The ghost of Tate Langdon lounges on a green velvet couch in a century-old Los Angeles mansion. He’s surrounded by hand-painted murals with allegorical themes, candle sconces and art deco chandeliers. It is a scene straight out of American Horror Story, except it’s real life and that’s no ghost; it’s Evan Peters, the 32-year-old American actor who played Langdon— and a bunch of other roles—on AHS, and is probably best known for his turn as Quicksilver in the most recent X-Men movies.
Peters is in Los Angeles to enjoy his last bit of downtime before he embarks on a head-spinning, world-spanning two-week press tour, jumping from continent to continent to promote the newest X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. We’re ostensibly at this historic home for a photo shoot, but strange coincidences mark the day.
A longstanding AHS staple is playfully inserting real historical figures into fictionalised multi-generational storylines—a different sort of cameo. The vicious Madame Delphine LaLaurie of New Orleans is a featured villain in Coven; recognisable serial killers like Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez come to dinner in Hotel.
As a viewer, you never know when another person from history is going to join the current narrative. That recurring theme comes to life after the shoot moves upstairs and Evan comes face to face with a random photo: a framed portrait of noted talent manager Jeff Wald and President Jimmy Carter, though neither of them has any apparent connection to this house.
Carter is a familiar face to the rest of us, but it’s Wald’s image that shocks Evan. Wald was the husband and manager of Helen Reddy, activist and singer of the 1972 Grammy-winning anthem ‘I Am Woman’. Evan already knows all of these facts because he just finished shooting the Reddy biopic in Australia.
He’s playing Jeff Wald.
Throughout the afternoon, as he talks expansively about his life and career, several such fateful events happen. As if piecing together the twists from a Ryan Murphy TV show, we all start to feel like there’s something else, an unknown guiding force, behind this gathering. Could Peters have found himself in this particular house not just because the call sheet dictates it, but for some other mysterious reason?
In Dark Phoenix, Peters reprises his role as Quicksilver, and each instalment now has a scene-stealing CGI sequence where Quicksilver gets to playfully save the day by treating the objects and people in the room as if they’re all part of his own improv scene, flicking a bullet away here, moonwalking through an explosion there. These scenes have now become expected trailer-worthy moments.
Becoming part of this Marvel family means working alongside Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain and other stars. This is the kind of A-list ensemble that makes Evan think, “what am I doing here?” He swears he doesn’t have many Hollywood moments, but being a part of this franchise creates them.
“The first day I was on the set of X-Men,” he says, “in my grey wig, walking up to the set, and walking out is Hugh Jackman. He’s huge, just jacked, and he went, ‘hey man.’ I was like, ‘hey, what’s up’. It was a surreal moment because I watched those movies my whole life.”
His “whole life” began in St Louis, where he grew up the “little tubby kid” who would do anything for a laugh. When he was 15 years old, he moved to Los Angeles, with the support of his mother, to pursue acting. He quickly found roles and had to start homeschooling in his junior year. Though he feels like he missed out on the education, he doesn’t feel like he missed out on the social milestones like prom and college dorm life. It was just different.
“We had a great house we called the Wilton Hilton. It was like a frat house. It was incredible. Guys and girls lived there, but it was just such a fun party house. Actors, musicians, people who worked in special effects, photographers, everybody. I was an honorary roommate. I sort of lived on the couch.”
At this point in his career, he was getting multi-episode roles on TV shows like Disney’s Phil of the Future. Behind the scenes, “it’s just a group of friends and we all hang out, and go to The Grove [mall] for karaoke.” (Favorite karaoke song: ‘Informer’ by Snow because no one knows the words.)
Peters really didn’t find himself in too much trouble during those early years. That is, aside from ending up on the infamous Lindsay Lohan penned list of conquests that she once jotted on the back of a Scattergories card. He laughs it off. “That was crazy. Yeah, all the friends back home were like, ‘what!?’ I was like, ‘get outta here’.”
In fact, as far as crime goes, he’s kept it to the screen. Though he played the heist mastermind in American Animals, the worst he’s done in real life was being around when his buddy decided to shoplift an air freshener from Wal-Mart. “I really don’t know why he did it. Maybe his room smelled and he just wanted the air fresher? I think it was just a rush of doing it.”
If Peters were to plot a heist, the only item he would covet enough to risk the punishment would be Paul McCartney’s Wurlitzer. “It’s kind of a smaller keyboard. They’re old school. They’re amazing.” This makes sense considering the best gift he received was when he was a kid and his parents gave him a keyboard for Christmas. And yes, he still has it.
