From skull face to zombie face and all that's in between, Evan Peters has worn a variety of disturbing guises across the first six seasons of American Horror Story. However, that may all pale in comparison to the new challenge that Peters has set himself, tackling not one, but six cult leaders in Season 7.
Speaking at a FX panel this week, show runner Ryan Murphy revealed that most of these cult figures will be based on real-life people and include the likes of Charles Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Andy Warhol among their number.
It's no surprise then that Peters has reportedly been pushed to his limit this year in American Horror Story: Cult, but what is it about these cult leaders that's posed such a challenge for Evan? Join us as we break down exactly who these cult leaders are and why they gained such notoriety in real life.
Ryan Murphy has long yearned to incorporate Charles Manson into American Horror Story, but it wasn't until the 2016 Presidential Election took place that he found the inspiration needed, putting a fresh spin on Manson's saga by exploring cults through a wider perspective.
Manson first rose to fame in the late '60s as the leader of a commune called the Manson Family. Taking inspiration from a Beatles song of all places, Manson believed that there was an apocalyptic race war on the horizon, one which he dubbed "Helter Skelter." This is why he instructed members of his cult to commit the infamous Tate murders, killing actress Sharon Tate and four others on August 9, 1969 in order to help precipitate that war.
The Manson Family were responsible for a total of nine murders in 1969, followed by a number of assaults and even the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. Manson himself was incarcerated shortly after and is currently serving multiple life sentences for his involvement in these deaths. More than perhaps any other serial killer of the 20th century, Manson quickly gained notoriety for his evil crimes and remains a symbol of insanity in pop culture even today.
Born in 1959, it wasn't long before David Koresh would also find fame as a law-breaking cult leader. It all began when Koresh joined a church splinter group based in Texas that called themselves Branch Davidians.
Believing himself to be the final prophet of the cult, Koresh was initially supported by leader Lois Roden, who allowed him to teach his own message called "The Serpent's Root." The pair believed that Koresh had been chosen by God to father a child with Lois who would become "The Chosen One." However, Lois' son, George Roden, wanted to lead the group for himself, and eventually managed to force Koresh and his followers away at gunpoint.
Two years later, in 1985, Koresh and 25 followers camped out at Palestine, Texas, recruiting others to their cause. Claiming that he had religious visions, Koresh was able to gain more and more followers, despite being accused of raping a 12-year-old girl under the label of "spiritual marriage." In 1993, this all came to an end though when the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) raided the cult's center, causing a siege that ended with the deaths of Koresh and 79 others after the center was burned down.
Believing that communism under God's will was the correct way to live, Jim Jones founded a religious sect in the '50s called the People's Temple, which displayed a number of cult-like qualities.
In 1978, United States Congressman Leo Ryan led an investigation into the People's Temple following reports that human rights were being violated in the Jonestown HQ. Ryan was subsequently murdered while boarding a return flight home, and soon after, Jones incited 918 members of his cult to kill themselves in a mass suicide. They were coerced into drinking cyanide via a Flavor Aid mix, and 304 children were numbered among the dead. Jones was later found dead with a gunshot wound to the head. While the coroner believed this was self-inflicted, others believe someone else may have been responsible for his death.
The mass suicide was considered one of the greatest losses of American life up until the September 11 attacks, but the details themselves are what remain so difficult to forget. The FBI found an audio recording from the scene that played out how the deaths took place. On the tape, it was discovered that Jones coerced his cult into suicide by telling them that intelligence organizations would parachute in to torture and murder them. Crying members were told to die with dignity and children were given the Kool-Aid first before being instructed to lie down with the rest of their family members.
Andy Warhol isn't a cult leader in the same sense as other figures on this list, but his influence in the art world certainly evoked a dedicated following that verged on cultism.
In the late '60s, fanaticism around Warhol's work came to an explosive head in the form of Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist who tried to shoot the artist while he worked at the Factory scene. Warhol survived, but barely. The physical effects of this attack stayed with him throughout his life, leaving a profound impact on his work and mental state.
Solanas was arrested just one day after the assault and was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Police discovered that the assassin had previously published a radical feminist manifesto called SCUM, which advocated the death of men. While it remains unclear how much of this back story will be explored in American Horror Story, the fact that Lena Dunham has been cast alongside Evan Peters in the role of Valerie Solanas hints at the important role she'll play.
While most of these cult leaders are based on real-life people, the main character played by Evan Peters in Season 7 is Kai Anderson, a cult leader created specifically for the show. It seems rather telling though that Ryan Murphy has chosen to explore the darker ramifications of leadership through Anderson right after the 2016 Presidential Election.
Murphy elaborated on the role of Parker as a cult leader during his FX panel, stating that:
"We examine how those people rise to power and why people followed them, when we can look at what happened and they're all such idiots. But for some reason, there was something going on in the culture, at that time, where people were so disenfranchised that they were like, 'I'm going to follow you, Charles Manson, and I'm going to do whatever you say.'"
Kai Anderson is a charismatic psychopath who manipulates his followers through fear, delving deeper and deeper into darkness as he rises into political power. While the role will undoubtedly challenge Peters, Murphy has claimed that Evan's work in Season 7 is his best yet, something that may both alarm and thrill the Tate Langdon purists out there.
Either way though, we're sure that Peters will excel at channelling the manic energy of previous performances, successfully bringing these real cult leaders to life. Remember to check back with us as more information about the rest of Evan's roles in Season 7 comes to light too.
Which Evan Peters role on American Horror Story is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!