‘AHS: Hotel’ Star Wes Bentley on John’s Flawed Dark Side
Bentley tells THR he had nightmares after reading the first three scripts.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode two of American Horror Story: Hotel.]
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story: Hotel mostly takes place within the walls of the Hotel Cortez, an establishment whose horrors go far beyond the fact that it doesn’t have cell service or WiFi.
During Wednesday’s “Chutes and Ladders” episode, fashion mogul Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) continues to make himself at home in the inhospitable Hotel Cortez. And he’s bringing along some other members of the fashion world with him, including model Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock), whom the blood-thirsty Countess (Lady Gaga) is drawn to.
While all the hotel’s horrors are going down, poor detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) just wants to find some answers. During Wednesday’s episode, he digs into the hotel’s past and learns all about James March (Evan Peters), Hotel Cotez’s original builder and owner in the 1930s. It comes to no surprise that the man key to this particular hotel’s origins was a very bad guy. As Lowe learns more about the hotel, he gets even more stuck trying to solve the ever-expanding puzzle of the Ten Commandments Killer, his son’s disappearance and the mysterious, violent happenings at Hotel Cortez.
Here, Bentley — who starred in Murphy’s ill-fated HBO pilot and had an arc on AHS: Freak Show before being promoted to a regular for Hotel — talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the latest episode and Lowe’s arc. On Hotel, Bentley plays a human who is a little more grounded than the blood drinkers and other monsters that surround him, but as Bentley notes, sometimes it’s the more relatable parts of the show that disturb more deeply than the fantastical horror elements.
How has your experience so far this season been compared with Freak Show?
It’s been great having a real arc and playing a pivotal role in the main plot throughout the show. It’s part of why I’m drawn to television now. I’m getting exactly what I was hoping for.
How much did you know about the story and your character before joining Hotel?
Ryan and I sat down for dinner and talked about it. Once they had the bigger idea and decided to do the hotel, he came to me about the hotel idea as well as with some general outline for John Lowe but no specific details — definitely not beginning-to-end stuff. But he did pitch more of the family stuff, the missing son, and he knew that I had a son, so he knew that would have an effect on me. As far as certain details and the relationships with other people in the hotel, those details I didn’t know until later. But I did have an idea of what this guy was going to be dealing with and where he’s coming from.
As an actor, what draws you to a project as dark as American Horror Story?
There’s the challenge of really creating drama, the challenge of navigating really dark subject matter. And with this show, it’s not just horrific events. There’s also social commentary that’s happening. There’s a lot more character depth. There’s a lot more challenging moments to deal with. There’s a lot more interesting dynamics and relationships, like with loved ones or opponents or whatever comes to be. In the darker elements of the script, we delve into the parts of humanity that aren’t pretty. We are flawed, and we have a dark side, and it takes a lot of work to fight against that.
Right now, John seems like the obvious good guy, but the show so far has suggested that there’s darkness in everyone. Do you think John has a dark side?
Yes. One of the reasons I was a fan of this show before I joined is because I love how there was no one who was a complete good guy and no one who was a complete bad guy. You started feeling for characters when, at first glance, you would think, “That’s a bad guy,” but then the writing would reveal a human side of him and reveal why they make mistakes, why they behave this way. The writing would show a glimpse of humanity and of caring. And the opposite is true, too. You might see someone like John, someone who you think is just the good guy. But even with John, there are bound to be flaws, like with most people. There’s a dark side to most people, and we will get to see that with John. How dark it will go? I don’t know. But there are definitely strong flaws in everyone on the show.
Addiction is a major theme for the season. How do you think John and his journey tie into that theme?
We learn that John may have had a drinking problem which may have led to what happened with his son. John has a complete tie-in to that theme. He has that moment with Sally (Sarah Paulson), describing some things at the bar, and Sally kind of represents the hardcore addiction, and there’s something between them. There’s some tie between them. It’s a real battle for John.
Is it true that the writing has actually affected you so much that you’ve had nightmares after reading some of the scripts? Is that real fear you’ve experienced useful for your performance?
Yes. I got the first three, and I read them at night, which was a terrible idea. I think I was alone, too. I was having some bad dreams for sure. The role right now is interesting because John is foreign to the hotel. He’s being introduced to the characters in the way that the audience is. It’s seen through his eyes. And he is experiencing this like we all would, which is through bewilderment, confusion, disbelief, fear and intrigue. Given all of those elements, it’s almost a little easier because I’m living in the realm of reality in a sense.
Are we going to see more of John’s relationship with his wife (Chloe Sevigny) as the season goes on?
Yes. It’s a real troubled relationship, and there’s more to it than what seems to be their problem. There are more problems buried underneath, and we learn more about that as these episode go on. Episode three is big for that. So far, there’s a little bit of revelation in each episode about these characters and their relationship. We start to see their problems. But we’ll also see their connection — the love and the answers to why they’re together.
You and Sevigny really get to play with the more human sides of the show.
I feel like that was my duty coming on the show: to bring some of that human side. I see the stuff that’s going on on, literally, the other side of the hotel, and it’s all so fantastic and grandiose and dramatic. The fashion is big. It’s really interesting to be on the complete opposite side, shooting this other stuff that’s a little more relatable. And that’s what we want to bring. We want to bring something that a lot of people can identify with. And maybe that’s scarier. Maybe some of those worlds will collide and clash. There’s a sense of you being a part of it, and that can be, hopefully, even scarier. It will disturb you a little more. Chloe and I have fun with that. That’s what I liked about seasons one and two. And I’m happy to be a part of that aspect of the show.