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Q&A Interview with AMERICAN HORROR STORY Executive Producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk

Maj Canton - October 4, 2011



TV Tango recently participated in a conference call with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, executive producers of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. Murphy and Falchuk dished about series stars Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott, the infamous Rubber Man, and why you should carefully watch the opening titles of each episode this season. Plus, at the bottom of the page you can watch the first five minutes of the first episode.

FX presents the series premiere of AMERICAN HORROR STORY on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 10pm ET/PT.




  QUESTION: What inspired you to create AMERICAN HORROR STORY? And are you seeking therapy?

RYAN MURPHY: Yes, we're both in intensive therapy.

I don't know. We've been kicking the idea around for a long time. I can't speak for Brad, but I just always like to do the opposite of what I've done before. I went from NIP/TUCK to GLEE, so it made sense that I wanted to do something challenging and dark. And I always had loved, as Brad had, the horror genre. So it just was a natural for me. And plus, we had this idea, but before we even had the horror genre idea, we wanted to do a show about infidelity and the breakup of a marriage. That's something that we had been talking about. So we just sort of put it into the world of horror, which we both have loved.
  BRAD FALCHUK: Growing up, I think Ryan and I both were sort of obsessed with that genre of horror. And the idea of putting something like that on TV was very intriguing to us, and also finding a different angle on it. And the angle we were looking at again was looking at it through the prism of this marriage falling apart and the horror metaphor  and that as a metaphor for the horror.

  QUESTION: How did you nab this great cast?

BRAD FALCHUK: We were really very lucky that. When we were writing, we wanted someone to play Vivien who was going to be able to be very, very strong and you would love because you could have her do sort of anything and suffer through anything and you would still kind of love her. So when Connie [Britton] came in, she was sort of the first choice because she's such an amazing actress and because she's coming off this very sort of high profile, iconic part [on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS].
  BRAD FALCHUK (continued): And we were excited to sort of be able to get her in here to do it, and she was very excited to do it because I think she wanted to do something different. And then when Dylan [McDermott] came in. Again, for that part, we wanted somebody very strong, very sexy, and also somebody who wanted to do something different. And we all -- actually the four of us -- went out to lunch after we brought them in, and the chemistry was very clear between the two of them. And only Ryan can speak to getting Jessica Lange because that was his sort of his coup.

RYAN MURPHY: Jessica is just somebody who has always been sort of interested in stuff that I was working on -- movies, projects, and things -- that I didn't move forward with. And when we came up with this part, we just went to her. And she was a little nervous about doing television, but when we explained the role and what she was going to do, I think she was really into it. And they've all been great and amazing to work with.

  QUESTION: Could you elaborate on whether the house is going to be featured all the way through this series?

BRAD FALCHUK: Not known. You've got to watch. It's part of the fun. I think that anytime there's a haunted house kind of a movie, the question everyone asks is "Well, why did you stay in the house? Why didn't you just leave?"
  BRAD FALCHUK (continued): And if you saw the second episode, we sort of address that very quickly. And there are reasons why they stay, reasons why they might leave. But I think that that's sort of the surprise of the show. But our intent with the scripts -- when we get in with the writers and really work on the script -- is to make sure that sort of all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed and that we have our characters reacting in an intelligent way. I mean, the reality is, if you look at the situations they're put in in those first two episodes, they have no reason to think the house is haunted. They have reason to think they've had a run of pretty bad luck, but I don't think they have any reason to think that there's something supernatural going on. So I think their reactions are pretty understandable, considering the conversation. And then I think as the season goes on, you'll see the choices they make, you know, are driven by many different motivations.

  QUESTION: What are your favorite horror movies that influenced you as artists?

BRAD FALCHUK: We both are very big fans of the genre. I love HALLOWEEN, and, you know, we both love ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE SHINING. Anything where the I think the genre part of it sort of enhances the story as opposed to being something about just murder porn.
  RYAN MURPHY: And I also think the second episode in particular is about that, but I think as you go on, there is less of that. I mean, my favorite horror movie growing up was DON'T LOOK NOW. The second episode, in a weird way, is a tribute to a lot of great horror movies and scenes that we like, but I think that happens less as we move through the show. But everybody says that about NIP/TUCK too. About GLEE, they say they can see a lot of SINGING IN THE RAIN in the first three episodes. I think that anytime you do something genre, you are compared to the other genre pieces that have come before. In this case we embrace that just because I love that genre, and I think so many of those great directors were amazing. So I guess some of it is homage, but I think as we go deeper into the stories, you will see less of that.

  QUESTION: Have you had any trouble getting anything past standards and practices?