But, that isn’t his favourite childhood memory. That experience was bested by a block of sick days that he spent sitting on his beanbag chair, playing Mario on his Nintendo 64 and watching Snick at night, the block of kids programming similar to the shows that he would first be cast in.
It occurs to him: “That was… sloth-y? One of the seven deadly sins, right? Gotta work on that.” But, as an adult, his preference for a slower pace hasn’t waned. He admits that he has the nickname Old Man Peters because he likes to go to bed early. He jokes, “Old Man Peters doesn’t want to go out tonight.” Unless it’s karaoke, “which is very old man”.
His joking is a reminder that the real Evan Peters is not a version of the dark, tormented characters that he’s been playing over the last couple of years. In fact, some of his earliest feature roles were playing the goofy sidekick, as we saw him in Kick-Ass and Never Back Down. He relates to the wannabe aspect of these characters.
“I feel like I’m all wannabe. Like I’m never quite what I want to be exactly.” To narrow it down I ask Peters whose career he wants to emulate. He quickly answers: “Fassbender’s.” And then adds: “Gosling, DiCaprio, Clooney, Hanks. The list is endless. Those guys are incredible. And they’re brilliant actors. Bradley Cooper.”
Even his tattoos aren’t dangerous. Peters has two. ‘MOM’ is printed across his left shoulder. He claims his mom “loves it”. And what’s his dad think? “Maybe I should get ‘DAD’ on the other arm.” But, he quickly shoots down his own idea.
“Eh, that’s a little weird.”
He also has a thumbs-up stamp on his right hand. He had been partying at the W Hotel, and afterwards, he impulsively got the entry stamp made permanent as a tattoo. I ask if now he gets discounts at the hotel. But, he wouldn’t know because he hasn’t been back since.
American Horror Story is known for recasting the same actors in different roles, so familiar faces keep popping up in new settings. It’s a fun quirk. The owner of the historic house used on today’s shoot, Alex McKenna, glides past the photography equipment. A blonde actress with a timeless aura to her, she has a chihuahua named Tallulah tucked under her arm.
Peters doesn’t know her, but as if part of a repertory cast, he immediately recognises her as the same woman who was seated next to him at an acting class just the night before. Everyone’s a little surprised by that and it becomes the chatter of the set. (Though, I’m more surprised that an actor as successful as Evan Peters still chooses to take acting classes.)
After the shoot, Peters joins me on that green couch, now in ripped jeans, shaggy hair, still wet from the last shots where he posed in the shower. We shake off all the weirdness in the house and chat about his long-running relationship with American Horror Story.
The FX anthology show, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, has collected 89 Emmy nominations with 16 wins. Though the upcoming ninth season is the first where Peters won’t be part of the cast, he’ll still be watching it as a viewer. And reminders of his AHS stint are never far away. Literally.
“I got the hands!”
Peters is referring to the ‘lobster claw’ prosthetics that he wore while playing Jimmy Darling on AHS: Freak Show, a man with ectrodactyly, that causes cleft hands. “The make-up department’s incredible and they gave me some wooden hands and then I also got a silicone cast. Each time I would wear them, they would put on a new set, and they’d throw them away. So, I got one of those sets.” And these hands live in Peters’ den, in a little wooden box labelled Jimmy Darling.
The most common question Peters faces is “what was your favourite character to play,” and his answer has never wavered: Tate Langdon, the young school shooter, and ghost, trapped in the Murder House of AHS’ first season. “We didn’t know what the show was, it was exciting, and it was crazy. He was such a complex character, like the dualism involved with that guy was just a real challenge to play. And Taissa [Farmiga]. There was something magical about it.”
That was the early days, when Peters only had to play one character in a season. By season seven, Cult, Peters was cycling through personalities, many of them infamous cult leaders. Peters had done his homework, watching documentaries and reading Seductive Poison, a memoir of a woman who survived Jonestown.
Peters understands that cults never begin as cults. They begin as movements or churches or utopias. With charismatic leaders, they collect followers with their messages of love, acceptance and hope. But eventually, the growing power and insular nature blot out the light. So, what cult would Peters have joined in its early days, before it turned dark?
“Probably Jim Jones. I mean, just culturally it was an amazing movement, bringing everybody together, all different races and poverty levels, drug addicts. Everybody was welcome and invited and it seemed like a really nice community that was very supportive.”
Peters has the charisma. And the followers. Fortunately, the only cult he’s a part of is the fandom for his work. At Comic-Con he met a young admirer, about 20 years old, who had a unique tattoo. “She got my face, as Tate, tattooed on her thigh! And I was touched by it. That’s amazing, but it’s also like, ‘Oh man, my face? On your thigh?’ Are you sure you want to do that?”
