of the horror anthology series.
WhoSay: I live in Manhattan, and I see your face everywhere these days. There are “Hostages” promotional posters of you and Toni Collette with gags covering your mouths all over the city.
Dylan McDermott: I know. They’re everywhere!
WhoSay: Do you get a kick out of seeing your mug plastered on surfaces all over the city, or does it feel strange?
Dylan: It’s definitely exciting, but I don’t allow myself to get so crazy excited because I know in two weeks, it will all be down. But in those two weeks, I’m like, “This is really cool.”
WhoSay: What made you interested in playing the role of Duncan Carlisle on “Hostages”?
Dylan: Here’s a guy who was a highly respected FBI agent, but he wants to do something completely heinous and murder the president. Something has got to be a little bit off about him. So the idea of that combination of someone who could be an FBI agent but also have the ability to turn that dark corner, I thought was something really fascinating to play.
WhoSay: Had you known Toni Collette before you started working with her on “Hostages”?
Dylan: Well, obviously, I was aware of her as an actress, and I thought she was a tremendous actress, and then we presented at the Independent Spirit Awards one year and became friendly, so I was really happy that she signed up first for this show. It made it an easy “yes” for me, because I’ve been such a fan of hers for so long.
WhoSay: What’s it like to work with her?
Dylan: Toni and I are both Scorpios, so we have this sort of this unsaid relationship because Scorpios are different from everybody else. They’re secretive, and they’re passionate, and there are a lot of things that are left unsaid. So Toni and I immediately had that relationship. We know how to make each other laugh, and we fool around with each other, and we have a very easy relationship, but a lot of it is just unsaid. We actually have four Scorpios in the cast.
WhoSay: I’m a Scorpio, too.
Dylan: Oh, you are. So you understand.
WhoSay: Yes, I do. It’s nice to hear you say that you and Toni laugh behind the scenes, because your character is not very nice to her or her family.
Dylan: I understand. Not much I can do about that.
WhoSay: I am always curious as to whether actors who are on television actually get to watch much television. Do you?
Dylan: I don’t have a lot of time, especially when I’m working, but I really like “The Walking Dead” a great deal, and I like “House of Cards.” I think that’s a great series. I like “Locked Up Abroad.” I always find that fun to watch. What else do I watch? “Game of Thrones,” of course.
WhoSay: You’ve been doing television for awhile now, and there has been a lot of talk and even a couple of recent books written about how there has been a renaissance of sorts in American television that began in the late 1990s. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you feel like television is getting better and better?
Dylan: Oh God, yeah. I remember when I first came to television in the 1990s. For actors, that was a sign that your career was in trouble, but I kind of saw what the future would be because I really enjoyed the writing on television even back then, and having grown up on television, I just thought that that was the future because movies, in my estimation, were getting worse and worse, and then here we are today, and they’re all cartoons, and sequels, and comic books. So I think that the writing on television is definitely so good right now. Every actor is running to television.
WhoSay: I notice you use WhoSay to give fans a glimpse into the world of “Hostages.” You recently posted a great photo of what appear to be some sinister-looking surgical instruments from the set, a page from a script, and you holding your co-star Toni Collette captive—though it looks like you’re just messing around because you have her wrapped up in a string of Christmas tree lights. What do you get out of giving fans a peek behind the curtain?
Dylan: I think it’s a good appetizer to entice people. Here’s a little look, here’s a little taste of what is about to come out on television. I think it keeps people interested. It keeps me interested, and it keeps people connected in some way. So I think it’s fun. I enjoy it.
WhoSay: I have to ask you about “American Horror Story.” You’ve done seasons one and two. Will we see you in the upcoming “American Horror Story: Coven”?
Dylan: Ryan Murphy [the show’s co-creator] and I have talked about it. I think that we both want to do it. It’s really a matter of scheduling. It’s a matter of, when I finish “Hostages,” can they squeeze me in and do something with me in January?
WhoSay: You have to make it work.
Dylan: I definitely want to do it. It’s like going home for me. I love playing a different character each year. I really enjoy it, and the first season was so different from the second season for me. So I’m sure he’s going to think of something great for me. Whatever it is, I’m there.
WhoSay: You had to wear that gruesome Bloody Face mask in season two of “American Horror Story,” and you squeezed yourself into that skintight Rubber Man suit in season one. If Ryan Murphy asks you to get into another weird getup, maybe even another latex suit, will you do it?
Dylan: Whatever he asks. I already did it once. I mean, I’ve already masturbated and cried and put the latex suit on. What else is left?
WhoSay: I remember reading about all you went through to get into the latex suit, but I always wondered how difficult it was to take off.
Dylan: It wasn’t easy I have to say. A couple of people were involved in helping me get out of it.
WhoSay: I imagine it could be painful to squeeze into a latex suit.
Dylan: Yeah, I’ll send you one!
WhoSay: No, thanks! I don’t even like to wear turtlenecks.
Dylan: Oh, okay. It’s not for you then.
WhoSay: You had to do some really creepy things on “American Horror Story,” especially during season two. Did you have nightmares while you were playing Johnny Morgan?
Dylan: It’s funny because even after doing all that stuff on “American Horror Story,” I actually find the role in “Hostages” a lot harder to play, and I take it home with me a lot more. This role has really been affecting me. It’s just hitting me in a way that I was unprepared for because of the nature of what I have to do. In “American Horror Story,” there was an element of horror that sort of takes you off the hook in a funny way. But in “Hostages,” it’s so real.
"Hostages" premieres Monday, September 23 at 10 p.m. EDT.