Whether he’s stealing scenes away from Fassbender and McAvoy while wearing goggles and metallic leather as Quicksilver in the latest X-men franchise, or committing a mass shooting in a high school during his tenure on American Horror Story--Evan Peters just naturally charms the pants/panties right off audiences. With the new X-men: Dark Phoenix flick approaching, fans are wishing to see a lot more slow-motion charisma when Peters zips back into Quicksilver’s shiny Converse--we’re all hoping his role will expand past just another scene-stealing and highly marketed rescue scene.
Question: What’s cooler than appearing in a beloved, decades-spanning comic book franchise and give a whizbang performance so enjoyable that you’re easily in the top five of most popular characters in the series, maybe one or two spots behind the guy with the claws but one above the blue-skinned girl?
Answer: Also starring in an inventive, controversial but critically-acclaimed television show that allows you to dive into a freaky new character each season (for 8 seasons) but work with a recurring cast of talented friends and contemporaries.
This makes Evan Peters one of the coolest on the cinematic block. It would explain why he’s become the hippest underdog on the block and just by looking back at his filmography, Peters certainly has crafted an impressive and diverse acting path—one that careens through both the big and small screens. He portrayed fan-favorite Quicksilver, a likeable, hard rock-loving mutant speedster in two recent X-Men movies. At the same time he’s played, well, a bunch of deranged, maniacal people on American Horror Story. Luckily for Peters, the longevity of AHS proved to be a boon and not a bore.
“Once you get pigeonholed in a role and you’re on a show for seven years and people only see you as that one person, it’s hard to get cast as something unlike that person. So it’s been beneficial in that, as an actor, I’ve been able to stretch myself and play so many different roles over the seasons. Then even in this latest season where I played six different roles, it was like, ‘that was crazy,’ but you never know what you’re going to get. It’s a very unpredictable environment,” Peters said. American Horror Story features an entirely new concept and plotline each season, the main consistency being the same cast who return in different roles. It’s just like a community dinner theater, except with a bit more murder and terror and slightly less cobb salads.
“I had no idea that’s what it was going to be when we were shooting the first season. I thought, ‘Wow, how the hell would they continue this? We’re in a house trapped for 7 years and this house is going to get pretty full and we’re all going to get sick of each other.’ So it was really kind of amazing to find that out,” Peters said. “It’s still a horror show which means there’s going to be murder and there’s going to be blood and there’s going to be crying and sweating and exhaustion--it’s just going to be difficult all around so that’s always been an incredible challenge to have to go to these dark places and stay there for a good five months out of the year.”
The way Peters and his castmates manage to cope with that emotional toll is through each other.
“Another one of the beautiful things about getting to work with the same actors on the show is that you’re all kind of in the same boat, you’re all kind of bonded through this horrific experience that you go through as an actor sometimes,” Peters said. “I know Sarah Paulson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, so it’s really awesome to work with her and everybody has such a great sense of humor on the show. I think it’s necessary to have that on a show like this. Otherwise, you won’t be able to finish. You’ll lose your mind. You’ll be too sad or upset.”
With AHS entering its 8th season and his third X-Men appearance on the way in X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Peters isn’t necessarily at a crossroads, but is at a point in his life where he is able to look back and reflect on how to live better, as a performer and a person.
“It didn’t matter because everything that I researched, the show would go another way or it just wouldn’t apply itself. It didn’t matter. I was overworking in the wrong areas and now, as I’ve gotten a little older and realize a little bit more about working and the business and the show and where you need to apply your energy, I’ve decided you can always do so much before you go back. This is in comparison to how I was in season one where I was just happy to be working and going at it with my gut and not quite thinking so much and not quite worrying so much. I think that’s what really happened, I got scared.” Peters told us.
Another key lesson Peters learned wasn’t how to be best actor possible, but how to not overburden oneself with perfection. He carries an uncommon blend of ambition and thoughtfulness, a willingness and drive to get better and better, but a self-awareness that just because he has played Quicksilver, doesn’t ride doesn’t mean that he has to run at those speeds.
