Dylan McDermott’s performance in ‘Hollywood’ is one of the many highlights of the acclaimed Netflix series. He spoke with HL about immersing himself in Ernie West, working with Ryan Murphy again, and more.
Since Hollywood’s debut on Netflix, viewers have fallen in love with the one and only Ernie West. Dylan McDermott is terrific as the dynamic owner of Golden Tip Gas, and the man who has a connection to everyone in Tinseltown. Ernie is a crucial figure in the world of Hollywood. Without Ernie, Jack Castello would have never crossed paths with Avis Amberg, who helps him land his breakout role in Meg. Ernie West lends a helping hand to so many in their quests to make their Hollywood dreams come true.
HollywoodLife talked with Dylan McDermott about taking on the role of Ernie West. For Dylan, this wasn’t just a role. Playing Ernie allowed the veteran actor to truly express himself in his work. He also discussed why he’d be perfectly content with just working with Hollywood creator Ryan Murphy for the “rest of my days,” reuniting onscreen with Holland Taylor, his daughter getting a role on the show, and more.
It seemed like you had so much fun embracing this role. What did you love about playing Ernie West?
Dylan McDermott: It’s funny, my acting teacher says it takes 20 years to become a great actor. Now, I think it’s 30. It just takes a long time. For me, I just had to get really comfortable, and when I met Ernie, he was the key. He gave me the key. He was like, okay, go have some fun now. And I said hell yes to that. It was really just an exercise in character and digging deep and freedom. Everything that you ever want as an actor when you first start out, which is so hard to come by, arrived in the face of Ernie. I’m very grateful to him. He taught me a lot. These characters sometimes will teach you things, and Ernie really taught me a great deal. He taught me about optimism. In the face of being sick, he was still optimistic, so I really appreciate that. I just fell in love with him. I don’t know how to describe it more than just in terms of you fall in love with people that you play. Sometimes you have difficulty playing them, but this guy… I fell in love with him.
He was larger than life. One of the things that I really noticed about Ernie was that he really was the touchstone of this show. He was the catalyst for everything. The show ends where it really begins — with Ernie and the gas station. How did you feel about that full circle aspect?
Dylan McDermott: I’ve been working with Ryan for over 10 years now, so I know whatever he brings me is pretty special. This is right up there with the most special because there’s something about this whole show that is really resonating. It resonated with me, too. I love the fact that this whole full-circle thing that you’re talking about is so great. You never know what the character is going to be. He can tell you what it is, but you don’t really know until you’re in it. It’s always surprising. He likes to keep people on their toes when they’re filming. It’s always surprising working for Ryan, and this was just a great experience.
I know that the character is loosely inspired by Scotty Bowers. How did you prepare for Ernie? Did you look back at any actors in particular of that Golden Age era?
Dylan McDermott: Yes, Clark Gable was the inspiration. I would say Scotty Bowers and Clark Gable. I always say that Ernie is their love child. I have a poster of The Misfits in my house, so that movie has always been one of my favorites. I love Clark in that. Initially, Ryan wanted me to have a crew cut and I didn’t really feel that, so I showed him Clark Gable and what I wanted to do. The mustache was particular so he let me run with that, and I think it was the right move because there’s an elegance about Ernie that’s reminiscent of Clark.
And the mustache.
Dylan McDermott: Yes, the mustache was key. It’s funny because I was doing American Horror Story: 1984 and Hollywood at the very same time, and I would go from set to set. On 1984, they would put a mustache on top of my already existing mustache.
This show features so many people from the Ryan Murphy universe. Ernie and Kincaid get together towards the end of the series. What was it like working with Holland Taylor again?
Dylan McDermott: Holland and I had worked in The Practice many years ago, so it was definitely our reunion. I adore her. She’s a brilliant actress. I’ve always had great admiration for her. I had no idea we were going to be working together until suddenly a script arrived and it said that we were together in Hollywood. One day she was teaching me how to act in that whole scene, and she sent a picture to Ryan of her and I together with Janet Mock in the background photobombing us. I always think that, in that moment, Ryan thought they should be together in the show. I was pleasantly surprised. I actually told Holland on my Instagram Stories that it was one of my favorite scenes that I’ve ever shot. There’s something about that scene that just resonates with me in such a way. They found happiness late in life, and the tragedy is that Ernie is dying. He says, ‘I’m headed for the old dirt pile.” But still, they’re going to live out their days being together and being happy. There’s something so beautiful and tragic about that scene that I just absolutely adore.