A quick Google search shows that she is not the only one to permanently ink Peters’ face on her body. With varying artistic abilities, most are of the iconic skeletal image of Tate Langdon. But other characters that Peters has played, Mr March and Kai Anderson, have also been immortalised on skin.
As has Quicksilver. When he landed the role, it was beyond a lifelong dream, but that was before Peters knew that working alongside the real Wolverine would lead to moments of disappointment. He explains that when Jackman first held up his ‘claws’ on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse, he hadn’t read the script yet.
And when Wolverine’s claws first come out, he was surprised to see bones instead of metallic adamantium. “It’s pretty disgusting looking and I was like ‘ugh’. And [Jackman] was like, ‘Oh that’s good. You should do that’.” Yes, Evan Peters, with years of American Horror Story blood and gore under his belt, was grossed out by Wolverine’s bones.
Peters holds up his hand and points to the padding where his fingers meet his palm, “but what you don’t realise is that [the bones] are just this little plate that has these hooks in it, that [Jackman] pulls in and out. They obviously don’t actually come out of his hand. It was so… unfulfilling. To not see them come out of his hands as some sort of trick or magic. I didn’t know what they were going to do, but he just… holds it.”
Noticing the entourage of sweet purse-sized dogs that wander around the house, I ask Peters if he has any pets. He’s stoked to talk about his dog, Marlon. And he spells it out to make sure that I know the namesake is after Brando and not the fish.
“He’s a schnauzer-chihuahua. I didn’t know that’s what he was. I found him online. He was so small and he looked like a schnauzer. His ears were down in front. But as he got older, one perked up and then the other one perked up, and then his tail started curling, and he’s turning more and more into a chihuahua. I was like, ‘aw man,’ I never really wanted a chihuahua.”
Peters gushes about how wonderful Marlon is, but when I ask if Marlon accompanies him to set, he has an admission. “Unfortunately, because of all the travelling and working, I’m that asshole that gave his dog to his parents. I’m that guy, who I never wanted to be. Yeah, I know it’s terrible.” But, he does spend time with Marlon every time he visits his parents in St Louis. And he’ll be there soon, as he’s currently doing “absolutely nothing”. He’s wrapped on all his projects and doesn’t have another one yet lined up.
Peters will spend this downtime by visiting his family, hanging out in New York City, (you can decompress in New York City??? “Hell yeah.”) and reading. He’s currently enjoying Guns, Germs, and Steel. But, his book recommendation is Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung. “It’s a look at your dreams and interpreting them. The symbols that man uses, and the collective unconscious, and it’s fascinating.”
Has he been able to interpret a dream? “I had a recurring dream of the guilt of abandoning my dog and leaving him behind. In the book, there’s a certain thing about the animal being your instinct. It’s this weird feeling of losing touch with my instinct because I’ve abandoned it. So, it’s getting back in touch with my unconscious self and my true self.” He shrugs: “I don’t know if it’s just guilt about leaving my dog and abandoning him or if it’s me needing to get in touch my instinct.”
And that’s when the house offers another weird twist. The door creaks open and a tiny snout pushes through. It’s Tallulah. She jumps up on Peters’ lap, curls up in the crook of his arm and stays there for the rest of the interview. So much for Peters’ aversion to chihuahuas.
Which makes me wonder what Peters’ spirit animal would be. He asks: “What’s a spirit animal?” I give an embarrassingly poor definition. And Evan concludes: sloth. Though he points out that he has always liked cheetahs. But he insists that he doesn’t have anything in common with them, and they’re definitely not his spirit animals. He commits to sloth.
This makes me wonder how an actor, who has worked continuously through his formative years, figures out who he is. Does playing others arrest his development because he’s not spending enough time being himself? Or could it be the opposite? Has he cycled through so many different personas, he can quickly pick and discard the traits that feel right?
“It’s definitely nice to take some time now to get in touch with my instincts a little bit more. But also, all the roles were challenges and different sides of people that I can sort of try on when I need them. You’re absolutely right. It’s kind of both. I feel like there was a certain maturity that came along with having the responsibility to play all those different roles. That helped me grow a lot.”
Peters is also maturing in the types of roles he plays. His most recent TV work was on the first season of Pose, another Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk production, along with Steven Canals. The show explores the underground LGBT ball subculture that made ‘voguing’ a verb. Peters plays Stan Bowes, a married yuppie on the rise, who falls in love with Angel Evangelista, a female trans sex worker.
