…I’m constantly proselytizing the benefits of yoga (thank you for indulging me in that earlier) — that if I could start a movement introducing people to that, I think we’d eliminate most of the world’s conflict! If only people spent more time challenging their balance and strength and flexibility, and less time challenging each other, what a better world it would be!
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Naomi Grossman.
Naomi Grossman was a 2018 Primetime Emmy nominee for “Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama” for her role in Ctrl Alt Delete. Best known as the first crossover character, the fan-favorite “Pepper” on FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum & Freak Show, Naomi also appeared as a new character, the Satanist “Samantha Crowe” in the eighth season, Apocalypse. Naomi made #5 of IMDb’s “Top 10 Breakout Stars” after her STARmeter skyrocketed to #1, making her the most searched in its entire 8 million person database. Huffington Post, The Wrap, Screen Rant, and Syfy all ranked Pepper among “The Best AHS Characters Ever;” MTV named her their “#1 Good Guy;” Uproxx, their “#1 Most Tragic;” Geek Insider, a “Top 5 Most Underrated AHS Performer,” and Entertainment Weekly called her being cast in the role “The Best of 2012.” Fans may also recognize her from cameos in the following feature films: Table for Three, 1BR, Murder RX, Bite Me, Painkillers, Sky Sharks, Short Straw, The Chair, The Lurker, The Portal, Preacher Six, An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted), and Fear, Inc. Naomi graduated in theatre from Northwestern University, and is a former member of the Groundlings Sunday Company.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, since this interview is mostly about our documentary, “Superhuman: The Invisible Made Visible,” I’ll answer according to that, ok?
I’ve been a believer in mind over matter forever. Had a homemade, dream-board (well, mobile) hanging above my bed since before The Secret was even a thing! So when I was first approached by “Superhuman”’s producer and host, Caroline Cory, the subject matter wasn’t a tough sell. I was mostly apprehensive about appearing as myself — part of being an actress that I find so alluring is disappearing into other people. I was nervous about not having that ruse to hide behind; therefore, making me vulnerable. But unlike reality television, where the bigger the train wreck, the better — Caroline’s goal was not to make her subjects look bad, but rather perform the experiments authentically. In that regard, I felt like I was actually the perfect candidate. She needed me to visualize in order to record my brain waves — and visualizing (or pretending) is basically what I do for a living! So I’m very accustomed to psyching myself up/out, believing things that may or may not be true, and turning those thoughts on and off on a dime. I was thrilled that the experiment was successful — though given what was asked of me, I wasn’t necessarily surprised.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Again, keeping it to my experience with “Superhuman,” I think there have been times in my career, when I’ve used visualization to manifest material wins (or loses), using only my mind. For example, I always knew I would be an actress. Even after everyone, including my own mother, stopped believing that it would happen for me — I persevered. I don’t know if that’s determination, or just plain stubbornness — but what I did know is that deep down, there was nothing else for me. I remember when I was coming up through the Groundlings Comedy Theatre, I had a big show that was ultimately going to decide whether I was in or out of the company. My best friend stopped by the day of the show to wish me well, and I told him: “I can already see my headshot up on the wall.” And he said, “Well, you’re half-way there then!” And he was right. That night, all I needed was to show up, and do my thing — the real heavy-lifting (believing in yourself, seeing yourself succeed) was done!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As it relates to “Superhuman,” I don’t cop to this often, but early in my career, when I first came to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of appearing on a reality show called “Blind Date.” It was a disaster — which is of course, reality TV-gold! But again, I want to make the audience laugh because I’m funny, not because I’ve done something to publicly humiliate myself! So I learned my lesson, made boundaries regarding what I was or wasn’t comfortable with, which is why I was initially so cautious before committing to “Superhuman.” I’m so glad I did though!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
