Entertainment » Movies

The Perfect Heist? (Not). Evan Peters Talks 'American Animals'

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday Jun 15, 2018

The new film "American Animals" is a heist film with a difference. Based on the true story of four Kentucky college students who attempt a near-impossible theft of some rare books, it incorporates interview footage of the real criminals as commentary as their fictionalized counterparts attempt to pull off the robbery.

As written and directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton (based on a 2007 Vanity Fair article), it is a heist film with the feel of a documentary. It received considerable buzz when it premiered at Sundance early this year and is currently in limited release in theaters.

Standing out amongst the four is Warren (Evan Peters), a charismatic dreamer whose energy drives the planning and execution of the robbery, which includes Googling "How to plan a perfect robbery" and watching such films as "Ocean's Eleven" and "Snatch."

That they turn out to be a gang that couldn't shoot straight gives the film its humor, but beneath the surface is an exciting and complicated examination of how a group of privileged young white men can be so deluded as think they could pull off such an elaborate caper.

Layton was said to be attracted to casting Evan Peters as Warren because of what he saw as the actor's crazy side. Anyone who watched Peters this past season when he was the lead in "American Horror Story: Cult" would easily understand why. On the show, Peters embodied the kind of magnetic personality that could easily bring others under his spell. In the film, he pretty much seduces his best friend Spencer (Barry Keoghan from "The Killing of a Sacred Deer") to do the crime, than recruits Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner) to join them.

Evan Peters in "American Animals."

EDGE spoke to Peters recently about playing Warren, meeting the real Warren, and his role on the new hit FX series "Pose," where he plays one of Donald Trump's employees in the 1980s that finds himself immersed in the trans-ballroom scene.

EDGE: What attracted you to take the role in the film"

Evan Peters: I loved the script. That is what initially drew me to it. I loved the character. I thought Warren was this fun crazy character who was the spearheader of this whole insane, harebrained idea. I thought he convinced Spencer and then got two more guys to go in on it. He created a fantasy of becoming a glorified criminal, and then sees what happens when he really tried to do that. All the documentary footage was written in the script, so I got to see a lot of that, which drew me to it as well because it made it that much more real and truthful. It even was written that "This is not based on a true story, it is a true story." Which is true. Reading it, I was that much more engrossed, learning that the real guys were involved in it.

EDGE: What was it like meeting Warren?

Evan Peters: Bart was adamant that we not meet with the real guys, which was infuriating for me, so I broke the rules and found him on Twitter. We had a correspondence for a while until Bart shut that down, which I am still bitter about. But he is an incredible guy, Warren, very smart and is very well read. He sent me some lists of movies and books he likes. One of my main questions was why he did it, but Bart stepped in before he could answer that. Fortunately, Bart had filmed all the documentary footage you see in the movie, so we got to watch all of that. And some stuff you don't see, which is Warren talking about his family and his life in Kentucky and what that was like for him.

So a lot of questions I had were answered, but it was incredible to actually meet with him and talk to him because I got a sense of his energy, which is something I was unable to do beforehand. But the reasoning behind Bart keeping us from meeting the men we were playing is that they were now 10 years older, they had been through a lot and had changed a lot. Bart didn't want them to color our performances in the movie. I think he wanted to separate the real guys from our fantasy-movie reenactments of them and allow us to play fully a version of ourselves we thought were the characters, in my case Warren. It was definitely frustrating, but ultimately I think it worked because it would have been difficult to see some sort of weird impersonation of the real guy next to the real guy. You would only look at the faults as to how they weren't matching up. As opposed to saying they're not trying to do that. This is something else entirely. But we will never know.

Evan Peters in "American Animals."

EDGE: Why do you think Warren wanted to do it?

Evan Peters: A lot of it is in the script. I think some of it came with him with his father, whom I think he saw as unhappy. His father ended up coaching the girls' soccer team. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but in Warren's eyes it wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. And so I think he wanted to do something different. He didn't like school, and didn't want to be part of that. He wanted to find an easy way out and to do something exciting with his life.

I also think Warren is innately self-destructive. Somebody who is constantly trying to break the law. He was trying to get the most out of life, but also break the rules a little bit because it is fun and exhilarating. When the heist was suggested to him, it sounded fun, but could they actually do it? Could they get away with it? All of these heist movies - "Oceans 11" - make it look so easy; but if you really went through it and planned it all out, and mind you we are talking about a college student whose brain is not totally developed. He was not fully a man - he was still trying to figure stuff out. And he got this idea - what if he planned a heist and got away with it? That would get him on the map in an interesting way and say, "Look what I did, and I got away with it." You can see why it is so appealing to him. But ultimately, the movie is a cautionary tale. I think the guys learned from this whole experience.

EDGE: Bart cast you because how over the top you have been in your past work, most notably on season after season of "American Horror Story." How do you psych yourself to go to that place?

Evan Peters: It is so hard. I am pretty exhausted from doing it. Specifically for this film there was a lot of loneliness, a lot of depression involved. I felt that Warren wasn't having a very good time with his everyday life. But I think the most difficult thing was filming the actual heist and going through the emotional highs and lows of that over and over. We shot that scene over three days, so I kept having to go back to that place of having jumped over the edge and not being able to go back. Bart and I talked about the critical moment when I decided to go through with the heist when Warren thought everything is going to be great. It was a pivotal moment for me. After that there is this 180-downward spiral of, "Oh shit, look what we have done. We can't get out of this. We're screwed." To make this effective, I think I had to push my hardest to go to that extreme place and do that to make it as effective as possible.

Evan Peters in "American Horror Story: Cult."

EDGE: On "American Horror Story: Cult" you played a charismatic leader of a cult. In this film you play a charismatic leader of a gang. Did you see a relationship between the characters?

Evan Peters: In a way, yeah. There is that charisma that pulls everybody in. I mean it is similar in "Cult" when I was luring in cult members. And here I trying to get each of these guys to sign onto something that it totally insane and could derail their lives. It is an integral part of having the movies work.

EDGE: In the film you have great rapport with your co-stars. How did that happen?

Evan Peters: I think it naturally happened. Barry and I did a chemistry read, and that went great. Then Bart cast Jarred and Blake, who were great. Then, when we moved to Charlotte to shoot the film, Bart wanted us to live in a house where we would stay together during a week and a half of rehearsals. And it was great. We completely bonded. We would chill by the fire, order food and watch "Cops." We hung out similar to the way these guys did. And shooting with them -- they were just great guys, so it wasn't hard to develop friendships with them.

EDGE: On the new FX series "Pose" you play an employee of the Trump organization during the 1980s who gets involved in the ballroom culture when he starts to have an affair with a transwoman. Why did you want to be part of this project?

Evan Peters: It is a great show that I am very excited to be part of it.
It features the largest transgender cast ever, and is going to be incredible for the community. It takes place in 1987. I don't know if you have seen "Paris is Burning," but it is all about the ballroom culture in New York City at the time. My character is the other side of that coin - he is trying to climb the ladder of success during the Reagan era as part of the Trump organization. Trump was king, and my character tries to be part of that world and be successful, but finding that it is inauthentic. So he searches for it other places in a community where it is life and death to be authentic. It means everything.

"American Animals" is currently in theaters. For more on the film, visit the film's website.

Watch the trailer to "American Animals":

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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