Hollywood's Next Big Thing: Skyler Samuels Goes From Stanford to 'Scream Queens'
The actress talks about her decision to delay her education, her fashion and lifestyle app, and how Jamie Lee Curtis changed her life.
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Skyler Samuels grew up so close to Hollywood that when her mother, an Access Hollywood producer, needed someone to cover a Harry Potter junket, she sent her 7-year-old daughter. The Campbell Hall graduate then had acting gigs on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel before landing ABC Family's The Nine Lives of Chloe King and an arc on American Horror Story. Now the Stanford junior has put college on hold for Fox's college-set thriller series Scream Queens (Sept. 22).
You deferred Stanford for Scream Queens after talking with Brad Falchuk. How challenging was that decision?
At the time, I was finishing winter quarter and a computer science project as well as essay for my feminist history class. He said, “I know you're super type-A and you love Stanford and you’re a brainiac, but you're Grace Gardner now and if you let me, please take a chance when I ask you to stay on Scream Queens for a second. I promise you, it’ll be worth it.” It would have been hard to accept that offer from any other people. I am so thankful for having them believe in me that I was easily able to believe in them that I put down Stanford for a second and jumped head first into the Kappa Kappa Tau world on Scream Queens. It was hard to make that decision, but I'm glad that I did because I learn just as much making the show as I do in school every day. I'm a nerd and love going to class, but the work would have suffered if I had done both. It’ll be fun going back to school in January and moving back into my sorority house and going to class again after having lived in this fake sorority.
With a successful acting career, why is it important for you to finish school?
My parents were always adamant about me being a student-actor — not actor-student. I'm now a junior in college working on Scream Queens. It’s a daunting task and a little ambitious. Some days I’m like, “How the hell am I going to pull this off?” I’m a workaholic. One job isn’t enough. I'm also the co-owner of a fashion and lifestyle app that is advice-driven for fashion and lifestyle needs. We've gotten a couple million dollars in funding thus far and hopefully the app will be released by the end of the year. That’s been my creative brainchild on the side, though it’s very quickly becoming full-time job — like being a Stanford student or being on Scream Queens. It’s taught me to work on a different part of my brain than when I’m on set.
Ryan Murphy tends to go back to the same actors with new projects. What was the conversation like when Scream Queens came up? Did he write the role specifically for you?
I've been pestering Ryan for a few years and was hoping it was just a matter of time until he caved and let me on one of his shows. I had been auditioning for American Horror Story for a long time. I always got positive feed back on all the roles that I didn’t get —“She’s really great; she’s not quite right for this, but she’s right for something" — he said that for years. Finally, Horror Story rolled around and I auditioned with cryptic sides and I only had a couple lines. I got to jam pack all this stuff in to a tiny audition and thought, "This is the one.” Sure enough, it was. Little did I know that he had me in mind for that part before the audition happened for American Horror Story: Coven.
My first day on American Horror Story, Ryan was directing and I was sweating bullets. I wanted him to like me. He just kept asking me about my life in college because I'm in a sorority. He kept asking me about my sorority life and what my life was like at college. And I was like, “Really? This is what you want to talk about?” I was telling him about the new sorority house and what it’s like living with 60 girls. I thought it was weird that that's what he wanted to talk about.
Flash forward to getting Scream Queens and there are close personal details about Grace Gardner that seem awfully reminiscent [of that conversation]. Ryan had it in mind a long time back because there were little nuances in the pilot about Grace going to college that felt familiar to when I went to college. Ryan always has a master plan and vision about his things. Whether or not we know about it, he’s always keeping us in mind.
It’s fun to re-create the sorority experience that I had at Stanford. Grace is really the eyes and ears of the audience when coming to college and joining a sorority and trying to date boys when you never really dated before and making friends and living with people. It’s all that infused with going to college, and it’s fun to use my own experience to feed into that.
You're working alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, Lea Michele and an overall impressive cast. What's the best lesson you've learned on set?
I’m walking away with a book of life lessons after this show. Working with Jamie Lee Curtis has changed my life. I grew up adoring her. My first day of work with her, she was so kind, warm, inspiring and lovely. I'm friends with my idol and now she's my mentor. She gives me tips about being a young woman in the business and different ways to tell a joke and acting tips and tricks. All these women — like Keke Palmer —are forces of nature. These are people I'll know for the rest of my life, so I feel really blessed to have had this experience. Even if it ends up being a brief one, it's changed my life.
Born: Los Angeles
Big break: ABC Family's The Nine Lives of Chloe King
Reps: UTA, Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Hansen Jacobson