'American Horror Story': Eric Stonestreet Goes Anti-Fizbo
The "Modern Family" Emmy winner tells THR how his character on the Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk thriller is completely different than Cam.
On this week’s American Horror Story, Modern Family Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet guest stars as Derek, a sad sack who turns to Ben (Dylan McDermott) for help overcoming his irrational fear of childhood ghost stories – namely the Pigman.
While the role is a return to Stonestreet’s pre-Modern Family days of playing creepy loners – he was a killer on a 2008 episode NCIS and a death row inmate on AHS creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s Nip/Tuck -- the guest turn in Wednesday’s “Piggy Piggy” is completely different from Cam, Mitchell’s over-the-top, clown-loving partner.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Stonestreet to get the lowdown on just how different Cam and Derek are.
While Cameron has been known to confident and theatrical, Derek is anything but. “Cam is lighthearted, fun, passionate, excitable, exciting and confident,” Stonestreet tells THR. “Derek is meek, timid, scared, unsure of himself, embarrassed and ashamed of where his life is. He has this unreasonable fear of children's ghost stories that has crippled him. He has no social life, while Cam's social live is obviously thriving and he has tons of friends. Derek is sort of alone and this is a last step effort to get control back of his life.”
Cam and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are in a long-term committed relationship, homeowners and fathers to their adopted daughter, Lily. Derek, meanwhile, is paralyzed by his fear of the Piggyman and unable to hold a relationship. “I say on the show that I can't date because I'm embarrassed: What girl is going to want to go to bed with a guy who has to sleep with the lights on?” Stonestreet says. “And if I do meet somebody and they want to come back to my place, how am I going to explain why all the mirrors are covered -- because I'm too scared to look at mirrors.”
“He's at a rock bottom in his social life and professional life and it prompts him to go see Ben and try to get control over his life,” he adds. “Cam is not only in control of his life, he's in control of Mitchell and Lily's and what ever socially he’s got going on.”
The mirrors in Derek’s home are all covered for a reason, Stonestreet says, because he’s afraid of an urban legend that if you look into a mirror and say, “Here piggy, piggy pig, here piggy, piggy pig” twice that a hog butcher will appear and slash you to death with a cleaver. “Derek hasn’t had the courage to look in the mirror because he’s scared that he’s going to try it and that scares him,” the actor says. “It's this unraveling of this poor guy that’s really sad and pathetic.”
Meanwhile, Cam has never met a mirror he doesn’t like and has a healthy opinion of himself yet still uses them during his often hilarious inner-monologues. “Cam loves the mirror but would also use a mirror as a vehicle to not be happy with himself – or as a metaphor where he'd tell Mitchell he needed to take a look at himself.”
While Cam is looking to expand his family by adopting another child, he’s also extremely close to his extended family and brothers- and sisters-in-laws and frequently shares stories of growing up on a farm in Iowa, Derek’s family background appears to be the source of his troubles. “He was teased by his younger brothers, which is just sad,” Stonestreet says. “I say, ‘My brothers used to hold me down and tell me these stories,’ and Ben says, ‘Older brothers can be really difficult.’ I let him know they were younger and that tells you a lot about his personality and what a sad guy he is.”
Cam will jump at any chance he gets to bring out his alter ego, Fizbo the Clown, while Derek is scared of a guy in a pig mask. “Cameron would never in a million years look at Fizbo as anything other than someone whose desire is to bring happiness, joy and laughter to children and people of all kinds,” Stonestreet says. “Cameron would never be on board with thinking clowns are scary. Derek is scared of the Hog Butcher of the World’s Fair of 1893.”
Cam has zero problem being himself and is completely fearless when it comes to exploring the unknown – including hitting on women in an attempt to convince Mitchell that he can pass as a straight guy. Derek, on the other hand, is paralyzed by fear. “The sad thing is Derek is just a regular guy who has this crippling unreasonable fear,” Stonestreet says. “I think that's something that's relatable when we all are smart enough to know better yet we can’t get around it.”
Stonestreet notes that Murphy liked the idea that we all manifest our own destiny or fear by giving power to them. “Ben says in the script that if you keep giving [fear] power it will overtake you and Derek has no ability to not do that,” he says. “He's constantly freaking himself out.”
“Derek isn't confident in any way,” he adds. “Cam clutches a bat to ward off strangers coming into a house; Derek unfortunately clutches a flashlight because he’s scared to death to go into his bathroom.”
American Horror Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX; Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.