Press tour live-blog: FX’s ‘American Horror Story’

Senior Television Writer
08.06.11 10 Comments

FX screened “American Horror Story” for critics a few nights ago, and reaction was decidedly mixed. I’ll wait until seeing a final cut of the pilot to offer a full review, but if you follow me on Twitter, you know that my initial reaction was that it was like season 3 of a Ryan Murphy show, in pilot form. If you’ve watched “Glee,” “Nip/Tuck,” etc. as they’ve gone along and grown more over-the-top, you know what I mean.

I’ll be live-blogging the panel, which features most of the show’s cast – including Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange and Denis O’Hare – as they talk about the haunted house series.

10:25: Fienberg loved the font of the main titles, opens the session asking about it. Murphy says he was obsessed with topography as a high schooler and has “books and books of fonts.” So he’s as fixated on it as Dan. Excellent.

10:27: Will they rotate the cast every 13 episodes, which was part of an early report about the show? Murphy says they won’t necessarily do that, but he has a very clear idea of what the 13th episode will be about.

Oscar winner Lange is asked the inevitable question about why she would do a TV series. “It had to do with the quality of the writing, and it had to do with the character that I could play.” Says American showbiz industry may be turning into something like what the UK has, where actors more easily slide between TV, film and theater.

10:31: What brought Britton to the show? Britton could never watch “Nip/Tuck” because “it was too gory,” but thought “Glee” was “incredibly innovative and exciting.”

10:33: Britton also thought it would be completely different “in every way” from doing “Friday Night Lights.” McDermott, meanwhile, says he was interested in “psychological horror” even before he read the script. “I love how strange and weird and creepy” it is.

10:34: We’re at least 6 questions in and no one has asked a “Glee” question yet. Any critic who took the under has lost.

10:35: “I am literally afraid of horror movies, I’m afraid of the genre,” says Britton, who did the “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake to try to face her fears. “I should not be here!”

10:36: Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge play different versions of the same character, the family maid (it makes sense once you see it). Breckenridge says she tries to copy Conroy’s mannerisms when they transition from one to the other. Conroy did the same when it went the other way.

10:38: Murphy says the pilot “has 8 cliffhangers in it,” and they have an obligation in upcoming episodes to explain much of what happens there. “By the third episode, all of those big mysteries are settled, and then the audience can just be along for the ride.” He also wanted to answer the obvious horror trope question of why the family stays in the haunted house. “People make jokes about it: ‘Why are the white people still in the house?'”

10:40: Reporter disagrees with Britton’s assessment that her character is very different from Mrs. Coach. “I know what you mean,” she says. She wants to find “different ways to find her fall apart.” On “Friday Night Lights,” she didn’t have to deal with stories about infidelity, psychological trauma and the rest. The world of Dillon was “concise,” while “this world is a bit unglued.”

10:42: Murphy was heavily inspired by Nicholas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” in making the series. As a young kid seeing that movie “I was very startled by it.” Whereas Falchuk’s favorite movie was “Jaws.” “You’re very influenced by those filmmakers you gravitated to when you were younger,” Murphy says, adding that his grandmother “forced” him to watch “Dark Shadows.” “And when I was bad, I had to watch ‘The Waltons.'”

10:44: How important is it for Britton and McDermott to give grounded performances given how “stylized” (to put it mildly) many of the supporting performances are? Murphy says that “it was never really about horror… it was about marriage and infidelity.” Says all the characters, sane and crazy, have points of view on that topic. “Yeah, it’s really fun for us to have these delicious characters, who are played by some of the best actors in the world, come through that, some in creature makeup, some not.”

10:46: Did Lange base her very Southern, inappropriate character on anyone? She says not a real person, but it has elements of roles she’s played. Being Southern “lends a certain kind of freedom to what you do with it, and I’ve played a lot of Southern women.”

10:47: “Connie, are you gonna watch this show?” She laughs and says yes. She wasn’t sure, but then Murphy showed her the pilot last week. She also wasn’t very much into football, but in the same way that when she watched “FNL,” “I found it just a beautiful piece of art to watch. Ryan put together this amazing other thing… To me, it’s not just horror in the way ‘Friday Night Lights’ wasn’t just football.”

10:48: The pilot goes through a lot of plot. Can the intensity keep up like that every episode? “I find it always interesting when people say that about a pilot: that there’s too much story,” Murphy says. Calls the pilot “a blueprint,” and loves when pilots have a lot of stuff going on. “That being said, when you have actors like this, you have an obligation to write them really emotional, really grounded stories, which we are doing. Some of the episodes do move at a similar” pace to the pilot, though, like the two-part Halloween episode.

10:53: O’Hare notes that just being on the panel this morning and listening to the answers has made him realize, “Oh, that’s what the show is about!” He plays a former occupant of the house who has suffered heavy burns and other torments. The makeup takes three hours to apply, but it’s helpful, “Because I find it a way of stepping down into the character.”

10:55: Why did they put a haunted house series in Los Angeles? Falchuk thinks “Los Angeles is a wonderfully haunted city.” They considered other locations, but between the Black Dahlia, the Manson murders and all the other noted crimes, they “make this place a great ghost town.” Murphy says the house is “definitely a character,” notes that the country was built on the idea of moving West and claiming new spaces, and now “We’ve almost literally run out of space.” He believes the house he lives in “has a spirit in it.”

And that’s all. No “Glee” questions. I’m assuming those will come in the scrum. Still don’t like the show, but that was an interesting panel, at least.

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