RYAN MURPHY: No. You would think, but I think we work with a great group of people, and it is cable. It is a 10 o'clock show. It is, by design, for adults. There are warnings and labels on all of the episodes.
  JOHN LANDGRAF (FX Network president): That question in various forms has come a lot, certainly to me. And I think part of where it comes from is just the quality of the filmmaking, the acting, and the intensity of the experience of watching the show. When you actually look at what you see in terms of any graphic violence, blood, or any graphic violence on screen, it's less than was depicted in NIP/TUCK or, frankly, in THE SHIELD or SONS OF ANARCHY at times at this point. I think it's the context that Ryan and Brad have created and the intensity and effectiveness of the filmmaking that makes it feel so intense. But really, they haven't put anything in front of us in terms of an image that's as challenging, frankly, as some of what we've had on air in other series. So I would say this is by no means, not even close to, the most graphic show we've had on the air. It certainly isn't the most sexually explicit by a mile, with NIP/TUCK being that. And it's not the most profane from a language standpoint. That would have to go to RESCUE ME. So it's been pretty easy from a broadcast standards standpoint.

  QUESTION: Have you found it difficult to divide your attention between GLEE which is a very upbeat, family friendly show, and AMERICAN HORROR STORY,which is kind of the opposite of that?

RYAN MURPHY: Well, I think that certainly there are moments of intensity. But if you look at that second episode, which I think is really scary, I would say of the 42 or 43 minutes of screen time, there are only 30 seconds of violence. I think I prefer the spooky scary. And I think the pilot is that, and I think where we're going is that. I think there are a lot of great horror movies now. It seems like in the last couple years, that genre has become known for being more violent. A lot of critics have labeled it sort of torture porn.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): And I don't. This is the opposite of that. I think this is, in a weird way, a great horror story for women to watch because it is so emotional and it's about female issues. We are very aware of making sure that women -- I mean, look, it's a horror show, so you have scares and violence. But we've been careful not to make it the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Also, with the caliber of actors, Connie Britton and Jessica Lange and Dylan McDermott wouldn't let us do that anyway. And we talk a lot about it. We think a lot about it. We talk about how much to show and what not to show. And I think a lot of the scares in the show happen off the screen, which I think is just as interesting and scary. And I think a lot of the scares happen around the topic of infidelity. I would say -- and Brad would agree because we talked about it -- that I think the scariest scene in that second episode is when Dylan goes to Kate Mara's house and the pizza comes and she becomes a little uncaged, because that, to me, is like that great FATAL ATTRACTION scary, kind of what we're doing, trying to go for anyway.

  QUESTION: What is it about Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott that screams infidelity?

RYAN MURPHY: Well, I don't think anything about them screams infidelity. I think all of us are at the same point in our careers -- Brad, myself, Connie, Dylan talked about it. Connie just came off of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, where she played a very sort of beloved character. We had just done GLEE. Dylan had just done another show. And I think we all just wanted to change it up and do something very adult and do something very sort of challenging and maybe not so happy -- something that was a little bit more psychological and ambiguous.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): But Connie and Dylan are just awesome. If you're going to write a strong woman, which we are doing, that doesn't take a lot of gruff and fights back not only against the infidelity, but against these things living in her house, Connie's sort of the go-to gal. And we were thrilled that she wanted to change it up. And Dylan, I think, is just a great actor who is capable of great emotional scenes. And having talked to him and having met him, I just personally was very fascinated in his views on things and his life. So that's how we sort of came to that.

  QUESTION: Did you write all the episodes or do you have a writers' room?

BRAD FALCHUK: We have a staff of really amazing writers that have some genre experience. And it's a very sort of tight staff. And like Jim Wong, who was on THE X-FILES and did the FINAL DESTINATION movie, and Tim Minear and Jen Salt, who was on NIP/TUCK, and a new girl named Jessica Sharzer. They just love the material. It's exciting.
  BRAD FALCHUK (continued): We all get together and sort of talk about what scares us. That was always the idea. It wasn't like what are the global scares? What are the giant scares that we can talk about? What it was more what are the intimate scares? What are the things that keep us up at night or make us keep the light on, and then how do we turn that into a story? So it's been really fun working with them. They've been really great, and they're big fans of the show themselves.

  QUESTION: Have you already sketched out the next five seasons?

RYAN MURPHY: Well, sure. I think in today's marketplace, when you go in to pitch a show, they don't just ask you, "Okay, what's the pilot about?" We talk about the themes of the show, what is the show really about, where is it going. And we certainly did that with this.

RYAN MURPHY (continued): But look, if it's a success -- if John [Landgraf] would like it to go ten and I'm not in a wheelchair at the Motion Picture home -- I would.

