Evan Peters Reveals His Character's Twisted Plan on 'American Horror Story: Cult'
On election night, almost a year ago, American Horror Story star Evan Peters was at home. He was eating pizza, watching the returns, until his jaw hit the floor. Donald Trump won? He was "just shocked," he told Thrillist over the phone, sounding more bummed than a diehard Knicks fan. "In a state of, Is this real?"
In other words: a decidedly different reaction than the one viewers have seen on AHS: Cult, in which Peters plays the blue-haired radical named Kai Anderson. Before dusting his face with Cheetos dust and swirling his locks into a greasy coif, Kai spent that same night humping a TV screen and yelling, "The revolution has begun!"
For Kai, that's a revolution of fear. As he told the City Council in the season premiere, people choose fear over freedom every day, which makes fear a valuable tool. Understanding what Kai wants to do with this tool is key to understanding what the hell is going on this season.
"He sees an opening where Trump has created such disharmony in the world," Peters explained, noting that Kai would have felt more restricted when Obama was in the White House. Things were safer, more controlled. "Trump is the spark that's going to create the fire that's going to bring down the world. Kai is going to be the one who steps out onto the ashes and leads everyone, and makes the world what he wants it to be."
In the episodes since the premiere, fans have speculated about Kai's end game. Episode 4 started to give answers. Namely, that Kai is in fact the man behind this murderous clown cult, and that fear -- especially fear of humiliation and powerlessness -- is his way of driving people to worship him. He targets Harrison (Billy Eichner), who's bullied; Meadow (Leslie Grossman), who's aimless and insecure; Beverly (Adina Porter), who's feeling cheated; and Gary (Chaz Bono), who's trapped in a basement.
Still, the question remains: What's the point of convincing these people to kill innocent members of their community?
"What Kai is doing is preying on their insecurities," Peters said. "He sees your negative qualities, your insecurities, your fears, your pains, the things you are lacking. He becomes that and fills that void and turns it around so that you love him and are indebted to him."
Kai empowers Harrison. He provides stability for Meadow. He convinces Beverly he believes in her. He gives Gary an opportunity. He's positioned himself as a hero for the weak. But the only way these people can keep this new illusion of comfort is if they keep Kai. This is Kai's plan on a micro level: He convinces you he'll do anything for you, so you must return the favor. Like many cult leaders, he's a charismatic, sociopathic genius when it comes to pulling others into his orbit.
Though he promises freedom and power, Kai delivers something much different. Peters likens Kai's leadership methods to someone ripping a Band-Aid off a wound that hasn't had time to fully heal. Then "he cuts open the wound even more, so that you need him even more."
That's why Harrison's stuck decapitating his old boss, why Beverly's hugging Kai after his cronies commit that grisly on-camera murder, why Gary's cutting off his own hand. Kai's conned them into worshipping him. That's exactly what he's starting to do with Ally (Sarah Paulson), too: In Episode 2, when Kai triggers her agoraphobia, he riles her up so much she shoots Pedro. In Episode 3, when Kai tells Ally she's brave for her actions and saves her from a mob of protesters, Ally begins questioning her worldview (a constant theme), wondering if she was wrong to believe in the inherent goodness of like-minded people. Will she buckle? Manipulating fear is Kai's path not just to individual domination, but to world domination.
"Fear will release [people] from their desires, and their ambitions, and their bullshit needs," he told the City Council in the premiere. "And then they will come running to us like children in a feverish nightmare, and the chosen few who are not afraid of the seas and the heights and the beasts of the world will return at the head of the evolutionary table!"
"He for sure is the most repulsive character I've had to play."
Cult has played out as a horror show rooted in reality, but it's also more overtly satirical than seasons past -- a quality that makes it a cartoonish eye-opener. Like other characters on the show, Kai's a caricature, an exaggerated example of the manipulative goons who can come into power under our current fear-based political system.
"He's the most repulsive character I've had to play," said Peters, whose long list of AHS credits has included some twisted figures. Of course, Kai Anderson wasn't always this repulsive. There was a time when the 30-year-old legitimately wanted to make the world a better place, according to Peters. He saw pain and suffering and wanted to create a utopia that revolved around common sense. Instead, a switch got flipped when he was younger, and he turned into a megalomaniac. Peters teased that Episode 5 will dive into what exactly set Kai off, and will help us understand him better.
"Because of everything that happened to him, he lost his mind," he said. "In a way, I think you'll maybe sympathize or at least understand why he becomes the way he becomes and does the horrific things he does."
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT on FX.