Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk had the idea for their upcoming FX drama American Horror Story three years ago – before the Fox musical dramedy took off. Murphy wanted to do a series exploring the themes of infidelity that “destroy and haunt” you, something that wasn’t a slasher series but explored the universal ideas of what people are afraid of.
That’s the back story of FX’s American Horror Story, which stars Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott as Vivien and Ben Harmon, a couple who move with their daughter (Taissa Farmiga) from San Francicso to a super creepy home in Los Angeles in an effort to rebuild their marriage after a miscarriage and affair.
The Hollywood Reporter was among the press invited to screen the second episode Thursday. Here are 10 things we learned about the series from Murphy and Falchuk during a post-screening Q&A on the Fox lot in Century City.
1. “Don’t make me kill you again.” Murphy has always wanted to work with Jessica Lange — who plays Constance, the meddling woman who lives next door to the Harmons and has bizarre ties to the property — ever since he saw her (twice) in Streetcar Named Desire in New York. He noted that the line from the pilot episode that Lange delivers to the Harmons’ bizarre housekeeper (Frances Conroy) is what drew the screen legend to her first series TV gig. Murphy added that Episode 7 will reveal much of Constance’s back story – and include a lengthy monologue. “I think you can tell that Jessica Lange holds all the cards in this neighborhood,” he offered. “We’re doling [Constance’s back story] out little by little until you finally figure out her mystery and what she wants, which is around Episode 7.” Added Murphy: “She’s a woman next door you’ve never seen before.”
2. Murphy wants the energy of The Walking Dead. Murphy loves the feeling of fall and noted that the AMC zombie series “was the greatest TV viewing experience” of his life last year. “It feels like a fall show,” he noted of AHS. Murphy also is optimistic that AHS’ two-part Halloween episode will have a similar effect, with Part 1 airing in its usual Wednesday time slot on Oct. 26 and the second half five days later on Halloween. The episode will feature Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears as a gay couple who were part of a murder-suicide in the house whose story the Harmons’ real estate agent may not have gotten right.
3. AHS isn’t Saw. Falchuk noted that the FX drama isn’t Saw and it isn’t a slasher film, either, adding that the scariest moments to him come from the emotional drama that the Harmons must contend with. He pointed to a scene in the second episode in which Ben confronts a woman with whom he had an affair that you know is going to wind up bring a problem. “Any haunted house is about the loss of your home, it’s about not feeling safe in the most safe place,” he said. “She’s completely unbalanced and he’s in real trouble … [and you know] this is not going to end well for him.” Supporting that, Murphy noted only 25 seconds of the 42-minute second episode is what he considered graphic.
4. Inspiration from real crime buffs. Noting the tour busses that go by the Sharon Tate house, clubs devoted to murder re-creations. Murphy said the series will explore people’s general obsession with crime and murder. “It’s a way to circumvent your own anxiety in very anxious times,” Murphy said. “In times of economic anxiety, if you look at the template, two genres flourish: horror and musicals. I think people want to either be scared or completely forget about their troubles. As we go further into the series, we get into the economic anxieties.”
5. Move out! Murphy and Falchuk reaffirmed what they said at TCA: They will deal with why the Harmons are stuck in the home, which by the end of the second episode, Britton’s Vivien already wants to move out of. Murphy noted that more than economic factors will play into why the couple opts to remain put in their creepy abode. “The house is a seducer, particularly for Connie and Taissa’s characters,” Murphy noted. “The house has certain powers that make leaving both physically and psychologically undesirable. For instance, if you’re pregnant and you live in a place and every time you leave it you have terribly violent morning sickness, chances are you might not want to leave too much. That’s one of the things we’re exploring.”
6. The house is a character – and really is creepy. Murphy and Falchuk noted that during the first day of shooting, a lighting fixture fell and nearly hit Britton and Lange. Also: Falchuk noted that there is no cell reception in the West Adams-area home that happens to be located across the street from a nunnery. “I wanted [the show] to be like house porn,” Murphy said of the Tiffany-filled mansion. “I wanted it to be so great that you couldn’t say no even if someone was murdered there.”
7. Flashbacks will be a staple. Every episode will start with a flashback that will factor into something that comes up for the Harmons. Among the flashbacks, Lily Rabe will guest star in Episode 3 for a 1924-set flashback in which she’ll play the original owner of the estate and offer clues to just what’s going on inside the joint. “Every episode some piece of historical knowledge of the house,” Murphy noted. “You see the origins of why did this house become cursed in a way.”
8. “It’s not a murder of the week show,” Murphy said, noting that at its core, AHS is a show about infidelity. The co-creator told press that he was always interested in the idea of Americans heading West to start over in unencumbered territory and what happens now that there’s no room. “You’re always dealing with someone who was there before you,” he said. “People may die but for the most part, houses don’t.”
9. No gleeks allowed. Don’t look for any Nip/Tuck or Glee cameos. “On Nip/Tuck, I had a couple Popular people come in but I think it’s really cool to create a world that is very identifiable and hopefully recognizable as that,” Murphy said. “I think it would take you out of it.”
10. Sunny day. For those wondering if the Glee co-creators had seen the Sesame Street parody, the answer is yes. They both thought it was cute.