'American Horror Story' Star Leslie Grossman on That 'Dressed to Kill' Homage in 'NYC' (Exclusive)

American Horror Story: NYC

Grossman is back on 'AHS' as Barbara Read in one of the most provocative seasons yet. 

After playing the likes of Meadow Wilton on Cult, Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt on Apocalypse, Margaret Booth on 1984, and Ursula – her personal favorite – on Double Feature, Leslie Grossman is back for the 11th installment of American Horror Story, titled NYC. This time she's playing Barbara Read, the ex-wife of a closeted gay cop named Patrick (Russell Tovey), in Ryan Murphy's horror anthology's most provocative season yet. 

With NYC now halfway through its season, Grossman is opening up to ET about Barbara's fate in episode 5, that homage to Brian De Palma's 1980 film, Dressed to Kill, and working alongside Tovey and "the boys" that make up one of the franchise's largest LGBTQ casts to date. [Warning: Spoilers for "Bad Fortune," written by Our Lady J & Jennifer Salt and directed by Paris Barclay.] 

Mostly seen in scenes opposite Tovey as Patrick or Joe Mantello as Patrick's current partner and New York Native reporter, Gino Barelli, Grossman's character is a way into Patrick's conflicted nature. He's out at home, where he lives with Gino after separating from Barbara, but is closeted at work, where he finds himself investigating several mysterious deaths and disappearances of gay men. 

And it's Barbara who reveals that Patrick's sexual desires may be kinkier than he lets on when she discovers and shares a box full of items, such as leather gear and various handkerchiefs used at the time when NYC is set. 

"We're finding out there's lots going on with Patrick below the surface that we didn't quite know. He wasn't living an authentic life… Like millions of people, he couldn't be his authentic self. He couldn't be an out gay man as a cop in 1981," Grossman says. And as a result, "Barbara was collateral damage." 


While she has a lot of empathy for Barbara (who's styled like Meryl Streep in 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer), she does feel that her character was "complicit in her own suffering," Grossman says. "It is very clear and she understands that he is unable to give her what she deserves and what she wants. But she will take any part of Patrick she can possibly get." 

Consequently, Barbara remains in Patrick's orbit. And as the killings around the city continue, she finds herself the target of Big Daddy (Matthew William Bishop), a bondage muscle man who has been seen stalking and kidnapping various gay men in Central Park and also working as a guard for the increasingly sleazy Sam (Zachary Quinto).

In the latest episode, that all comes to a head, with Barbara getting murdered in a cleverly edited sequence set to Iggy & The Stooges' "Gimme Danger." "I really loved episode 5, which Paris Barclay directed. I just thought it was unbelievable, so well done," Grossman says. 

Despite her apartment being ransacked earlier, Barbara insists on returning home. While she takes a shower, the scene cuts from her to Patrick shaving in the mirror to Gino in the bath in his own apartment. As steam fills the shower, she's attacked by Big Daddy, who chokes her to death before Patrick arrives to find her dead on the floor of her bathroom.  

When Grossman first learned of the scene, she recalls asking, "I'm sorry, what? How are we gonna film me naked?" While the production used lots of steam and a body double, it was the actress who ultimately had to get attacked from behind in the shower. 

"It's funny because when you see me get grabbed, it's so effective because it's so quick. You're like, 'Wait, what?' I love the way that it's done. And it was a great misdirect," Grossman says, revealing that she worked with a stuntman and intimacy coordinator to pull the scene off. 

As for the nudity in the scene, she clarifies, "By the way, I have zero moral issue with it. It's all about, like, I don't know that the world needs to see my a**, you know? If I felt like I had an a** that the world needed to see, I'd show it." 

The scene, meanwhile, is also a direct homage to the iconic moment with Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill. "We were kind of putting in that Brian De Palma vibe," Grossman says, revealing that like the many other references to everything from Cruising to The Normal Heart to Robert Mapplethorpe and the NYC blackout, this too "was very purposeful." 

Going even beyond the cultural and cinematic references found in NYC, Grossman says this season is full of Easter eggs that call back to previous seasons. "Billie Lourd's character having a dream about a baby with tentacles. Well, gee, that seems like a shout-out to a previous season. When Patti LuPone's character is talking about a carnival, like, there's always little hints," she says, referring to Double Feature, Freak Show and Asylum

"So, not only is there stuff inspired by the great Brian De Palma, one of the great horror directors in the history of the medium, but then the show also references itself. And I love that because I feel like that's a really wonderful payoff for fans," she continues. "So, when I read that stuff, I'm like, 'Oh my god, that's a callback.'" 

When it comes to NYC, Grossman hints that there's even more baked into the layers of this season, and that fans will want to go back and rewatch from the beginning once they find out how it all ends. "This is a season that, in my opinion, deserves two watches," she says. "There's gonna be things that maybe didn't resonate when you first saw it, that when it's all done, the complete story will be very interesting to see from a different angle of knowing what you know." 

As for Patrick, there's still so much more to discover. "You're gonna learn more about Patrick's story as the show goes on," Grossman says before offering a cryptic tease: "I will say there is a fate that is waiting for everyone and that fate is inevitable. No matter how hard everybody tries to out run it, it's this thing that's looming and waiting."

Aside from that, Grossman also revealed how much fun she had working with the AHS newcomer. "I mean, look, I understand why Barbara is totally in love with Patrick. I get it. And Russell's the most wonderful actor and he has this really great, very grounded New York accent and then in between takes, has this really animated British accent." 

She adds, "The most amazing thing about the show is this is my fifth season and I have all new people to work with. And that's really fantastic. And I think Russell is such a great, natural fit with the show. And it's not easy to come in and be the lead of a show in its 11th season." 

Of course, "this season is really about the boys," she acknowledges, before revealing that the men of season 11 treated her like the gay icon that she is. "Yes, they did. Just rest assured everybody was so wonderful. Isaac [Powell, who plays Theo Graves] stayed at my place and Charlie [Carver, who plays Adam Carpenter] is one of my favorite people of all time." 

Grossman then points out how special it is for her to be part of something like this. "Working in such a queer space feels very comfortable for me," she says. Not only that, but it means so much to her to come back for another season, which also happens to be "so personally important to Ryan, so meaningful to him that he was so involved in every single aspect." Revealing that it's "something that's been in the ether for a while," she adds that "you just wanna do right by him." 

And when it comes to the end result, what's playing out on TV right now, Grossman says, "I just think it's beautifully done." 

American Horror Story: NYC airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX and is available the next day on Hulu.