Last Friday night at PaleyFest, show creator Ryan Murphy dished the title for the upcoming season of “American Horror Story,” which is Coven. Not really shocking to fans since guesses in that direction started to surface after “I Put a Spell on You” played on the jukebox in episode 2.10 and show star Dylan McDermott mentioned witches in an interview late last month. But satisfying, nonetheless, for Murphy to confirm hopes that season three would, indeed, bring viewers a season of spells, hexes, and, given the show’s history, lots of dark, dark magic.
Besides Murphy, the PaleyFest “American Horror Story” panel included Co-Creator Brad Falchuk and Executive Producers Dante Di Loreto and Tim Minear
Some of the ideas on the show’s second season Asylum were as crazy as the inmates, but most of these ideas come from true life stories. For example, when asked about the nipple lamp created by Bloody Face, aka Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) from the skin of one of his victims, Falchuk talked about the character being based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, that Gein would “kill these women and make furniture out of their skin.” And regarding Bloody Face’s son Johnny (McDermott) engaging the lactating hooker, Murphy talked about the fact that such prostitutes certainly do exist in the real world and get hired. That fetish is particularly fitting for this character, “this guy who feels he did not get the love and nurturing from his mother.”
The show’s creative process, according to Murphy, starts with an idea. In season one, for example, the idea was infidelity, influenced by the films of director Louis Malle, how do you deal with that in a marriage. Then the creators “talk about the characters for many months” and that this “long lead time in writing” is why the “quality is so amazing.” Once they have the stories and the characters, then they talk about casting the roles, moving the actors around. They didn’t know when they came up with the character Johnny that they would cast McDermott in the role, and later they realized he would work well for the part.
Murphy also talked about “The Walking Dead” being a fantastic show, about the growing popularity of the horror genre, getting back to the character-based storytelling such as in films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” before horror disintegrated into the “virgin chased with the knife” and then snuff films. “American Horror Story” could not attract the caliber of actors it has without being character driven, Murphy says.
Falchuk added that these days many people are down, that the creators approach horror as “something that exists in people’s lives” and provide “an opportunity for imagery for people that are a little anxious right now.” The creators want to make a statement every year.
Murphy doesn’t rule out any subject for the show. He says the show is fun for him because he “can put all [his] weird obsessions that don’t go together into one pastiche” and because of this “unique nature” of the anthology, with new stories and characters every season, that the show can go for many years. Di Loreto said the “challenge of the show, you reinvent it each year,” a “really refreshing experience … the actors take on completely different roles.”
The show’s first season Murder House included a character from history, The Black Dahlia, while Asylum brought in Anne Frank. Murphy said he researched frauds who had impersonated historical people and that he found a preponderance of psychotic women who thought they were Frank. Murphy hinted in prior interviews that Kathy Bates, who joins the cast for the upcoming season, may play the historical figure in Coven.
Fans hated Jessica Lange’s character Sister Jude initially, for incarcerating Sarah Paulson’s character Lana just because she’s lesbian and subjecting her to electro-shock therapy, among other equally abhorrent deeds. But as the season progressed, Jude herself changed, and compared with the possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), brutally killing without compunction, and former Nazi Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) experimenting on humans, audiences became sympathetic towards Jude.
Asked if it was “always the intention to give Sister Jude a moment of peace,” Minear, who wrote the final episode said, “No. That was Ryan [Murphy].” Murphy said initially they envisioned the final episode surrounding Lana shutting down the institution, but after research, that idea seemed too dark. They wanted to “uplift people who had been through so much.” Falchuk said that more than films, TV “demands some compassion at the end” since audiences have developed such affection for the characters.
Click here to read what show stars Lange, Rabe, Naomi Grossman, Frances Conroy and Evan Peters had to say at PaleyFest.