It's no surprise that Leslie Grossman said that playing one of American Horror Story: 1984's villains is "a highlight of [her] entire career." Margaret Booth, the hyper-Christian Camp Redwood director who was revealed to be the true culprit behind the camp's original 1970 massacre, is unlike any role you've probably seen Grossman play before. Although Grossman played a murderous member of Kai's (Evan Peters) clown cult in American Horror Story's seventh season, Cult, the bubbly Meadow has little in common with a stone-faced master manipulator like Margaret, who kills for no other reason than the fact that she enjoys it.
TV Guide caught up with Grossman to discuss getting to explore a role a dark as Margaret, what's coming up for the killer now that Camp Redwood is closed (and filled with ghosts!), and what she hopes Margaret's fate will be at the end of the season.
How did you feel about getting the chance to play a full-blown villain this season?
Leslie Grossman: I mean, it's a dream come true. And I have always said, and I will say it again, that Ryan Murphy is my fairy godfather. And what he does for me is give me presents wrapped up in beautiful bows and it's like, "Here, another amazing thing that you get to do." So I am endlessly grateful to him for letting me do this and giving me the opportunity to do this, because this has been really one of the best experiences and a highlight of my entire career. And I think it's allowed people to see me in a different way and allowed me show different colors of myself, and it's been the most fun. This has been the most fun and I've really enjoyed it — I mean, I don't know what it says about me that I'm having the best time playing a complete and total psychopathic, violent murderer. But I've had the time of my life. So maybe I'm gonna have to discuss that with my therapist, that I'm having such a good time.
As a viewer, it's so hard to tell at times what Margaret actually believes in versus what she's just saying to other people to keep up her public persona. How do you view her motivations?
Grossman: I would view Margaret's motivations as: Margaret has done some things and has a lot of complicated murderous feelings [and] that she decided she was going to dig deep into religion to justify her terrible behavior. She says, I think it's in Episode 2, in that scene with Ramirez in the cabin, where she says all you need is God and trauma and it can justify anything that you do and people will let you do it. And I think that you see that at work very much today, where people use their religion to discriminate against others, to promote their hate. And it's something that I, frankly, don't want to get into too deeply because I don't need people coming at me on Twitter constantly about it. But I think many people use their belief in God or religion to justify horrible behavior. I think that's what she's done and that what we've seen is that she has been reactivated. She has tamped all those feelings down and now, you know, game on. The floodgates have opened, and Margaret is back to her old ways and embracing who she really is. And what I love is we really don't know what's going to happen with Margaret next, do we? Even I don't, and I love that. We're still filming and I still don't know how the show ends. ... I don't know exactly what her motivation is. It's all over the place, isn't it? Her motivation is she wants to kill people and she'll do whatever she can to make that happen.
Margaret had planned on spending the summer running Camp Redwood but that obviously isn't going to happen, so what can you say about what she does now?
Grossman: Look, things happened. Her plan got away from her. And she had to revert back to her old ways.
How much does Margaret know about the fact that Camp Redwood is purgatory and her victims can come back as ghosts?
Grossman: I don't know. I frankly don't know how much Margaret knows. I don't think she knows that as of right now. I think she starts to figure it out. I think she's starting to see what the story is now. But absolutely I do not believe she knew that in the beginning.
What do you think the theme or lesson of this season is?
Grossman: Oh my god, that's a hard question. I think the theme of this season is redemption and I think it's loss, redemption, and insanity. Pretty dark, but fun!
I loved seeing Margaret and Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa) interact. They had a really strong connection in that scene, and he even said she's the first person who really sees him. What drew them toward each other and are you hoping to explore more of that dynamic?
Grossman: I think there's a simpatico there. I think it's two people that are just very out in the open about what their interests are and who they are and what they do. This actually made me think — this is going to sound so bananas — but remember the movie Leaving Vegas? Have you ever seen it?
Grossman: So, it was a while ago, I remember this thing that really touched me about this movie was it was these two broken people that were entirely open about exactly who they were. There was no pretext and I feel like there's the same thing at play between the two of them. They both know exactly who they are and they don't have to hide that from each other. So I think it's a "game recognizes game" appreciation of each other and recognizing the power of that.
This show has always done a really good job at creating really complicated villains. Are we potentially going to see more sympathetic or vulnerable sides of Margaret moving forward?
Grossman: I can't give any spoilers of any kind, but I would say there's a lot more to see. And just when you think the show is gonna zig it zags. So there's a lot more to discover. Not just about Margaret, but about lots of other things. There's still so much good stuff in store.
There are 14 years of Margaret's life between the first Camp Redwood massacre and this one. Have you created your own backstory for what you imagine Margaret was doing that whole time?
Grossman: I just imagine Margaret has been going to the supermarket, wanting to murder the person in line in front of her who's not moving fast enough, and having to quell those urges. Wanting to bash people with her car. I just imagine her having to suppress and suppress an suppress all of these feelings that she has. And once she gets back to Camp Redwood and all of these things start happening that she didn't know were going to happen that it was sort of a green light for her to really let loose again. I just imagine that there's been 14 years of bottled up frustration and that's why Margaret embraced her ability to kill again with such gusto.
Margaret seems like someone who, even if she gets caught, she's going to find a way to thrive in prison.
Grossman: Look, you hear stories about that, about people who go to prison and they are actually able to run their wing of the prison and sort of make a life for themselves in there. I think Margaret is a survivor. I also think that when you're not plagued by things like a conscience then it's easy to thrive in many kinds of circumstances.
Given that she would probably be just fine in prison, what do you think is the fate that Margaret deserves for all her crimes?
Grossman: I see Margaret differently. I would like Margaret to live forever. But I do think that the audience would love to see Margaret have a terrible, terrible death! ... But if it were up to me, Margaret would continue her horrible reign until the end of time.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.