During Covid, Hollywood is at a standstill, of course. As if the actor’s life isn’t unsettling enough — we’re constantly at the mercy of others casting us in their creations. And now, they’re not even doing that! So at first it was jarring, and I was very resistant to this “new normal” (although there was obviously nothing anyone could do about it). That’s when I remembered the message of “Superhuman” — that it’s all about perception, and that we’re actually able to control the narrative we tell ourselves. So that’s when I stopped resisting, and decided to reframe how I thought about this time. Instead of being a “lame time” when “fun is cancelled,” I’ve chosen to think of it as the perfect time: to stop, meditate on what I want, really visualize it, and do all that’s within my power to make it happen! (And whatever’s not within my power, release!) In my case, what I really want, and am seeing now, is my new one-woman show. I’ve done 2 prior, so this isn’t out of the ordinary for me. What is out of the ordinary is for networks to need shows with a skeleton crew, without actors touching each other! So I can’t help but feel like this might actually be my time! Amazing — I went from wanting to Whitney Houston myself in the bathtub, to leaping out of bed, excited to write and create! And the only thing that changed was my mind!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Well, “American Horror Story” obviously attracts an all-star cast, so being a part of that made some true Hollywood legends, like Jessica Lange, accessible to me. But as thrilling as it was, acting alongside her — that was an acting masterclass unto itself — I also learned from and benefited on human-level from the “freaks” (for lack of a better word) in “AHS: Freak Show.” Seeing the world through other people’s eyes, whether they’re a foot and a half tall from India, or 8 feet tall and transgender — will teach empathy, which is obviously an important quality for actors, and humans alike. While “AHS” didn’t directly open the door to “Superhuman,” indirectly, it did. Had I not made a name for myself on that show, Caroline might not have heard of me, and therefore I wouldn’t have been involved. I consider her one of those “interesting people” you’re asking about!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well, obviously visualization, meditation, the power of positive thinking, and everything else we’ve been talking about. But specifically for acting, I think it’s important to not be complacent, and wait for Hollywood to come to you. If you’re not being cast in a traditional sense (I know I wasn’t), cast yourself! Being proactive and staying creative is key, to my happiness anyway! When you start feeling “burnt out,” remind yourself of what attracted you to begin with, when you felt the most inspired and alive, and make it fun again for yourself! If you can’t find the joy, then the love might be gone. And that’s ok too. It’s important to really listen to yourself, and follow your heart — even if it’s not necessarily what your family wants or society expects, etc. You’re the only one living this life, so make of it what YOU want!
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Well, this may seem like a downer, but if they’re daunted by even just the prospect of failure, don’t bother. Do something else. Seriously, most of what I do is fail. I audition daily… most of them I don’t get! So, you have to get over failing. What you can’t get over is your passion for acting. Ask yourself: do you LOVE it? And by it, I mean, the work. Because that’s what you’re going to be spending your days (and nights) doing. Not the fantasy of red carpets, or your face plastered on billboards — because there’s no guarantee of that — and if even then, those are just possible byproducts. Honestly, if there’s something else you love as much, or could envision yourself doing instead, I would save yourself the heartache and just do that. I almost think it’s akin to being gay — like, if you had a choice, you might not chose it. But in many of our cases, we were born this way! I was born a performer — I really never felt like I had a choice, or that there was anything else for me. If you do, consider yourself lucky! You get to choose! If you don’t, also consider yourself lucky! Your decision is made!
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Well, I believe the body, mind and heart are all interconnected. When my heart is broken, my mind’s messed up, and my body won’t work. And vice versa. The thing for me that keeps them all toned is yoga. Having an hour and a half a day to stop, silence the phone, and do nothing but concentrate on the breath, and perform this moving meditation per the teacher’s instruction, is incredibly powerful. I’m a whole other person after I leave class. Things that might have upset me before, just teflon right off — because I’ve just confronted infinitely more difficult issues, like wrapping your legs around head, or balancing in handstand. So yes, being mindful of what we do with our bodies (ie. abusing them on the sofa with potato chips, or nurturing them at the gym/studio), how we use our minds (reading, creating, turning off the news once in a while), and who we allow in our hearts (it’s ok to be picky!). They say we are defined by the people we surround ourselves with — that they either raise or lower our standards. So, choose wisely!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
OK, in no particular order:
1) I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to fill up my resume with credits. Do you want your resume to look like a Claire’s Boutique, or a Tiffany’s? So crowded with junk, if there is anything of worth, you can’t find it? Or pristine… so that those few, pure-gold credits can truly shine!
