If you watched last year’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, then you will recognize Cody Fern from his heartbreaking portrayal of Andrew Cunanan’s friend and victim David Madson.
The 30-year-old actor has since reunited with Versace executive producer Ryan Murphy for the biggest role to date of his career on American Horror Story: Apocalypse. Fern plays Michael Langdon, the Antichrist and cause of the titular End of Days.
He also has a pivotal role in the final season of House of Cards, playing Duncan, the manipulative son of power hungry Annette Shepherd (Diane Lane).
EW talked to the talented actor about these two wildly different roles, perfecting spell-casting, and the importance of great wigs.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You obviously worked with Ryan Murphy on The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. But when did he tell you about American Horror Story?
CODY FERN: I realized I was going to do Horror Story in October , but [Murphy] is very mysterious and he doesn’t give any details. All I knew is that I’d be playing this character with long blond hair who had an affinity for capes, and I’d be acting with Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates. That’s all I needed to hear. You had me at “wig.”
Have you named your wig?
I haven’t, no, but I feel like it’s very much The Michael Langdon. I so enjoy that wig.
Ryan is good at a lot of things but his wig work is unparalleled.
Oh, it’s extraordinary! We could talk about the wig throughout the whole interview.
Did you know that you’d actually be playing Michael Langdon?
No, I didn’t know until two days before we started filming that I was playing Michael. What happened was, the original character’s name through the costume design and everything like that was Elijah Cross and I didn’t know anything. I was starting to piece together that he might not be considered to be the good guy. I had no concept of who I was playing until two days before I started filming.
Your major relationship on the show is with Kathy Bates. What’s it like to work with an icon?
All of my bigger scenes have come with Sarah [Paulson] and Kathy… Working with both of them, they are such specific actresses and incredibly talented and furiously hard working. I have loved it so much. [We] have grown really close. When you are sharing such emotional moments, you get to know somebody on a very intimate level very quickly. It’s very strange to say that Kathy Bates is a very good friend and I couldn’t be more in awe of them or more grateful for them.
I was just talking to Kathy literally 20 seconds ago and she said, “Oh, when we were on the set of Misery there was this thing that was happening…,” and I was like, “What?” Then, on the way back down from the set she said, “Well, this thing happened on Titanic,” and I am like, “Oh my God, like who are you?” She was in the most iconic films ever. I mean, to become Michael Langdon opposite Sarah Paulson’s Cordelia Goode and Venable and Billie Dean, I’m just dying. I’m dying!
Speaking of icons, you had to try and kill Jessica Lange in the pivotal Murder House crossover episode. Was that intimidating?
I think I was terrified to work with Jessica Lange in the same way that I was terrified to work with Sarah and Kathy, just because they are so extraordinary. I felt like, “What could I bring to this table that is going to add to this?” Not competing, but to just be able to stand in the scene with them. Jessica is one of those people who channel something otherworldly and the moment the camera comes on she is an instinctual creature and she deals with these scenes in a way that I could barely imagine touching upon. Then because she is so good, she makes you so good. She is so present that you’re forced to be present with her.
You also had to be in the Rubber Man suit in that episode. Dylan (McDermott) and Evan (Peters) have both told me it’s unpleasant. How was it?
I think I hold the record for being in the rubber suit the longest, because that was a full 16-hour shooting day and it is certainly not comfortable to get into. It takes a lot of lube, you are extraordinarily hot or freezing cold — there is no in-between. Again, it was one of those moments where I was like, “Wait a minute, I’m in the Rubber Man suit right now!” and knowing that people are going to see the hood come off and it’s Michael Langdon.
I’ve asked some of the witches on the show this, but do you practice your spell-casting gestures?
Absolutely. I researched hand movements. I went back and I watched Ian McKellen as Magneto because I really wanted to see how he was able to find nuance within it. And then I watched all of the witches and how they moved their hands in this season and I came to the conclusion that with Michael, because his power is so much more advanced than anybody else’s, that the way that he uses magic needed to be very fluid and almost like ballerina-esque. So when we see him for the first time making snow, it’s like he’s a conductor… He’s very precise with his hands. He always has his hands behind his back when he’s illustrating something. His hands are always very fluid, the way he takes the pills out of his jacket…everything is kind of seductive and sexual. It’s strange you’d ask that because actually learning how he moved his hands was one of the most important elements in making Michael for me.
This show is obviously incredibly secretive, but what can you say about the final remaining episodes of Apocalypse?
What I can say is that I think that it’s going to be one of the most satisfying ends of a Horror Story. Be ready for some really significant surprises.
Once you are on AHS, you become part of the repertory company. Would you do another season of this show?
I would do anything for Ryan Murphy, absolutely anything. Truly this experience has been the most extraordinary experience of my life working with these people. Ryan creates this family of artists and then he gives them permission to take huge risks and to put themselves on the line. Everyone on set has this feeling that we are doing something really special and everyone is so supportive and nurturing. We stop filming in a week and I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s going to be a huge period of depression. I have not experienced the camaraderie of artists like this before Horror Story. Ryan can ask me to play a lamp post and I would do it.
On House of Cards, you have some intense scenes with Robin Wright. What was it like acting opposite her?
I was so intimidated by Robin because I’ve been watching House of Cards longer than I’ve been acting. It was one of my favorite shows. And to be on it all of a sudden was just a mind-boggling experience. It’s funny because the first day, I’m walking on set and I’m going to do this scene with Robin and I walk down the hallway and she says, “Cody!” because we met at the readings. And I said, “Claire!” Oh my God, I could have vomited.
You weren’t on previous seasons but what was the energy on set like without Kevin Spacey there?
It was an interesting energy and I think that everyone was so supportive of Robin and thankful and grateful for the opportunity to close it out. Everyone felt a real sense of banding behind Claire Underwood and closing the story. I had started filming in October and then came back in January so I experienced both moods on set. It felt empowering to get behind Robin and to really know and state categorically we’re not going to allow the actions of one man destroy something that has been built over the course of many years by a collective of many, many hundreds of people — the writers, the crew, the producers. So that felt very good. It felt like we were honoring something that needed to be honored and deserved to be.
What’s next for you? Do you know yet?
I don’t know what’s next. I am excited about the great unknown. It’s a hard thing to achieve, but I’m really focusing on just being present in the moment that I’m in and not being too worried about what the future holds. After Versace and American Horror Story, if that was the end of the line then I can go happy. I feel like I really, really achieved something and have been a part of something special.