Ryan Murphy's 'Hollywood': Meet the (Familiar) Cast of the Netflix Period Drama

6:00 AM 4/22/2020

by Lacey Rose

From Darren Criss to Patti LuPone, the show's co-creator loaded his latest ensemble with a mix of stars his fans have seen before.

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  • Darren Criss

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS Glee, American Horror Story; Hotel, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Raymond, director

    Criss was part of the series' genesis, having hatched the idea for a 1940s Hollywood project over dinner with Murphy as they celebrated their hugely successful awards run for the Versace installment of American Crime Story. "One thing I told Darren that night was that after Versace, I was interested in doing something much more inspirational and with a happy ending," says the prolific producer. "I really didn't want to see somebody blow their head off with a shotgun again." Once Murphy plotted out the story with co-creator Ian Brennan, he cast Criss, also an EP, as an on-the-rise director, who's dating Laura Harrier's Camille, at the center of the story.

  • Jim Parsons

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS The Normal Heart, Boys in the Band (Broadway), Boys in the Band (Netflix)

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Henry Willson, Talent Agent

    Parsons was deep into his second rendition of Boys in the Band, this time for Netflix, when Murphy approached him about Hollywood. The prolific producer had already decided Parsons, still best known to TV audiences as nerd-genius Sheldon on CBS' The Big Bang Theory, would be pitch perfect as Rock Hudson’s infamous talent agent, Henry Willson. He signed on, and quickly devoured Willson's bio. By its end, Parsons admits he'd developed a degree of empathy for the closeted rep, horrific behavior and all. "He ended up destitute because he'd used every resource he had to get his clients to the place that he wanted them to be and that they wanted to be — paying for clothes, paying for lessons, paying for teeth — and so as nasty and weird and slimy as he could be at times, I felt for him when I read he died penniless in a Styrofoam coffin," says Parsons, noting it was years before anyone pitched in to get him a tombstone with his name on it. Eager to get Willson "just right," Parsons would spend some two and a half hours in the makeup chair, as heavy prosthetics were applied. "I'd leave the makeup trailer feeling somewhat transformed and a little freer without even knowing it was happening," he says, adding of the part: "It ended up being one of the more powerful experiences of my life."

  • Joe Mantello

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS The Normal Heart, Boys in the Band (Broadway), Boys in the Band (Netflix)

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Dick, film executive

    Mantello was initially uneasy about jumping into another series, but the Broadway director and sometime actor ultimately found the draw of Murphy impossible to resist. He was on his second tour of duty for Boys in the Band, this time for Netflix, when the prolific producer presented the then-still-nebulous part. That the series itself was not fully formed was of no matter: "I don't mean to oversimplify it, but it was Ryan — I was signing on for the Ryan of it all," says Mantello. "I had had such a good time working with him on The Normal Heart and I felt confident in his ability to take care of me." As for the role, Murphy had written him as a closeted studio executive. "He has a bottom-line mentality because he exists within a system where that's rewarded," says Mantello. At the same time, the character has a real awareness of talent and evolves dramatically over seven episodes: "This man who has made a series of agreements with himself in order to keep his place in the business starts to follow his own instincts and heart and gradually becomes a more authentic version of himself and brings that to his work." Mantello wrapped production on the limited series early this year and immediately returned to New York, where he was set to direct Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway. 

  • Dylan McDermott

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS American Horror Story, The Politician

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Ernie, Service station owner

    McDermott has quickly become a go-to member of Murphy’s traveling troupe. When it came to Hollywood, Murphy cast him as a Scotty Bowers-esque character named Ernie, who runs a service station where cars as well as Hollywood heavyweights come to get serviced. Murphy loved the idea of having McDermott in a role so few would expect from him. "I wanted to reinvent him, because I think he's a very good actor," says the producer, revealing it was McDermott's idea to have the character go gray. Murphy, who's famously hands-on when it comes to aesthetics, had envisioned Ernie with a crew cut, but McDermott showed him a picture of a gray-haired Clark Gable and convinced the producer to let him try it. Says Murphy, "He was right."

     

  • David Corenswet

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS The Politician

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Jack Costello, actor

    Corenswet made his debut in Murphy’s The Politician and quickly became something of a Murphy muse. "He's that unicorn in this business," says the producer. "He looks like an old-time movie star and he can act, too." Corenswet had heard whispers of Hollywood while he was making The Politician, and he kept his fingers crossed that he might get the call. "Ryan Murphy makes a lot of television and he has an excellent reputation for keeping people in the family, so that's always the hope," says the actor. The call did come, which led to Corenswet sitting down with Murphy, who walked him through a very early idea for the show. In the same conversation, he offered him the role of Jack Costello, a war vet who'd returned home and wanted to make it in Hollywood. Of course, to make ends meet, Jack takes an unenviable gig as a sex worker. "Ryan was really interested in pulling back the curtain on the glamorous facade that was presented in the golden age of the studio system," he says. Then Murphy did one better, telling Corenswet, an aspiring producer-director as well, that he'd be giving him an executive producer credit on the series. Corenswet says he loved the front-row seat he got to seeing how the "sausage was made." As for his part in the production, it required he go back and re-watch a slew of 1940s films that he had grown up on. Unlike several of the other characters, however, there was no real-life figure to lean on for inspiration. "The upside to my character is that he's very naive and very wide-eyed and really doesn't know much about [the business]," he says, adding: "I think one of the interesting things about him is that he is blind, for the most part, to the injustices — they haven't affected him personally, so he isn't aware of them, but also he hasn't internalized the prejudices of the society around him. So, when he meets Archie [a black, gay, aspiring screenwriter who works with him at the service station], all he sees is another young guy who's struggling to come up and who's got to make compromises." 

  • Patti LuPone

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS American Horror Story: CovenPose

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Avis, housewife turned studio head

    LuPone had already guest starred on Murphy's FX series Pose when he approached her about a role that he had written for her in Hollywood. The Tony winner was immediately in. "I would not say no to Ryan," she says. "And to be able to go to work at Sunset Gower Studios and look to my left and see the Hollywood sign? I was just in heaven." The role was that of a studio chief's wife, who ultimately inherits his studio and, with that power, makes a series of groundbreaking greenlight decisions. At one point early on, Murphy had told her the part was extremely loosely based on Irene Mayer Selznick, who was the daughter of movie magnate Louis B. Mayer and the wife of film producer David O. Selznick, so her bio was one of many things LuPone leaned on to prepare. Over the course of Hollywood's production, she says was continually struck by the project's timeliness, particularly in its treatment of minorities: "Whether it was revisionist of not, it just smacked of today and yet this took place in the 1940s," she says. As for the sex scenes Murphy and his writers penned for the 71-year-old star, LuPone doesn't mince words: "Finally!"

  • Jeremy Pope

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    OTHER MURPHY CREDITS Pose

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Archie, screenwriter

    Pope first surfaced on Murphy’s radar as a double Tony nominee for his work in Choir Boy and Ain’t Too Proud — the same year the producer was nominated (and won) for Boys in the Band. The two set up a meeting before there was so much as a script, and Murphy almost immediately offered Pope the part. "I remember talking to my team, and we were like, 'We don't know what we got,'" says the actor. "But Ryan and I had an instant connection as creator and artist and what I appreciated was that he wanted to find this character together." That character was Archie, an African American screenwriter who pens the movie at the center of Hollywood — and, just as notably, is a sex worker at the service station and Rock Hudson’s boyfriend. "There is a version of this where you could feel sorry for Archie, but I don't think the audience should," Pope continues, alluding to the backlash Archie faces. "I felt it was important that we show a fighter, a strong, fearless individual who, at the same time, is extremely talented." Murphy was so taken with Pope's performance in the series that he cast him in the third season of Pose, which had just started shooting in New York when the novel coronavirus struck. The openly gay actor will play straight in the FX series, reveals Murphy, who adds: "I'm really interested in him doing that one, two punch of Hollywood as a gay person and Pose as a straight one." Pope, like the others, will remain with Hollywood, too, should the series continue to a second season.