2) I wish I’d given the old adage “it’s all about who you know” more credence. There were professors at Northwestern, where I went to college, who’ve gone on to become Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriters and Tony-winning Broadway directors; and I could’ve studied with them, but didn’t… Because I wasn’t necessarily interested in screenwriting, or directing. But I should’ve been interested in them. It really is all about who you know.
3) I wish I’d gotten a day-job when I first came to Hollywood. I was so resistant, because I thought I needed my days free in order to audition. So I opted for ding-dong jobs waitressing, or driving around the Red Bull car. As it turns out, those jobs provided me with all sorts of insane stories, which have become my muse, and made me popular at cocktail parties — so they definitely weren’t a waste. (Besides, the friendships I made there, I will treasure forever.) But I do think I would’ve been better served using my brain. When I did finally find a job with a little more mental stimulus, it was 9 years in. I was teaching Spanish, where I was able to dust off that desperate, wannabe actor-stench for that sweet smell of series regular-level of self-respect! Feeling good about myself, and respected by others, was crucial to me getting cast. I think I could have expedited the process, if I’d taken care of my whole self sooner, brain included.
4) I wish I hadn’t always looked to the outside for success. It never occurred to me that some of the (soon-to-be) biggest names in Hollywood were actually right there, within my reach. Hollywood just didn’t know it yet! And neither did I. I wish I’d spent less time longing for what was outside, and more time enjoying what was right there inside with me.
5) I wish I’d listened to my instincts more. There have been times that I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to face the music, or make waves — so I stuck with it. But ultimately, it would’ve been much better to just rip the bandaid, than watch that muscle atrophy, go gangrene, and later need the whole limb amputated! I truly think if we’ll just trust ourselves, we actually know what’s best. It’s a question of clearing that self-doubt, and respecting ourselves enough to go with our guts.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I keep coming back to “to thine own self be true.” I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be someone I’m not. Granted, that is what actors do for a living… But at least I’m aware of this pattern, and am done compromising, and constantly acquiescing in service of others. It’s actually a lot of what my new show is about!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Well, before Caroline ;), my acting guru, growing up in Denver, Colorado, was Paul Rohrer. He had us write the words “winning is an attitude” on our bathroom mirrors. So again, early on, the idea that we actually have control over our futures, was planted. We can choose to win, or lose, based on how we see the world! It’s essentially the same message as that of “Superhuman!”
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m constantly proselytizing the benefits of yoga (thank you for indulging me in that earlier) — that if I could start a movement introducing people to that, I think we’d eliminate most of the world’s conflict! If only people spent more time challenging their balance and strength and flexibility, and less time challenging each other, what a better world it would be!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Well, I’ve already had it. But I’d have it again! That person is Lily Tomlin. She’s been my touchstone since I was a little girl, and saw her one-woman show, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” at the Denver Center. She’s the end-all, be-all, character-comedienne, and always has been for me — whether it’s her over-the-top characters in “Laugh-In,” or her more poignant, contemplative monologues within her solo show. Recently, found myself on a committee with her for the Television Academy. At first, I acted almost like I would towards a boy I had a crush on — like I was “too cool for school,” or didn’t even know who she was. But then, the last day of her tenure on the board (in which we were treated to a delicious, Argentine dinner), I confided in her. Fan-girled hard right in front of her! She couldn’t have been more gracious. So yes, I’d love another private breakfast, just the two of us, now that the cat’s out of the bag, and I have my composure!
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m @naomiwgrossman across all social media platforms. Also at www.naomigrossman.net, and
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!