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Dell Toledo From American Horror Story Is Unrecognizable In Real Life

Throughout its run, American Horror Story has taken bold steps, in an effort to surprise audiences in new ways. One of the show's oldest tricks has actually been a common practice in Hollywood for generations, though — namely, the use of makeup, prosthetics, and costumes to allow familiar actors to transform into their characters. 

Actors that are well-known in real life can completely disappear on American Horror Story, and that's part of the point. If the actors don't draw focus, then they can deliver performances that really immerse audiences in the world that the story has created. There were plenty of transformative performances on American Horror Story: Freak Show, but there was one that stood out in part because it came from such an unlikely source. 

Michael Chiklis, who is best known for playing a hard-nosed cop on The Shield (as well as Ben Grimm on the 2005 version of Fantastic Four), completely transformed his appearance to take on the role of Dell Toledo on the show. 

Dell Toledo was the circus strongman

Freak Show, which was the show's fourth season (and connects to others), followed the last freak shows in the US in the 1950s, and their attempt to remain in business as the world was changing around them. Toledo was the freak show's strongman, and spends much of the season parading his "monster baby" around to the crowd for cash. Although Chiklis is rocking his signature bald head, Toledo in many ways looks nothing like Chiklis' most famous roles. 

For one thing, Toledo has an enormous mustache when he's on stage, and he's also more scantily clad than the cops that Chiklis usually plays. The makeup also did work to accent Chiklis' cheeks, making them rosier so that he would really look like the strongmen that many people associate with carnivals and freak shows. The physical transformation is actually more subtle than it might seem to be, but it was hugely effective in allowing the actor to disappear into the role. 

Chiklis said Dell Toledo was one of the darkest characters he's ever played

Although he's been known to play some pretty complicated people, Chiklis told Nola.com that Toledo was the most messed up person he's ever played. "You know that I've played some dark and troubled characters in my career, but this is the most deeply emotionally damaged person that I've ever played," Chiklis said. "This guy is just broken."

Chiklis also said that Murphy had pitched him on the character in part by describing the emotional damage that Toledo had already been through when the show started. "He just told me some of the things about the character, described some of the damage and some of the things he is trying to overcome, the secrets," The Shield actor explained. "And it just struck me as something that was really going to be complicated to play, that would work amazingly well in the context of the freak show."

Dell Toledo weighed on Chiklis after he finished shooting

Although the physical transformation is fairly easy to shed, Chiklis said he had a tougher time getting rid of the emotional baggage that came with playing someone as damaged as Toledo. "To stay in that space for five or six months, it does start to prey on you," Chiklis told Entertainment Weekly. "It didn't get to me at first but then after awhile, especially after I started to do the darker stuff, I had to sort of leave it behind me. I watched a lot of comedy." 

Chiklis may have had a hard time shedding the character, but he acknowledged that he would return for another season of the show if he was asked. He also said that he had enjoyed working with the show's cast. "When you come into a cast in their fourth season and they're really successful, it can go a lot of different ways, and they could not have been more supportive and welcoming and lovely, and I consider all of them friends now," he said.