We love doing the show. We have a great passion for it. It feels exactly like when we did GLEE. We just couldn't wait to come into work. We love the writers. We love the actors. Everybody on set is excited and jazzed because you feel like you're making something kind of that you haven't seen before on television, and that's always a very, very exciting place to be. And it happens rarely. It's happened to us twice in a row, luckily. So it's just really fun. And October is my favorite month of the year. I was actually supposed to be born on Halloween. My mother went into labor, and then I didn't come out. So I just love, and I always have, even as a child. I love this month. I'm thrilled to be a part of it.

From a broadcast point of view, I think FX has done an amazing job marketing it. It's a really spooky, scary Fall event at a time when you want to sort of turn on the TV late at night, turn off all the lights, and be scared. And that's what we are delivering to people, I think.

  QUESTION: How do you guys prevent the audience from getting horror fatigue?

RYAN MURPHY: I don't know. I guess your question, to me, is sort of like "Are you worried about doing a musical and people will become tired of the songs?" So I would think that it's very clearly an adult genre piece. I just am really interested in the characters, and all the scares ultimately come out of that. So I think if people love the characters and I think they will, and I think there's something in there for everybody I think that's what will hopefully bring them along. The scares, to me, like I said, are 10 seconds, 20 seconds of every show. And the rest is just hopefully emotional storytelling. The same thing is, I think, true of GLEE. We do between three and six songs per episode, and the rest is storytelling. So it's a very sort of similar paradigm to me.

  QUESTION: Are you going to be bring back some of the bad stories about the house as we go along?

RYAN MURPHY: We don't want to give anything away on that, but the only thing that we will say on that is the house is a character. I would say it's one of the leads of our show. And all of our characters have histories, and this does. I think every town has a murder house. I certainly had one when I was growing up. Brad and I had talked about it. He had one in his town. And there is a very dark, deep mystery that we need to get to the bottom of this season about what happened in that house and why does it attract this stuff. So we will get into that.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): If people look at the title sequence in the show, every week there is  a clue that is kind of revealed in the title sequence. By the end of the season, the last episode of the season, you will know why every one of those images was in there. It's sort of like clue of the week, and every week we do answer those big riddles.

  QUESTION: What do you hope to bring to one of the oldest filmmaking genres?

BRAD FALCHUK: I don't know. I hadn't thought about that. I think that anytime you go into the horror genre, your main goal is to scare people. You want people to be a little bit off balance afterwards. You want people to have their friends sleep over that night. And you want to deliver iconic images that stay with people. So you want to be able to deliver that hockey mask or that pediatrician or that or obstetrician or whatever it is that makes people remember, "Oh, that's this iconic part of" "the iconic scare that, just thinking about it, makes me a little bit" "gives me the willies a little bit." So I don't know. I guess stuff like that.
  RYAN MURPHY: And also, we're very excited that so many people we know already are going as Rubber Man for Halloween. And that's the greatest compliment ever. [Laughter]

  QUESTION: Ryan, has your sexuality informed your telling a horror story about a traditional family unit?

RYAN MURPHY: Oh, no, I never really think about that. I don't think that the show has...well, we actually do in episode 3. Zach Quinto plays a great gay character. I never think about that. I never think about trying to do a straight story or a gay story. I'm just trying to do a story and trying to write characters that are interesting. I do feel an obligation to have gay, lesbian, transgender roles in the work. I don't think that this show is like NIP/TUCK or GLEE in that they're written in the same way. But certainly they're there. I don't know. I think that this is a nontraditional family, and I think most households are now. So I think that it's relatable, if that makes any sense.

  QUESTION: How do you kind of balance when you reveal stuff or what you might want to reveal at the end of season 10?

RYAN MURPHY: I don't know. I just think that we have an overview. We have a plan. I think before we started writing this season, we knew exactly how it ended. And I think every episode has been plotted out. For example, we're writing right now episode 7, which is all about the Denis O'Hare / Burn Man character. And it's about his true backstory and what he does and who he had relationships with. We kind of knew that already when we shot his scenes in the pilot. So we just really carefully mapped that out.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): Do most people who are working on season 2 of a show know exactly what season 10 is about? I don't think they do. I think they may have an idea about the theme of their series or maybe who will live and who will die. One of the things that I think is great about this show is we're also open to surprises in the writers' room, which is really a lot of fun, because you want to be scared yourself when you're writing it. I mean, I am, which is great.

  QUESTION: Can you tell me about this viral marketing campaign with Rubber Man?

