Ryan Murphy dishes on American Horror Story: Hotel and Scream Queens

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Jul 20, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT

Cryptic teasers full of twisted imagery are beginning to drop on TV and the web, which means the fifth season of American Horror Story is in production and will premiere in October. Headlined by the casting of Lady Gaga, this season, titled Hotel, looks to be charged with some new blood and a return to Los Angeles after spending the last two seasons in Louisiana. Here’s what we’ve come to learn about the new season after attending co-creator Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story panel at San Diego Comic-Con, where he also previewed his new Fox series, Scream Queens, which he co-created with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. Murphy was joined on one side by AHS regulars Angela Bassett, Matt Bomer, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson. To his other side were his Scream Queens, Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, Abigail Breslin, and Billie Lourd. 

First things first: Jessica Lange is taking this season off, but Murphy explained that the nature of making anthology television is that actors sign season-long contracts and are free to leave and come back or contribute as much as they want to. So, just because she’s leaving doesn’t mean she’s gone for good. Sadly, Frances Conroy will be also tied up on another series. So, who is coming back?

Thankfully, Paulson and Peters, who have been in every season, will return as Hypodermic Sally and Mr. March, respectively. Also returning from last season are Bomer (as Donovan), Bassett (as Ramona), and Bates’ Iris will run the hotel. Cheyenne Jackson (Glee), Max Greenfield (New Girl) are notable newcomers with more to come. Because it’s a hotel, don’t be surprised to see familiar faces from previous seasons, like Emma Roberts, Lily Rabe, Gabourey Sidibe and Denis O’Hare.

In American Horror Story, actual historical settings and people inspire characters and plots in each season, albeit in Murphy’s stylized fashion. Most notably, Bates’ character in Coven, Madame Delphine Lalaurie, was a real woman who tortured and mutilated slaves in New Orleans in the 1830s. So, that has fans coming up with theories on Hotel being inspired by the Cecil Hotel (now called "Stay on Main") in Los Angeles, where many murders and suicides have occurred. 

Two serial killers, Richard “the Nightstalker” Ramirez in 1985 and Jack Unterweger in 1991 stayed there, and the Cecil is also known to be one of the last places Elizabeth Short was seen alive in 1947. Short is also known as “The Black Dahlia” and has already made an appearance in American Horror Story: Murder House, played by Mena Suvari. Most recently, in 2013, Elisa Lam, a 21-year old Canadian student, was found  in the water supply tanks on the hotel roof. Authorities ruled Lam’s death an accidental drowning, but she was known to have bipolar disorder, video surveillance footage showed Lam acting peculiar, and she was described by many to be possessed. 

The Cecil Hotel connection is pure speculation at this point, but there’s plenty of ammunition in its history to inspire several movies, much less a single season of American Horror Story. The Black Dahlia connection alone makes it a strong coincidence and at the very least, it’s made for some fascinating clue hunting by fans.

Murphy did confirm a few things at Comic-Con, including no musical numbers. Fans find that hard to believe, especially with the casting of Gaga, but Murphy told the attendees, “I got it out of my system (in Freakshow), and the fun thing to it is doing something different.”  Murphy does field emails from actors wanting to be a part of AHS, and got one from Gaga asking “Would you consider putting me in the show?” to which he replied “YES!”  

“Part of her role involves fashion,” Murphy teased. “So, the (costume) designers have been coming out of the wood work. I’m really excited!”

As for other characters, Murphy shared that “Angela and Sarah are bad girls. I always want to write the opposite of the season before for actors.” This marks the first time Paulson is a featured villain. He also added that Bomer, Peters and Bates can all be considered bad, too, since they were "good" in Freakshow.

Murphy spent half the panel on Scream Queens, which will premiere on Fox, September 22, with a two-hour pilot, taking his brand of horror anthology to network television. The main difference between the two is that in American Horror Story, each season starts with new settings, themes, and characters played by many of the same actors. In Scream Queens, subsequent seasons will follow the survivors of the previous seasons in new settings, which means he’s already receiving bribes by cast members. Scream Queens follows a series of murders on a college sorority and is described as Halloween meets Heathers; it plays up the comedy aspect as much as the thriller element and should strike a chord with fans of American Horror Story: Coven.

AHS alum Roberts plays Chanel Oberlin, President of the sorority Kappa Kappa Tau and describes her character as “very fashionable and very bitchy. You’ll love to hate her and hate to love her, and all of the above.” Michele plays Hester, AKA “Neckbrace,” who is an overly eager pledge who Oberlin tramples repeatedly. But mutual thrills were seen with Murphy and Curtis when they spoke of each other. 

“We love to put people into boxes and think they’re one thing but what Ryan Murphy has done beautifully is show human beings are really quite complicated,” Curtis explained. “If you peel one later back from one person you’ll find something dark, if you peel another layer back, you’ll find something wacky. When you think you know one character, more will be revealed and is contradictory to the original impression.”

scream queens
scream queens

“I’ve worked in a lot of things and, honestly, most of it is not written well. We as actors do our work, try to sell it, we do as much as we can with it. It is a pleasure and for me–a rarity–to have writing which supports everything you do. You almost don’t have to do anything, so the work speaks for itself. So, for someone who spent her life in horror films that honestly aren’t written well, I’m trying to honor the writing and the reason we’re all here is because of the writing. “

Curtis may have had one of the best lines at Comic-Con when she was asked why it’s taken her so long to make her first appearance at the pop culture event to which she answered, “I was in the yogurt-that-makes-you-shit business,” and hid her face under her hand in embarassment–a joke towards her being the spokeswoman for Activa yogurt.

“If you’re going to hire Jamie Lee Curtis, you want to see her kicking ass and fighting back and doing all of those things I’ve loved her doing,” Murphy shared. “I’m writing a scene right now where she’s fighting off three killers. I come from a real fanboy place when we were writing the pilot, I asked to meet Jamie Lee who I have loved forever, and I told her that if you don’t do the show, we’re not going to do it. I meant it. It was very specific, it was an homage, it was about paying back–she didn’t even read anything, we didn’t have anything written at the time.”

scream queens, jamie lee curtis

“I tell actors that I love them, I know everything they’ve done and I say, I’ve never seen you do THIS! I wanted to see Jamie Lee Curtis have sex scene with an 18-year old. I wanted to see something irreverent and fun and her being powerful, and large and in charge." For all of you Laurie Strode fans, look for a wordless Halloween homage in episode two of Scream Queens.

“The who-will-live-and-who-will-die horror trope is something we’re, it really is a whodunnit, so after every take, (I would ask each actress) to get in the mindset of being the killer and doing another take.” He assured viewers that the killer will be in the premiere but no one on the cast knows yet who that is, especially with everyone required to shoot an extra take. 

The panel and abruptly quiet the laughter, a fan asked what the significance was with Pepper (played by Naomi Grossman) appearing in two different seasons of American Horror Story (Asylum and Freakshow). 

“Wow, s*** just got real,” Murphy said, before collecting himself. “I’ve said this before, but we have a long-term plan with American Horror Story and things are connected, so characters are connected to different seasons. Pepper is obviously the first. This season, we’re going to see more and more of that. Characters from previous seasons will come in and check into the hotel and it’s part of a connective universe with a pretty cool thesis statement at the very end of the run.”

If you're a fan of Murphy's brand of horror television, you have plenty to occupy your nights this fall. Which is your favorite season of American Horror Story and why? Who's your favorite character and who would you like to see check into the Hotel? Who is your favorite Scream Queen of all time? Share your thoughts below.