“I think, now, I’ve sort of realized that it’s just a blessing to be working. You also have to have fun doing it—it’s important to enjoy it and be in the moment and live there and appreciate the character and the role because one day it’s going to be done. You’re not going to be doing it anymore and the only thing you’re going to have are the memories and looking back on it. You have to try to stop and enjoy it a little bit,” he said. “That’s something that people always told me, throughout the seasons, but I didn’t listen because I wanted it so bad. ‘I’ve gotta be great and perfect!’ There’s no such thing as perfect, you’re going after something unattainable and stressing yourself out doing it.”
“I’ve sort of decided yes, you have to work hard, yes, you have to research and put in energy and time but you can only do the best with the time you’re given.” he continued. “You can only do as much as you can do. It’s about being the best you that you can be; the best actor you can be for that time and realizing that making the movies and the TV shows is your life, that is your life as an actor and you have to learn to enjoy that.”
Let the record show, Evan Peters is more than a serious actor and introspective young man. He’s pretty playful too, with his humor being one of the main things that made working on American Horror Story possible.
“The first season, I got shot by an assault rifle. That’s incredible for an actor. I remember thinking, ‘this is so cool, I can’t believe this is happening right now.’ It was so exciting, all that stuff, I love it. That mixed with the fact that we were scaring people, you get such a joy out of scaring people. It’s one of those things where I think it was just that and it was fun for me to shoot and be a part of… a lot of people are freaked out but I never quite bought into all that, the ghosts and stuff like that. I’m more of a realist when it comes to that stuff so I always found it funny and silly,” Peters said.
Peters notes, though, the power of the visceral reaction in entertainment, how it seems nearly counterintuitive that people would enjoy getting scared for fun and flock to the theaters to get that high-jolt, emotional kick.
“You look at IT, that movie made so much money and I went and saw it and I loved it. Oh, and Get Out, great movie. Scary stuff, people love it. It works. It’s a visceral reaction when you go to the theater. You will be scared or you won’t and if you are scared at one point, or laughing or turned down, it’s never really that subtle and even when it is, it’s meant to freak you out and play with your imagination. People love to go to the movies and be scared. I don’t know why. It’s just a thing. They’re great date movies. They’re great friend movies. It’s just fun.”
What’s fascinating about Peters is that even though he’s a staple of beloved franchises on film and TV, his fandom and passion for the silver screen hasn’t faded. He still actively enjoys watching TV and going to the movies. Not just watching them on screeners at home, but actually going to a movie theater and watching them. His passion for film hasn’t subsided and he is keenly aware of his role in crafting escapism.
“I love movies and TV so much. It’s just a big part of who I am. I love watching them so much. It’s such a happy place for me. I read stuff to learn stuff but initially, sometimes, when you see a movie, it can spark inspiration to go learn something new or you want to know something. Movies that enlighten you, it’s such a cool thing to see things from a different perspective and viewpoint,” Peters said. Movies can be really powerful and they can also be a form of escapism, which is okay too. I love that as well. It’s all forms, I find, as I’ve gotten older, it’s why I became an actor.”
In X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse, was granted that ability to go to another world in a metaphorical sense with this speedy character Quicksilver. Peters channeled a confident, cool charm into Quicksilver, making his sequences when he’s diverting the paths of bullets and saving teens from explosions some of the most memorable parts of those films.
But the next X-Men film could literally see Quicksilver venturing into outer space as part of the beloved Dark Phoenix storyline. That introduces some intriguing and hilarious opportunities for Quicksilver, how he might be able to run faster or slower now that he’s not subject to the forces of Earth’s gravity. But regardless of what happens with plot in X-Men, Peters has always been thrilled to be a part of it, remarking how much a fan he is of the CGI as well as the original films that helped make the characters that much more popular.
“You always wanted superpowers as a kid. As a kid growing up, I was all Batman and Captain Planet. When X-Men came out, the original, and I used to watch the cartoon as a kid, then when the movie came out, I was blown away,” Peters said. “Again, I’ve always loved special effects so much and CGI was such a huge thing when it came out. I’ve always been fascinated with it, I love to watch the behind the scenes of how they made it. So it was really, really cool to be a part of and also, mind you, I didn’t know what it was going to be going into it.”
One famous CGI sequence involving Peters stood out from Days of Future Past. Wolverine, Xavier and Quicksilver are cornered by armed officers right after breaking Magneto. As the mutants are about to be shot, and as Magneto is about to kill the officers with some spare metal cutlery, Quicksilver runs around the room at hyper speed, disarming everyone and pushing the mutants to safety. That scene has been watched over 14 million times in YouTube, with one being able to make a very strong case for it being the best scene not just featuring Quicksilver, but of the entire film. For audiences who might not have watched American Horror Story, the scene was likely their major introduction to Peters, a star-making appearance happening at near-light speed.
“I didn’t know there was the sequence in the kitchen or it was going to be so intricate the way that it was done was something I had never seen before. It was very cool to be a part of it but I didn’t know how going in. I just knew I was super fast, I was like, I don’t know how they’re going to shoot that or make that work but that’s an awesome superpower to have because I was always slow as a kid,” Peters said. “So it’s a cool power to have and a cool world to be in. I’ve always loved the X-Men films because it’s all about equality and including people who are different than you, it’s a great message that the films have that I’ve always liked about them since I first saw them. It was a dream come true to be a part of these worlds.”
In addition to all of the above projects, Peters also has the upcoming film American Animals just about to drop along with a new FX series titled Pose, co-created by American Horror Story's Ryan Murphy, which he stars in alongside Kate Mara. He regards himself as part of a “new age” of Hollywood filmmaking, at least on the acting side of it. This is appropriate, since he worked with Al Pacino in the just released film Pirates of Somalia, an Oscar-winning star who was also an integral part of a moviemaking revolution back in the 1970s.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first because he is such an icon and I’ve always looked up to him and I think he’s incredible. I was definitely scared but I was also very excited to work with him,” Peters said. “On set, he was always wanting to do one more take. The director would be like, great we got it, and he’d say well, let’s just do one more and play around with it and see what happens. So I basically stole that and od that all the time on everything. I love that dedication to get to a deeper level of truth or find something new or experiment and mess around cause, again, once you do it, it’s done. You can’t go back and do it again.”
Peters acting approach is still unfolding. “I’m still evolving. I’m still trying to figure it out,” he explained. “I’m still updating my process all of the time, getting rid of things that don’t work anymore or are just too exhausting. As each [AHS] season came about, it was a challenge to try to connect with the characters in some way because it was always something different, always something really out there or difficult or foreign--something that I never quite could catch on to. So I had to figure out different techniques and ways of connecting to the character. That was very difficult and still something I’m working on. I always research so much and try to read as many books as I can and watch as many movies as I could but 80 percent of the time, it didn’t matter because everything that I researched, the show would go another way or it just wouldn’t apply itself. I was overworking in the wrong areas and now, as I’ve gotten a little older, I realize where best to apply my energy.”
As for the future, Peters wants to dig deep, and for a long time. He mentions the roles and style of another Oscar-winning star, Daniel Day-Lewis. Peters talks about how Day-Lewis devoted years of his life to a single role, where he was able to use an abundance of time to truly transform into a character.
“We can sort of have all the time in the world to make it as great was we want it to be…and maybe we can pop in and rehearse or we can talk about it and have the time to make it as good as we want it to be and to have that dedication. Then we go into it and just sort of float and let it all go--let it all happen so it’s all sort of there. As opposed to scrambling and trying to figure everything out--racing and rushing with pressure. I just want this sort of process to unfold in a natural, beautiful way,” Peters admitted. “Something along those lines where you get to really just live in the character’s shoes for a long time with incredible actors and directors and there’s no pressure or nothing is done out of fear and stress.”
But Peters touched upon what seems like a key constant for him, even in that lengthier process: a fundamental appreciation for and love of the art of acting.
“Everything is done out of a love for the process. You have to find that balance of working and maintaining your sanity and being who you are, but not quite forgetting who the character is and not quite letting go of that. It’s that horrible thing of still having to hang onto it. How do you let go of it at the end of the day? You do and you don’t. You watch a comedy but it’s still inside of you. It’s still there. It’s a constant struggle with that and I think that’s part of the challenge of being an actor. You have to hold on loosely.”
Written by Justin Sedgwick
Photography by Marcus Cooper
Styled by Anthony Pedraza
Grooming by Kumi Craig @ Starworks
Interview Katie McGehee