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American Horror Story's Naomi Grossman On The Many Challenges She Faced Playing Pepper

For just over 20 years now, Hollywood has had a pretty simple three-step process for creating emotionally resonant characters with extranormal physicalities. Step one: Put Andy Serkis in a body sock. Step two: Roll tape. Step three: Utilizing draconian deadlines, ruin the marriages of a lot of visual effects artists.

While this rigamarole definitely gets the job done, it can distract from the fact that the art of practical effects has evolved in ways that would have made Lon Chaney pop his egg-white contact lenses. And when it comes to striking on-screen transformations, you'd have a hard time finding a more astonishing example than Naomi Grossman in "American Horror Story." 

Across two seasons, the Groundlings vet embodied Pepper, the microcephalic inhabitant of Briarcliff Manor and star of Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities. 

The work that went into altering Grossman's appearance was, to put it mildly, impressive. For two to three hours a day, a pair of makeup artists attached appliances to the actress's face and body, enhancing her eyebrows and nose, altering her face shape with false teeth, enlarging her torso to make her head look even smaller, and adding individual veins and freckles to her skin for an extra slice of realism. The process wasn't smooth or painless, though, and the performer who brought Pepper to life has been open about the challenges she faced.

It wasn't easy, being Pepper

Luckily for any curious parties, Naomi Grossman has always been vocal about her experience on the set of "AHS." Asked what "the most difficult part of playing Pepper" was In a 2013 Reddit AMA, Grossman didn't hold back.

"Being blinded in one eye was uncomfortable," she started. "Speaking normally with those teeth was a challenge (...) And of course, not getting full scripts — making certain acting decisions based on limited info was tricky. Especially when the character changed so dramatically. I didn't see that coming either, and didn't have a lot of time to wrap my head around that." Why she didn't just assume that Pepper would be abducted by aliens, turned hyper-intelligent, and assigned a role as quiet protector of the vulnerable before dying of pulmonary fibrosis is beyond us. Seems like pretty boilerplate storytelling.

But that's not all. In a 2012 piece written for EW, Grossman brought up difficulties that might otherwise have gone unconsidered — namely, latex-induced boredom. "(...) all my on-set time-wasters are gone," she explained. "I can't take phone calls because my ears are buried in silicone. I can't text because the iPhone doesn't recognize my silicone fingers. I can't graze at the craft services table, because that would require taking out my teeth. I'm not complaining," she concluded. "It's just part of the unusual circumstances of being Pepper."