  • Holland Taylor

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS n/a

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Ellen Kinkaid, film executive

    Hollywood marks Taylor's first go-round with Murphy, though, as the longtime partner to Murphy muse Sarah Paulson, she and the producer have shared many Thanksgiving dinners. Here, Taylor plays a studio executive — a part that was explicitly written for her. "Holland's a great dramatic actress and I wanted her to play that," he says of the actress, whose résumé has been heavier on comedies of late. "I think if she was working in the 1940s, she would've been [Katharine] Hepburn-esque." Murphy gave her Kinkaid a love interest, too, acknowledging that he was very interested in the idea of having Taylor and Patti LuPone, both over 70, play these sexualized characters. "Seventy is the new 40," he teases.

  • Samara Weaving

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS n/a

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Claire Wood, actress

    Weaving was cast as the aspiring actress daughter of a major studio head, played by Rob Reiner, and his wife turned successor, played by Patti LuPone. The actress, who broke out in Ready or Not, is a new addition to the Murphy orbit, but it's likely she’ll reappear: "Samara's a star," he says.

  • Laura Harrier

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS n/a

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Camille, actress

    Harrier went some four months before she got so much as a callback for Hollywood. The former model, who had naturally assumed she hadn’t gotten the part, was then told she'd need to test opposite Darren Criss, who plays Camille's director boyfriend Raymond. It was at that chemistry test where Harrier met Murphy — of whom she was a "very, very big fan" — for the first time. He called her the following morning to offer her the role. Not long after, the actress would come to see that her character, Camille, would be cast as the heroine of a major studio picture at the center of the Hollywood story. Had that happened in real life, says Harrier, "I think it would have changed the world in a huge way, not just for me as an actress of color but for representation in general." She continues, zeroing in on the impact Camille's trajectory could have had had it played out in reality: "Because it matters when you see someone who looks like you onscreen and when you hear stories that are like your stories — it makes people feel less like outsiders, it makes them feel important, and that changes the way you walk through the world." To prepare herself for the transformation, she went back and familiarized herself with the time period. She read and watched with an eye focused on real-life figures Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne as inspiration. As for the project's timeliness, the actress, who worked particularly closely with writer-director Janet Mock, doesn't sugarcoat her thoughts: "Camille's struggles in 1947 are very similar to the struggles that we're facing right now."

  • Jake Picking

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    PRIOR MURPHY CREDITS n/a

    HOLLYWOOD ROLE Rock Hudson, actor

    Murphy had read 150 actors for the part of Rock Hudson, and had yet to settle on anyone. "I wasn't finding it because people weren't looking exactly like him," explains the producer, who ultimately decided to take a chance on Picking because "he was just so sweet and vulnerable in the room" — and then add a series of aesthetics later. The latter process, which initially took an hour and a half and grew quicker over time, helped Picking get lost in the character, too. "I felt like I could disappear," says the actor, who's new to the world of Murphy. He threw himself into preparation as well, watching and re-watching all of Hudson's films, often on silent so that he could study the posture and mannerisms of the closeted matinee idol. "I wanted to pay homage," he says, with an earnestness that comes across onscreen. As for the project itself, Picking couldn't help but feel like he was in some kind of "time warp," he says, adding of Hollywood: "It showcases how nothing and everything has changed." Still, Murphy takes solace in the fact that Picking, a straight actor, slipped into the role without any hesitation. "Ten years ago, Jake Picking would have been told, 'You cannot do this part' or 'It's going to ruin your career,'" says Murphy. "And we got on set, and I was directing their sex scene, and there was never a conversation of, like, 'I don't want to do that' or 'I'm uncomfortable.' It was just, 'Let's go.'"