8:00am PT by Jackie Strause
'American Horror Story: Cult': All the Season 7 Details
When it comes to American Horror Story season seven: Expect more of the unexpected.
On that note, it's fair to say that nobody expected co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk to explore the 2016 presidential election — but that is just the theme of season seven of the FX anthology, Cult, which premieres Tuesday, Sept. 5.
To help keep track of all the AHS: Cult details, The Hollywood Reporter has compiled everything released about the plot, cast and more leading up to the highly anticipated debut. Bookmark this page for the latest updates.
The first look
The official trailer (above) begins in Michigan 2016 on election night, with Sarah Paulson's character screaming in horror at the results that Donald Trump has been elected president. In another home not too far away, Evan Peters' blue-haired maniac offers an emphatic reaction, thrusting his body up against his television screen in shrill delight.
The polar opposite responses are meant to serve as an entryway into the American divide showrunner Murphy has promised to tackle with the latest cycle of his horror anthology.
Season seven will tackle the 2016 presidential election that saw the former reality host-turned-Republican candidate shockingly defeat former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Murphy initially said it "is going to be about the election that we just went through so I think that will be interesting for a lot of people."
Months later, the anthology revealed its title to be Cult. The title and season premiere date was announced in a two-part stunt. Kicking off with a waterfront video at the show's Comic-Con activation that also included a sneak peek (complete with images of Twisty the Clown and bee hives), a message encouraged viewers to visit AHS7.com where another video revealed the title. Of the Cult reveal, Murphy had promised: "And suddenly... it will all make sense."
The website boasted an interactive experience that dropped multiple weeks of clues. After six weeks of unlocking hints — including first looks at the cult at the center of the season and some of its members — the site released the trailer and now hosts a Cult-themed Page Not Found error message featuring Peter's character, Kai Anderson (more on him below). The ad team went behind the marketing campaign for season seven with THR here.
Murphy continued to drop more bits of Cult news on Twitter, including that the 11-episode season will take place in Michigan. After asking his social followers if they'd like the main title sequence to return this season, as it was absent during Roanoke, FX revealed the opening credits on Twitter. The sequence shows what is presumed to be members of the cult at the center of the series donning both Trump and Clinton masks, and highlights a bloodied American flag.
The season begins on election night, as shown in the trailer, but will only be using Trump and Clinton to kick off the season. No actors will be cast in those two roles. "You'll see them on television," he said. "The first 10 minutes of the season takes place in a very eerie macabre way on election night and there's something terrible that happens in the lives of our characters on election night as they're watching it all go down."
Murphy had further detailed his season plans when speaking to THR. "What I’m interested in doing is not just the obvious, single-minded point of view but rather express all sides of that equation. What needs to happen in our country now is for people to listen to each other — we may not always agree with each other and we may be horrified by what the other side is doing but we have to move toward understanding." It's "about illuminating and highlighting people who don’t have a voice in our culture — people who are ignored by the current administration and who are afraid and feel terrorized that their lives are going to be taken away."
He described the season as being a "true American Horror Story" during THR's Roundtable conversation: "And we're leaning into it. American Horror Story begins with election night and the national conversation and both the euphoria and the fear."
During a press event on Aug. 25, Murphy and FX president John Landgraf held a Q&A with select members of the press, who screened the first three episodes. During the revealing chat, which THR attended, Murphy explained that while the election is the jumping-off point of the show, the season is "really about the rise of a cult of personality." Murphy stressed that "pro or con, everyone can relate to the feelings" portrayed on the show on election night. "Part of being an artist is being able to write about the world you live in. But we've tried very careful to be fair," he said. "We're not burning people in effigy or anything extreme."
Murphy has also been taking to his Instagram account to share teasers about the season. Photos have included a sketch of a red-lipped elephant (also the symbol of the Republican party) and a man with blue hair now known to be Peters' character, among other potential villains and demons. He posted one demon with the hint: "Ambidexterity" and a confirmation that John Carroll Lynch's Twisty the clown is back. His final hint before the title reveal was of a person covered in a swarm of bees.
Murphy later revealed the show would not be supernatural in nature, and that everything that happens is "human to human."
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Confirmed to return are frequent Murphy leading lady Paulson and leading man Peters, along with returning franchise stars Emma Roberts, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, Adina Porter and Chaz Bono.
Paulson will be playing Ally Mayfair Richards and Peters, who Murphy said will be seen in his "heaviest season yet," plays Kai Anderson. The pair will once again be playing lovers, it appears, with Murphy calling their Cult relationship "a love story for the ages." Though Paulson is married to someone else, Ivy Mayfair-Richards, played by franchise newcomer Alison Pill, she described her and Peters' relationship as one that will “reveal itself in surprising ways.”
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Roanoke also featured Paulson and Peters as a married pair of actors who fell in love on set, much to the delight of viewers of the longtime franchise. While the co-stars have stepped into many roles over the course of the franchise — Paulson has played seven, with two of her characters making cameos on subsequent seasons, and Peters, six — the two had never been linked up romantically until Roanoke. Both Paulson and Peters had shared their excitement when finding out about the election theme, saying the mystery is half the fun of the show. "American Horror Story pushes the buttons," said Peters of tackling the current social climate. "It makes you think and it will be interesting to see how people react."
