WARNING: This article contains spoilers from the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult. Read at your own risk!
One of the most surprising twists on American Horror Story: Cult this year is Billy Eichner delivering a serious, occasionally disturbing performance. While his bee-keeper (and cult member) character Harrison definitely has his share of comedic moments, Eichner does get to do some seriously dark stuff as evidenced in the most recent episode. “Ryan Murphy gave me this amazing opportunity — I’ve always wanted to be a dramatic actor,” says Eichner. EW talked to Eichner about this pivotal episode and this week’s announcement that Billy on the Street wouldn’t be returning to truTV.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this all come about?
BILLY EICHNER: I did not audition. Ryan offered me the part. I met him a few years ago at one of those pre-Emmy parties.
You and I just met Dolly Parton at a pre-Emmy party. What if this means you’re going to work with Dolly Parton next?!?!
I know. We’re doing the sequel to Rhinestone. [Laughs] So it was the year I did a Billy on the Street video with Seth Meyers when he hosted. Ryan came up to me at a party and said he was a fan and I was a big fan of his. That led to a couple of email exchanges and an in-person meeting in his office. I told him I really wanted to work with him, that I was a huge fan. I remember his direct quote was, he wanted to see me murderous, he wanted to see me murdering people. That came out of a conversation we were having where I wanted to play a villain in something. I thought some of my qualities that people were already aware of could be used in a different way. It could be fun to draw people in with comedy and then go in a different direction. That’s when he said he wanted to see me in American Horror Story. That was a couple of years ago.
Last fall, he got in touch with me and said he had a role for me on Horror Story. I didn’t see any of the scripts and I didn’t know who the character was till closer to production.
Did you know it was going to be about the election? You’re very vocal on social media about our leader. Did the fact that it was about this political climate make you more excited?
For sure. It made me excited. It made me nervous. I’m a real news junkie. Even before the election, I was one of those people watching CNN every night. I’ve always been a current events guy in general. It made me nervous that it was going to tap into something that was so current but also very excited by that. Once I started reading the scripts, that’s when I got excited about it. I think this season has and will continue to have its gory, horrific elements and it’s certainly a psychological thriller in many ways, but for me, first and foremost, it’s a satire. It doesn’t necessarily come out right away and says it’s a satire. I think it’s a very twisted, dark political comedy of sorts, which isn’t to say it doesn’t have more serious things on its mind about exploiting people and the culture of fear and the cult of personality. There are some real strong elements of satire here.
Important question: Are you working with real bees?
[Laughs] They’re not real bees. There’s a real honeycomb situation and a real beehive situation. But actual bees flying around did not happen. There’s a child actor there. There’s also one very scared gay actor there. That’s me. Thank god there are no real bees flying around.
I have never been stung by a bee in my entire life. And yesterday I was at this fancy pool in Brentwood at my friend’s house and I got stung by a bee for the first time! While I’m playing a beekeeper, of all times! I was like, it serves me right for being in Brentwood.
There’s a helluva lot of stuff you go through in this episode, from murdering your boss to watching Kai (Evan Peters) masturbate. What was that like?
We shot all of those gym scenes within two days back to back. Those were probably the two most intense days emotionally I had during the show. Up until this episode, Harrison and Meadow, my wife played by Leslie Grossman, have served the function of comic relief and satire to a certain degree. You’re not sure who these characters are. In episode 4, we answer the question of, who is Harrison and how did he get here? You see a lot of the backstory.
We see Harrison at this extraordinarily vulnerable, lost place in his life. I think Harrison has a lot of masculinity issues. And even though he’s openly gay, he has this very archaic relationship with his wife. That’s clearly coming from somewhere. Kai zeroes in on that and exploits that and make Harrison feel empowered. Horror Story this season in its extreme way is I think trying to explain how people get to a point when they might follow someone who’s as demented and as poorly intentioned as Kai or Trump is.
By the time we got to Kai jerking off in the shower, that was just icing on the cake. I think we shot that portion later on in the day. By the time we got there I was glad to have gotten through the other scenes because Harrison is put through the emotional ringer. One of my easiest jobs was watching Evan jerk off in the shower. That was the least of my concerns to tell you the truth! [Laughs]
So the episode before this, we saw Harrison run out of his house covered in blood and Meadow is missing. What can you say about that?
We do get back to the Meadow situation. Everything will be the explained and, as always on American Horror Story, things may or not be what they initially seem to be.
And you and Leslie have had a blast together, right?
We have. It’s so funny because the whole cast, we’re torturing each other on camera and doing all kinds of terrible things to each other and to other people. Then, off camera, we’re having the most fun I’ve ever had. We went to see Cher. We’re socializing. We’re constantly texting each other. Billie Lourd threw us an amazing wrap party this past weekend. We all really love each other. We really bonded. We’re like the fun side of a cult, off camera. Off camera, we’re all the fun parts I imagine about being in a cult without any of the murder or rape or incest or unwanted pregnancy, as far as I know. For all I know Sarah Paulson is pregnant with Chaz Bono’s baby. I can’t speak to that but as far as I know, we’ve had a lot of innocent fun.
So what can you say about Billy on the Street? It’s not coming back to truTV.
Billy on the Street has had kind of an unusual trajectory. Going way back, it started off pre-YouTube. When I was doing Billy on the Street interviews, they were one segment in my live shows. Then it took off on YouTube. Then I started working on Funny or Die. Then, we did three seasons on Fuse and then we moved to truTV and did two seasons on truTV. It’s been around a long time and has always been an evolving animal. We are once again going to evolve. We’re not at a point yet where I can announce details of what we’re going to do but that announcement will come.
I do want to reiterate that truTV were amazing partners. They could not be more artist-friendly. What truTV said in their statement is actually true: the show is very, very time-consuming. From start to finish, the show was taking me almost 10 months out of the year to do. And then when you squeeze in Difficult People, that didn’t leave me with any time to do anything else. I wanna play different roles and do different types of things. I’m just trying to find a way to keep Billy on the Street alive, which, again, we are going to do but in a way that’s more manageable and also speaks to how people really are really watching that show, which is not necessarily on a traditional TV network in half-hour episodes. It’s not going away. Everyone on Twitter was freaking out. It’s not going away. It’s going to evolve and we’re going to distribute it differently.
If it appears on DollyParton.com starting Monday, I would not be surprised.
I am filming segments exclusively at Dollywood. I’m now under contract as a Dollywood entertainer in her theme park. I do three shows a day. By the way, I would love to film at Dollywood!
American Horror Story: Cult airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX.