The 31-year-old actor — the Emmy-nominated breakout star of American Horror Story: Freak Show — reunited with Ryan Murphy for another head-turning performance as a model-turned-vampire in American Horror Story: Hotel. The season, which draws to a close tonight, saw the actor stripping down and getting close with his co-stars, Lady Gaga, Cheyenne Jackson, and Denis O’Hare, for the anthology series’ sexiest installment yet.
Elsewhere, Wittrock has seen his star power rise thanks to the On Demand release of The Submarine Kid, “a labor of love” he co-wrote and starred in, and his role opposite Brad Pitt in the financial crisis dramedy, The Big Short, which has earned tons of attention this awards season.
Not one to rest (“I had a two-week winter break, so that was enough for me,” he says), the actor is gearing up for another busy year with a new musical comedy, La La Land, with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and possibly another season of American Horror Story.
Wittrock talked to ETonline about writing his own film, ad-libbing with Brad Pitt and his chemistry with his male co-stars.
ETonline: What was the inspiration behind The Submarine Kid?
Finn Wittrock: I wrote this with my friend, Eric Bilitch. We had the idea when we were both in college, actually, and we kind of tossed the script back and forth for six years. I would write a draft, and then he would get it and change everything, and write a draft and then I would change everything. And we just kind of did that ’til we felt like it was at a place where we were happy with it, and we started pounding the pavement in LA with it. It’s funny, one day we’re on set and we were like, “How did this happen? We’re in a dream.”
Was it different at all acting out words that you had written versus someone else’s script?
You know, it was tricky at first, because I’ve sort of thought of this in someone else’s mouth. I think what I had to do as an actor there was close the part of my brain that’s the writer and I’m just going to treat this now like a piece of text. I just had to step away from it, in a way, and make it an object rather than my own little baby.
The Big Short has been getting tons of attention for its ensemble cast. In the film, you primarily share all your scenes with Brad Pitt and John Magaro. How was it working with the two of them?
I didn’t even meet Christian Bale until the premiere. I was like, “Hey, you’re in this movie too.” First of all, John is a really talented, very generous actor, and we kind of spent every waking moment together. We joked that he was my on-set wife — or I was his. We were joined at the hip, and so we were kind of in our own bubble. And then Brad was there as our mentor. In the most humble way, he’s a real workhorse, you know? He’s a real, serious professional; he keeps his head down and does the work. It’s very inspiring to be around someone who’s that sort of courteous and professional all the time. Also who knew he’s really funny? He had this well of ad-libs that he would throw out at us and take us totally by surprise. He’s got a real serious wit that I think people maybe underestimate. It was a lot of fun.
Both you and John worked on Unbroken with Angelina Jolie. Did The Big Short come out of knowing her and Brad?
I don’t think it hurts that Brad was like, “Oh yeah, this guy’s from your movie.” But it actually came around through Francine Naylor, the casting director who also did Unbroken. She’s been an advocate in my corner for a while. She brought me in for the audition and then she said, “I think they want you, but you have to do a chemistry test.” I was like, “Chemistry test? Who’s my romantic lead?” And they said, “Well, John Magaro, of course.” This was my first time doing a chemistry test with another guy, but obviously our chemistry worked. From the very moment that I read the script I was like, “I will do whatever it takes to be in this.”
We can’t end the conversation without talking about Ryan Murphy andAmerican Horror Story. This season, your character hooks up with a lot people. Did you know you were going to be basically shirtless and making out with your co-stars?
No, they don’t give you any kind of heads up about it. When you sign up for the season, you just accept that that’s a strong possibility. You keep yourself ready. Like, at a moment’s notice you could hop in bed or get naked. This season, there was a lot of shock value in that regard, especially in the first few episodes. But everyone’s just game, you know? You sort of look at your fellow actors and you’re like, “We’re doing this,” and you just jump in. I like the show because no two days are ever the same. You’re sucking blood or being drained of blood or you’re crying miserably or having sex. You never know what it’s going to bring.
Out of all your co-stars that you’ve had to make out with, who’s the best kisser?
Denis [O’Hare], obviously! But I can’t kiss and tell. It’s in my contract.
Does your wife watch the show? What does she think about all these scenes?
She’s an infinitely supportive woman — god help her — and she likes it. She got to know Stefani [Lady Gaga] a little bit. I think she was partial to Dandy as a character.
I feel like everybody has a Gaga story from the set. I was just wondering what moment stood out to you most.
There are so many. There was a very funny day when — because American Crime Story was shooting on the set and John Travolta is a big fan of hers — we finished rehearsing a scene and there was an uproarious applause behind crew. And that’s unusual. You rehearse the scene just for the marks or whatever. I turn around to see who is clapping and it’s Travolta. He’s just so happy to be there and he goes and gives Gaga a big hug. It was like, “Is this real life?”
The American Horror Story: Hotel finale airs tonight at 10 p.m. on FX. The Submarine Kid is now available On Demand. Watch an exclusive clip from the film below: