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ScareFest: 'American Horror Story's Naomi Grossman finds misfit career works for her

Naomi Grossman played Pepper on two seasons of American Horror Story.
Naomi Grossman played Pepper on two seasons of American Horror Story. Associated Press

One of the great things about ScareFest, Lexington's yearly horror and paranormal convention, is that it doesn't just have something for every horror fan. It has something for just about every generation of horror fan.

ScareFest 8, which takes place Sept. 11 to 13 at Lexington Convention Center, will again feature notable celebrities from the worlds of both horror and the very real scares and mysteries of paranormal investigation.

The two featured guests we spoke to are a couple of women adored for the characters they portrayed and the successful horror projects that contributed to their respective levels of stardom, whether it is arguably the most insane and scary show on television today or a beloved cult classic that is still gaining fans three decades later.

Naomi Grossman enjoys her 'misfit' career

One thing is definitely true about the character Naomi Grossman played in the popular TV horror series American Horror Story: Once you saw her, you never forgot her.

The actress had to spend upwards of three hours getting adorned with make-up and prosthetics to transform into Pepper, the big-eared, buck-toothed, pointy-headed mental patient with a childlike personality on American Horror Story: Asylum in 2012 and 2014's American Horror Story: Freak Show, a carnival-themed incarnation of the show that delved further into Pepper's tragic backstory and made her the first character to have a returning role in the recurring mini-series.

But the people who come to conventions like ScareFest to meet Grossman appreciate Pepper for pretty much everything but the character's looks.

"They see Pepper, and a giant smile erupts on their face. It's a whole other reaction and it's kind of awesome," Grossman says. "Pepper fans are a very special breed. I think she brings out the misfit."

The term "misfit" very much fits Grossman in regard to her career past and present. After graduating from theater school, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting with dreams of landing a spot on Saturday Night Live. She was auditioning for anything and everything but not getting cast in the parts she really wanted. In between playing the occasional bit part, she would cast herself in short films she wrote, produced and posted to YouTube.

"A lot of those shorts were born out of, for lack of a better word, desperation. I wasn't being cast in the traditional sense, so I just took the bull by the horns and cast myself," she says. "It's the direction we're going in. It's not enough to (just) show up in Hollywood. It's great to have a fantastic rack, have a great surname, but that doesn't always do it. We need to create our own successes."

Grossman's big break finally came when she was cast as Pepper on American Horror Story: Asylum. It was the furthest thing from what she calls the "do you want fries with that?" roles she'd landed in the past, both for its physical and dramatic aspects. Because the storylines were kept tightly under wraps, Grossman, watching along with the viewing public, would be shocked at whatever crazy, horrific thing the show would do next. That being said, even when the show dives head-first into the terrible, explicit or occasionally distasteful, she's never questioned its direction or execution.

"There's no question that the show pushes the envelope, but they get away with it," Grossman says. "I'm more concerned with quality. Sex and violence don't bother me like bad filmmaking does. We've never seen the show fail. As far as I'm concerned, it always gets it right."

Even though Pepper's storyline was neatly wrapped up in American Horror Story: Freak Show, she still gets questions from fans and reporters about whether she will be returning for another season as American Horror Story: Hotel is set to debut Oct. 7 on FX. In the meantime, she has a few projects in the works, including an upcoming "zom-com" film titled A Zombie Named Ted. Now, the same way Pepper is a misfit that found her way into the heart of fans, Grossman seems to have also found a comfortable niche in her career by being an outsider.

"I've never gotten those (traditional leading lady) roles and now, in retrospect, I don't want those roles," she says. "It was like the universe saying, 'You know what? You didn't need to do that anyway.'"

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