RYAN MURPHY: Well, I think FX, led by Stephanie Gibbons and John Landgraf, has an amazing marketing department. It's one of my favorite things about working with them, also having done NIP/TUCK, is the quality of that work. I think it outshines practically everybody. And I think why they win award after award and why I think they'll win another one with this is because it's creative. I think so many times, you see the typical TV poster. It's five people on a thing smiling; or, look, this is about a house, so it would be natural and traditional to just put a house on a poster.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): But the show is not really just about a haunted house. It's about a lot of things. It's about sex and infidelity and primal fears. And I think that poster accurately, 100 percent, in an incredibly sophisticated way captures not only what the show is about, but captures the tone of the show. And I think that's very important. And I think all of the viral campaigns -- the idea of having people sign up to be scared by Rubber Man and then having those websites crash because people have such a great interest in the scare of the week and all the promos -- I couldn't be more thrilled. And I think that I just think it's ingenious, and I think it cuts above the clutter. And I think it's bold. On the side of FOX right now, there is that poster -- the red background and the pregnant Connie Britton and the Rubber Man -- and I think that it stops traffic. And that's an amazing thing to be able to create, I think, not just the campaign, but a piece of art. And that's what I think they've done.

JOHN LANDGRAF (FX Network president): We actually do work really closely with Ryan and Brad because we really respect their instincts when it comes to marketing. So we talked earlier about how they conceptually want to market the show and what we're thinking. And we showed them really early rough iterations, and they're very much a part of the creative and the selection process. And I think the main thing -- and this echoes something Ryan just said -- is if you said this was a television series about a haunted house, that sounds like about the most boringly derivative statement you could possibly make. It just makes me want to yawn. But when you see the series, it's incredibly innovative and bold and original and just different than anything else on television. So a part of what we wanted to do with the audience is be honest with them about the kind of experience that they were going to be having, which is it's intense, it's funny, it's sexy, it's scary; it's an intense show, though. And also just let them know that they were going to be seeing something that's just unlike anything they've ever seen before. We hope that even though that isn't as sort of concrete and on the nose, that just the simple intrigue with the boldness and originality of what Ryan and Brad have done will carry the day for a lot of the audience.

  QUESTION: Will we continue open each episode with what's gone on before, before we get into today's story?

RYAN MURPHY: Not every episode, but many of them. For example, you will see it again in episode 3. And then we have this really great two-part Halloween episode, and that is not included in all of those episodes. There's two of them. So I think that's one of the things that I loved about the house, that I love about the idea, is that sort of evil attracts evil, so to say. And I do think that sounds like a sort of highfalutin idea, but I also think that I believe in the law of physics, and so it makes sense to me. So yeah, that's one of the things that we are playing with. And it's been a great, fun thing for our art department and our actors to do, to go back literally in time to show different periods.
  BRAD FALCHUK: That's the thing about ghost stories too, is that ghost stuff carries the past to the present. So you can kind of travel through time a little bit.

  QUESTION: What were you looking for in your cast for this show compared to your past shows?

RYAN MURPHY: I think in THE GLEE PROJECT and GLEE you break new talent, and that's always fun and exciting. And then this was different in that we sort of begged these great actors who were very established, all of whom are award winning, to come and play in our sort of strange sandbox. But the casting, to me, was the same.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): Jessica, I've always wanted to work with. Denis, Brad, and I have always talked about wanting to work with. And then we populated it with some other people who were just great friends that we have all worked with over the years, like Sarah Paulson, who did this great arc on NIP/TUCK for us, and we've been friends ever since. And just other people, like I've always loved Zach Quinto's work. And I'm always like, "Well, I'm going to write a role for him," so we did. It's things like that, that sometimes you shoot for the stars and you write stuff for people and they say yes, and then sometimes they don't. But that's always the fun thing, to be excited by other people's talent, you know, which that's one of the things that I'm the most excited about with my job is that I get to work with people and create for people whose work I just hugely admire.

  QUESTION: Any possibility we might someday see Chris Colfer or someone from GLEE pop up doing a horror story?


RYAN MURPHY: You know, those kids are terrified of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. Terrified. Brad and I had a screening for them, and they all went. And I think they're great and they love the show. They're obsessed with the show. They go over and visit and touch the gross special effects and prosthetics. But many of them reported that they didn't sleep after they watched it.
  RYAN MURPHY (continued): That group of kids is a great family for us, and we love them all. And they've been very supportive, and we're supportive of them. But that's fun. Lea and Chris the other day went over and talked to Connie and saw Rubber Man. And without naming names, a couple of them had to not watch the show. It was too intense for them, which I also quite enjoyed. We were doing this sort of "scare people" thing, and to do that, you have to sign up and be scared. And all of them, much to our horror, were too scared to sign up. So we're busting their chops about that; that they're all a bunch of wimps. They're just song-and-dance wussies. They love it, though. They've all seen it, and they all really enjoy it.

Can't wait for the series premiere on Wednesday? Watch the first five minutes of the first episode in this embedded video: