October 2014 - The 5 - Naomi Grossman
Becoming a familiar face in theater and on-screen, Naomi Grossman is no strange to the little/big state of New Mexico. Grossman calls Taos home. While she grew up in Denver, her parents honeymooned in Taos and always kept a place there. Every long weekend, the family would go to the “Taos house”. and when Grossman left the nest, they moved there permanently. She has much love for New Mexico and is excited to be dropping in for the Santa Fe Comic Con. Grossman took a moment out of her busy schedule, preparing for the red carpet premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show, to sit down with New Mexico Entertainment asking five questions about her career - both past, present and future projects.
What was your drive force to do theater?
I grew up in an über-cultured household. We’re talking first grade, my parents dressed me as Salvador Dalí for Halloween. So of course theatre was a big part of our lives. They exposed me to plays, musicals, opera, ballet... I just always knew I wanted to be up there, on stage. For about five minutes, again, way back in first grade, I debated being an astronaut. But then I heard I’d have to do math, and that was the end of that. Actress it was-- and I’ve never wavered since.
You were quite the self-starter - producing, directing and starring in a lot of the projects you worked in. What do you look for in the projects you create for the screen?
I look for what makes me laugh. That’s all. Of course, with my solo shows, I like to take the audience on a journey, and move them from laughs to tears-- though that’s a bit ambitious for a little youtube vid. I never wanted to be some internet sensation-- I just thought of it as an outlet for performance, a way to reach an audience. In fact, those shorts were mostly born of frustration. I wasn’t getting cast, because let’s face it, I’m not a wallflower who can easily step into those “nurse #2 to the left” -type roles, which actors first starting out typically book. And yet, a studio wasn’t going to just hand me a sitcom either. So, I thought about I wanted: to act. So... I created opportunities for myself to do that! I quit wasting time and postage, mailing headshots around town, and cast myself. Which is how all those silly little sketches on YouTube came about. While I can’t say those shorts necessarily opened doors directly, they did reinvigorate my then waning passion, and kept me in the game. Which is, in my opinion, a key to this (and all) business.
Can we just take a minute and talk about your time with the Groundlings. What was that like?
Ah, ‘twas the best of times, ‘twas the worst of times! It was such an inspiring period: I was surrounded, practically around the clock, by some of the most creative, imaginative, and hilarious people in the industry. I used to crank out a good seven sketches a week. So my brain was constantly working, dreaming up these absurd scenarios, giving life to these kooky characters. At the same time, it was a pressure-cooker. While we needed each other to succeed (you’re only as strong as your weakest link), we also needed each other to fail (so that we might succeed). I didn’t like that aspect. Ultimately, I was let go; though as a member of the Sunday Company, I went as far as you can in the program. And well, more successful actors and comedians were cut from the Groundlings than ever made the company! So what was once a source of shame, I now wear as a badge of honor. Honestly, I think they did me a favor by cutting me. Had I stayed, I might be still be on Melrose Avenue, writing sketches and playing with wigs. Which at the time, was what I thought I wanted! 12 October 2014 Instead, I was forced out of that three-minute sketch-comfort zone, and given the freedom to find my own expression within a much larger medium, thus yielding my solo shows. Which is work I feel represents me, and what I want to express as artist much more.
Pepper, Pepper, Pepper! Fans could not get enough of your character on American Horror Story. What drew you to that character? What was it like working with such an amazing cast?
I don’t know that I was ever “drawn” to the character, per se. I think she was drawn to me! I don’t know... I was cast in the roll, and the rest is history. That said, since even before those Groundlings days, I’ve gravitated toward big, broad, overthe-top characters. So it’s no wonder I would land a role like Pepper. I‘m just surprised I hadn’t created a character like her already. As far as working with such an amazing cast, it’s been… amazing. From legends like Jessica Lange, who I watch daily give Emmy-worthy performances; to James Cromwell, who not only won “best supporting actor” for his role in “Asylum,” but also wins “most supportive.” I remember him whispering to me: “If you turn your head on this line, you’ll get more camera-time.” What actor says that to another? Especially when it means less camera-time on him. “Freak Show” has been especially inspiring, because not only do I get work with A-listers like Jessica and Jamie, but now this menagerie of amazing (for lack of a better term) “freaks.” I’ve learned so much about humanity from them already. Take, for example, when I first met Mat Fraser, who plays “Paul the Illustrated Seal.” He thrust his little flipper-hand into mine, forcing me to shake it-- which was shocking to me at the time. But why? That’s what you do when you meet someone! You extend your hand. I quick caught myself, and thought, “Duh. That’s his hand. Shake it already,” and now I consider him a great friend. It’s moments like those that make this season particularly exciting. I think it’s going to open up a whole new, important conversation about what’s “normal” and how we view diversity and disability.
Tell us a little about your new project The Chair?
I don’t know much, except that we start shooting in February! They’ve got a cool cast compiled, which I’m gradually meeting as I make my way around the horror/comic con circuit. I’m one of the few women-- it takes place in a male prison-- I play the mother of the lead who is on death row. Seen in flashbacks, of course. (I’m not that old!) It’s well-written, and that’s why I signed on. In my opinion, if you don’t have good script, you don’t have a good movie. So I’m hoping we’ll have a good movie!