Evans, who Murphy teased gives "his best performance" yet this season, plays multiple cult leaders in addition to Kai, including Charles Manson, David Koresh and Jim Jones, as well as Andy Warhol.
Scream Queens grad Roberts, who appeared in Coven and Freak Show, announced her cameo on social media. Murphy shared the same photo with the caption, "Look who showed up on the set of Cult looking glamorous and ready for action." Following a press screening of the first three episodes of the season, Murphy told reporters that Roberts' character is Michigan newscaster named Serina Belinda who only appears in one episode, who gets promoted above Porter's character, who is also a broadcast journalist. "She's much more superficial and willing to do what it takes to survive," said Murphy. Roberts carved out time from her movie schedule to film the cameo as a favor, said Murphy, adding that playing a newscaster has long been a dream of hers.
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A second Scream Queens grad, Billie Lourd, is also a series regular, playing Winter Anderson, sister to Kai. Murphy's initial tease of her character, sporting gray hair, came with the caption, "Winter is coming." During an interview, in which she chatted with co-star Paulson about life after losing her mother Carrie Fisher and grandmother Debbie Reynolds, Lourd said of the gray hair that she wanted to do something "iconic." Later, she described her second Murphy gig as being “straight-up horror drama " compared to the campy Scream Queens. “It’s definitely less of my comedic side and more of my dark side.”
Jackson, who has starred previously in Hotel and Roanoke, is playing Dr. Rudy Vincent and a look at his and Pill's roles were also included in a gallery drop of several characters. "This particular season has a streak of paranoia that I think is infectious," Pill said of playing Paulson's liberal other-half.
Teen Wolf and Arrow grad Colton Haynes will also make his AHS, with Murphy announcing in June that the actor, who recurred on Scream Queens season two, is joining the franchise. He offered a tease on his Instagram and Haynes' character was later revealed to be Detective Samuels.
Newcomer Billy Eichner, host of truTV's Billy on the Street, is set to recur as beekeeper and neighbor to Ally and Ivy, Harrison Wilton. The host said the role is the biggest departure of himself. "There are some darkly funny moments, but it's mostly serious and violent and sexual — all the things people have always wanted to see from me," he joked. He described the season as "a gory, fantasy, violent, sexual, surreal take on post-Trump America." Of the bee motif, which has appeared in both the season's marketing and opening sequence, Murphy said, "bees are the original cult in a weird way."
Popular favorite Leslie Grossman is also joining the cast, playing wife to Harrison, Meadow Wilton. In addition to starring on Murphy's WB high school drama, she also appeared in the pilot of his The New Normal sitcom on NBC. Referring to a Popular clip of her character, Mary Cherry, taking on familiar horror tropes, she wrote on Twitter, "I have been preparing to be on American Horror Story for years." Murphy has called both Eichner and Grossman "true revelations" this season.
Murphy also confirmed in July that Girls star Lena Dunham would be joining the AHS family, saying he was "thrilled" and that the friendly pair "always wanted to work together, and now we r!" Dunham will appear in one episode, THR confirmed. The showrunner later said Dunham would be playing Valerie Solanas — also known as the woman who shot Warhol — through a series of flashbacks. She appears in the seventh episode, titled "Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins, Scumbag," which "is about the female rage then, and in the country now," said Murphy. "Back then, Valerie Solanas created the thing called The Scum Manifesto, in which she told women — all women — to kill all men, and that was the only way you could rise to power."
Kathy Bates, who has starred in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth cycles, won't be returning for Cult, THR can also confirm. The star had a scheduling conflict with her upcoming Netflix series, Chuck Lorre's pot comedy Disjointed, which released ahead of AHS on Aug. 25. When speaking to press, Murphy left the door open for both Bates and former leading lady Jessica Lange to return to the franchise.
How it connects to previous AHS seasons
Paulson's character reprisals are some of the examples of how AHS has hinted that the anthology exists within the same universe, but it wasn't until Roanoke that Murphy confirmed all the seasons are indeed connected. Each of the first six episodes corresponded to their respective cycles of Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and Hotel, and Murphy revealed that Lady Gaga's Witch of the Woods is the original Supreme witch responsible for season three's Coven witches.
iewers can expect to see the franchise's interconnected ways "explode" come season seven. "You'll see it in season six, and then you'll really see it after," Murphy told THR ahead of Roanoke's premiere about connecting the dots. "We lay a lot of pipe, and you'll see it explode in seasons seven and eight."
Murphy promised that the franchise will return to Coven to tie the Gaga reveal and that one season — or perhaps the same season — will be a Murder House and Coven crossover. Gaga, however, won't be returning for season seven, which opens up the possibility for Murphy to follow through on his other promise of revisiting aspects of Freak Show (including Twisty the Clown). Recently, Paulson named her Coven alter-ego, Cordelia, as the one character in the universe she'd most like to reprise. "We only got to see her just getting her powers," she said. "I just would like to know…if the power might have been something that kind of changed her."
THR joined the Cult — follow along here to see what the FX series revealed ahead of its Sept. 5 premiere at 10 p.m. on FX.
Lauren Huff contributed to this story.