I loved how the show touched on the fact that you can find love later in life, and you can live out your life to the fullest extent no matter what age you are.
Dylan McDermott: I think that a lot of older people are really enjoying Hollywood because of that fact. It’s giving them hope. There’s a whole constituency of “Moms Love Hollywood.” I think it really is resonating with the young and the old.
Your daughter, Colette, makes an appearance in the show. How did that happen? Did you bring it up to Ryan?
Dylan McDermott: I didn’t bring it up to him. I just kind of let her go through the motions and audition. I think it was brought to his attention that she was my daughter. He had met her on American Horror Story when she was like 13 years old. She and her friends would come to the set. He had met her quite a few times. I think we had dinner at the Chateau once years ago, and there was a party or something that I brought her to, so he had been aware of her. He was kind enough to cast her. I’ve never seen her happier in my life. It brought tears to my eyes because she was just so thrilled to be going to work and being around such great actors and people. It really was her dream.
There are a lot of different characters on this show that have different experiences when it comes to Hollywood and making their dreams come true. Did you notice any parallels with any of the characters that were similar to when you were first starting out?
Dylan McDermott: I think that all actors’ stories are similar in some ways beginning with the dream. Ernie talks about how he’s not doing it for the money. He’s doing it for the dream. There’s always a dream that each actor has of making it in Hollywood and becoming a movie star and working with great actors and directors. That dream is what Hollywood is built on. It used to be called the “Dream Factory.” I think that still exists today. In many ways, this effect that Hollywood is actually having on people is exactly why entertainment was born. We need something to escape to. We need something to look at, to dream about, to hope for. I think that’s what Hollywood does.
You’ve worked with Ryan for 10 years on American Horror Story and The Politician. What keeps you coming back to work with him?
Dylan McDermott: Well, I always say that Ryan is the Andy Warhol of our time. When I was a kid, I used to watch Andy walk around Manhattan. I was enamored with him in the same way that I am Ryan. I think he’s a genius. I think that he understands pop culture in such an amazing way, and I love being a part of his troupe. Whatever he asks me to do, I come in and enjoy myself. I believe in his vision. I’d be happy to work with him for the rest of my days. I already told him that. I said, “I could just work with you and be happy.” Because he fulfills me. I was talking to my mom, Eve Ensler, and she was saying she wanted to thank Ryan because she’s been trying to get me to this place where I am in Hollywood. She saw that in me many, many years ago, but I haven’t been able to exactly express myself in a way that I’m doing in Hollywood. That’s why I’m getting the attention that I am because I had that freedom as a kid, and you get caught up in other roles and other times, and it escaped me. But now it’s here. The moment is here, and it’s a very important moment. It’s a moment that I treasure because I’m finally me. It’s taken me my whole life to get to this place. I think Ernie, in many ways, was the catalyst. I was able to express myself through Ernie.
I can really see that in your performance. You just became one with this character.
Dylan McDermott: When the day was done and I was wrapped, I still wanted to be Ernie. I didn’t want to stop. There was a very deep experience that happened with him. They say that acting is understanding. I understood him in a way, and that’s what you hope for when you become an actor. You hope to merge with a character if you will.
I like that the show ends where it ends. I feel like there’s such a feeling of hope. Is there another era of Hollywood you would want to see Ryan explore?
Dylan McDermott: I think it’s kind of endless, which is why the show works. You can do the 60s, you can do the 70s, the #MeToo movement. There are so many things to explore. It’s not quite Babylon, but there’s something about Hollywood in mixing real people with fictitious people and have this thing which Ryan calls “faction” out there to create the world of Hollywood. There are so many seasons that we could do this.
I have to say, your Instagram lives have been the second-best thing about Hollywood. They are delightful. Ryan says he’s now creating a show for you and Leslie Jordan. How are you feeling about that?
Dylan McDermott: Can you believe it? Ryan put up two Instagrams of Leslie and I in the last week alone. I think he’s excited about it. I think it’s just a home run. Leslie and I together… That’s gonna be a great show no matter what.