"I remember going in to the bathroom and splashing water on my face and telling myself to man up and get over it," Wittrock tells PEOPLE of his first day working with Hoffman

By Patrick Gomez
Updated August 21, 2015 12:35 PM
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Finn Wittrock may be starring alongside stars like [CELEBRITY_LINK” “” “” “0” ] and Matt Bomer on American Horror Story: Hotel, but the Emmy nominee wasn’t always so used to working with A-list talent.

In fact, he still has distinct memories of his first rehearsal for the 2012 Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, alongside a star-studded cast.

“I remember walking in and seeing [Philip Seymour Hoffman] pondering the set and [late director] Mike Nichols behind him and Andrew Garfield and [producer] Scott Rudin,” Wittrock, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I’d not really experienced celebrity to much degree before then. And I suddenly had to become a family member with these people.”

A bit overwhelmed, Wittrock says he took a moment to compose himself – doling out a few choice words of advice in the mirror.

“I remember going in to the bathroom and splashing water on my face and telling myself to man up and get over it,” he says.

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By the time the curtain raised, Wittrock and the entire cast – including Hoffman, who died of an apparent heroin overdose in 2014 – had become like family, garnering rave reviews in the process.

Salesman, was really kind of the game changer for me in a lot of ways,” says Wittrock, who is nominated for an outstanding supporting actor Emmy for his work on American Horror Story: Freak Show.

“It was an amazing experience for me professionally and artistically and personally,” he says of the play. “[After it], my career really took off.”

American Horror Story: Hotel premieres Oct. 7 on FX.