Step one in preparing to play the antichrist? Learn how to relate.
“I don’t know how to play a character unless I love him,” Cody Fern tells ET of his role as Michael Langdon, the antichrist, on American Horror Story: Apocalypse. “I don’t see the evil. It’s not useful to me… you can’t play evil. How can I play evil?”
Fern comes pretty darn close on the FX series, which is, remarkably, only his third television show. As the Australian actor notes, he’s only really been in the business for five years. After honing his chops in Australian theater, he arrived in Los Angeles to pursue his Hollywood dreams, but didn’t work for three and a half “brutal” years. Everything changed with Ryan Murphy.
The super-producer cast Fern as David Madson in his other FX series, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. “It was my first real professional job,” Fern says of the gig. Though he calls it a “somewhat smaller supporting role,” it was enough to impress Murphy, who gave him a breakout part in the new installment of AHS. Fern, who also stars on the new season of House of Cards, has been working steadily ever since.
As for his role as Michael, the 30-year-old actor admits that reading the Satanic Bible was one of the more interesting ways he prepared to step into the character — but not the most important.
“The human angle, that’s exactly what I went for, because how can you play the antichrist? For me, I can’t play a metaphor or a symbol. I needed to play a human being, and I needed to play a human being who is just like any other, who has longing, who has needs, who is hurt, who loves and needs love, and that’s how I went about going and getting to the core of who he was,” Fern explains, revealing that he took inspiration from how Queen Elizabeth II’s life was portrayed on Netflix’s The Crown.
“Imagine being born into something that supposedly serves a greater purpose,” he says. “That’s how I approach Michael’s anger, first and foremost, that he was born into something that he doesn’t understand, that he doesn’t choose. That he needs to go about molding himself into, that other people are continually pressing onto him, that there are all of these expectations and these weights and he has these impulses that he doesn’t understand, that he is just enacting.”
Last week’s episode saw Michael’s confusion come to a head, in a vicious scene in which he murders a goat that was “mocking” him, Fern describes. “I grew up in an area where people would go around and kill things, and I very much was not about that,” the actor admits of his childhood, though says his personal views didn’t come into play while filming the scene.
“That whole scene is the reverse temptation of Christ, you know. So that didn’t bother me at all,” he says with a laugh. “It’s certainly not playing myself. There are elements of myself in the role, but then I have to kind of let all of that go. And you’re imagining things. That’s the wonder of it. You get to play in this different realm where you are not you, so there’s always the barrier. And you know, I’m not killing a real goat, so I was just fine.”
With just two episodes left of the season, Fern teases that fans can expect more of the Apocalypse journey. “We’ve come to learn it’s not a general thing that Michael is carrying out, but rather a very personal attack against a particular group of people. And even more specifically, against Cordelia,” he notes, hinting there’s a prophecy that cannot be avoided. “So that will certainly feed into what we are about to see, and Michael’s sense of righteousness moving forward about how he’s going to come back to Cordelia. I can’t give too much away.”
Fern wrapped production on AHS last week, confessing that leaving the character behind felt like “a cleaving of the soul.” “I’m kind of coming back down to earth, and it’s going to be a process, you know? Especially because I so loved playing Michael and I so loved being in his skin. So it’s tough,” he says. “But you know, I will say, I’ve had the most extraordinary year of my life. And I’m so grateful for it, and I’m so overwhelmed by it.”
“Look, if Ryan asked me back, I would be thrilled. I mean, Ryan is such an exceptional artist and human being. I want to work with him again and again and again and again, so if I had that opportunity, I 100 percent will jump, but I’m focusing on the present,” Fern muses. “Whereas normally I would be worrying about what the future is going to bring, I’m just bathing in this moment right now, and it’s been the most glorious moment of my life. So I’m incredibly fortunate and just so grateful.”
American Horror Story: Apocalypse airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.