A far cry from Peters’ early Disney days. The show is breaking barriers with the largest transgender cast for a scripted series and boasting the first transgender woman of colour to write and direct an episode of television. “The cast is all real transgender. So it’s authentic and very real, and you learn so much. There’s an excitement that everyone has about being on set. The gratitude was infectious. I was very proud to be a part of that.”
Peters won’t be in the second season of Pose. Which means he is now fully leaving the Ryan Murphy nest. This aligns with another big adjustment in his life. His seven-year relationship and engagement to actress Emma Roberts has just ended. What does this transition look like?
“I really don’t know. It’s very scary. I feel unmoored. But it’s exciting as well. The world is wide open.” He is dating again. But he’s doing it on his terms. He makes it clear that he doesn’t love to text. He’s looking for freedom, which he describes as, “you do your thing. I’ll do my thing and then we’ll meet back in the middle. It’ll be great.” But, you won’t find him on any dating apps. He’s more traditional. “I’d rather just go talk to somebody, which is terrifying, but that’s kind of the thing right?”
All this unknown is the scariest thing in Peters’ life. He knocks on the wooden coffee table as he admits that he’s never been truly scared for his life. And as far as ghosts and the supernatural, he’s still not convinced. “I’m confused now. I still have not seen a ghost or interacted with anything supernatural. I’m still waiting on the verdict for that one, but it’s pretty crazy that we’re here shooting this and I was just in class with Alex last night.
Not only that, her mom knows Jeff Wald and there’s a picture of Jeff Wald on her wall meeting President Carter. So, that’s a little weird. And maybe it’s just a small town. Maybe? But then, maybe the universe is saying something?” But what the universe could be saying, he doesn’t know.
Peters was incredibly forthcoming, but there were a few questions that he never could land on an answer. For instance: “If you had Quicksilver’s powers, what’s a moment you would change, to have a different outcome? And “what would the title of your memoir be? I end with: “Who knows you better than you do?”
“Apparently everyone. I clearly don’t know myself.”
But the one who knows him best is a man named Cheese. His real name is Jeff Ward (not to be confused with the aforementioned Jeff Wald.) Ward plays Deke Shaw on Agents of Shield and has also portrayed Charles Manson in the Lifetime movie, Manson’s Lost Girls. Evan and Jeff met at a table read in 2014 and became fast friends. Ward has the same Cheese nickname for Peters. As in “everything’s better with cheese”. So, I asked Ward to answer the questions that Peters couldn’t.
Using Quicksilver’s abilities, what would be the moment Peters would change in his own life? Ward answers: “The reason he got into acting was because he had a crush on the Olsen twins. I assume it would probably be something in his teenage years to end up being married to one of them.”
Peters’ spirit animal? “I don’t know why leopard keeps coming to mind. Evan’s very smart and he’s instinctual and extremely capable. He’s got the cunning timing of some kind of jungle cat.” I tell him that Evan loves cheetahs, but landed on sloth. “That’s so weird because I was going to say sloth! But, then I didn’t because that’s not actually him. I swear to God I was gonna say sloth. So, we both said both!”
Memoir title? Cheesy Does It: The Evan Peters Story.
Joke memoir titles aside, Ward has a deep respect for his friend. “[Evan’s] known for playing these darker, brooding characters, and it’s funny because a huge reason why he and I are so close is we’re both big comedy nerds. He’s crazy smart and doesn’t give himself credit for that.”
It’s true that Peters has embodied many dark characters. And to add to the difficulty of the roles, many of these characters inhabited different time periods. Where would the real Peters have best fit in? “I really like the ’20s and ’30s. The music, the drinkin’, the outfits, the whole thing.”
He was fully entrenched in this era while playing the serial killer, Mr James March, in AHS: Hotel. Complete with a transatlantic accent, ascot and a pencil-thin moustache, he embodied the nouveau riche of the Roaring Twenties. Peters looks around the living room of this Mills-protected historical home.
Built in 1927, it boasts details like cherubs carved into the fireplace mantle and angels painted on the ceiling. “This is amazing. They don’t make houses like this anymore. Just the attention to detail.” I ask how he decorates his own place. He gives a sheepish laugh. “Very minimally. I really need to work on that.”
In fact, before we leave, he secures the owner’s email address so that he can reach out to her designer. He’s decided that this place feels right, the decor embodies what he wants for his surroundings. Which means that this house isn’t quite done with Evan Peters.
Photographs by Micheal Schwartz
Styling by Fabio Immediato
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