Set in 1964, the FX drama series American Horror Story: Asylum takes viewers into Briarcliff, a haven for the criminally insane, ruled with an iron fist by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a nun with a troubled past. Inside this locked down facility, danger lurks around every corner, whether it’s a doctor who loves to torture, flesh eating creatures in the forest, alien experimentation or the serial killer Bloody Face, and no one is safe. From co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the show also stars Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto, James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes and Lizzie Brochere.
After so many twists and turns throughout this season, FX invited some reporters over to 20th Century Fox last week to screen the final episode and do a Q&A with show creator Ryan Murphy. During the interview, he talked about what he wanted to say with the season finale, how he feels about the alien aspect, the storyline that he had considered cutting out, what director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has added to the show, whether he’s ever thought about doing anything to connect the seasons, and that Oscar-winning actors are asking to do arcs on the show. He also gave hints about what he’s looking to do for Season 3, and talked about the modern-day remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown that he’s looking to do with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directing and Jason Blum (producer of the Paranormal Activity films) producing. Hit the jump for the interview, and be aware that there are some major spoilers, if you haven’t seen this season.
RYAN MURPHY: I don’t know. The thing that we were the most interested in this season was the stuff in the last episode, with the documentary series that Lana (Sarah Paulson) made about shutting down Briarcliff. That’s one of the first things, when I, with the writers, landed on the idea of Asylum, with that period of time and those documentaries that were made. There was a very famous documentary that Geraldo Rivera made, in that time period, that this is a loose homage of. If you haven’t seen it, that’s on YouTube and it’s quite fascinating. That made Geraldo’s career. Also, there was a brilliant movie that we were very influenced by for the last episode, which is this documentary called Cropsey, that was about the unraveling health care system in our country and how so many people were dumped there and left to rot.
All those abuses that you see, we studied pictures of and recreated all that stuff. We did a lot of research. That was actually our jumping off point, for the whole season. We knew we were going to have that character go in there, become a prisoner, do her shock corridor tenure, and then go back to tear the joint down. That was the ending, which we actually had from the very beginning. I start working with the writers on Season 3 on Monday. I already know what the season is, so I’ll work the writers and flush it out. And then, I go and talk to John Landgraf and Dana Walden, and I’ll pitch the whole season. That’s a really great thing to do. And then, after we pitch it, we start writing it.
Did you always know, from the beginning, that Lana would survive the season?
MURPHY: Yeah! I always knew that she would survive. I did not know how fantastic her wigs would be. That was a lot of fun, too. Sarah Paulson had so many dark days, but she loved it. She actually was weepy when the show ended because she said, “I’ve never had a character that had a beginning, middle and end, like that.” But, we took extra care with Sarah, in that last episode, to give her those wigs and the fur and the jewels. I also like that meditation on fame, which was loosely modeled after all that Capote/In Cold Blood stuff that I have always been obsessed with, from when I was a journalist. I thought that corruption of fame stuff was really interesting. I know that a lot of people were furious with Lana for leaving all those people there to rot, but I love that she goes back and I love that she does try, even after everything that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) had done, to go back to get her. She does succeed in closing down that place, which I thought was a very heroic ending for her.
Was it always your intention to do such a straight-forward finale?
MURPHY: I think so. The trajectory of the show is that it’s always about three to five areas that are so-called horror, that shouldn’t go together, but we put together. The show usually has a very strong energy when it starts because you have to launch all that stuff. And I felt the same thing last year. I think the most successful episodes last year were the last three, and I feel that about this year. It became a very meditative, grounded, emotional story about these three people who started it, which were Kit (Evan Peters), Lana and Sister Jude. I don’t know how people will react, but I thought that Jude got a great happy ending. I know Jessica felt that. I think Kit got a very strange happy ending. That was very influenced by the last scene in Close Encounters where Richard Dreyfuss goes off and will probably live forever. I always imagined that as a happy ending. And I think Lana having her Barbara Walters ending was great. I thought it was happy endings for, not everybody, but most people.
How do you feel about the alien aspect, this season?
MURPHY: I thought the alien stuff was interesting. I always thought it was so metaphoric and take-it-or-leave-it, but it was so polarizing for people. The thing I thought people would not like was Lily Rabe possessed by Satan, which was by far a great fan favorite this season.
Had you ever thought about being more clear with the alien storyline?
MURPHY: No, it was always what it was. I was always interested in those [alien abduction] stories, and the fascinating thing about them was the people who had claimed to be abducted and who had been on the ships. Did that happen? I don’t know. But, I’m fascinated that those stories started to come out, right around the time of the Civil Rights era. I was very interested in the timing of that. To me, that’s what that was about. I never even like to talk about that story because I like that that’s the one thing that everybody can put their own conclusion on. Where did they come from? Who were they? I liked not saying too much about it, so that people could come to their own conclusions. If you read theories about it from this season, so many people have wildly different ideas about what it was and what it meant, and I wanted it to be that way.
Was there anything you had conceptualized for Season 2 that you didn’t get to?
MURPHY: I don’t think so because it was all done as a piece. I think it was always that way. There was always one storyline that I felt was on the chopping block, and that was the tribute to The Bad Seed with the little girl, but I ended up keeping it because I liked how it related to the other stuff in that episode. But, that’s it.
What do you think the bold vision that Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has, as a director, has added to the show?
MURPHY: Well, Alfonso is a great friend of mine and I love that guy. I think he is an amazing talent. The thing about Alfonso is that he did all the second unit stuff on Babel. He does a lot of stuff with Martin Scorsese. His mentor was Nora Ephron. He’s a real filmmaker. He did a lot of second unit, at Brad Pitt’s recommendation, while I was doing Eat, Pray, Love, and we become really good friends. The first thing that he did that had his sole name on it was an episode of Glee. He’s done a lot of Glee episodes for us. He’s a real cinephile.
Arguably the two best episodes of Horror Story this year were “Anne Frank Pt. 2″ and the finale, which he did, and he just has a really great eye. He and I work really well together. We just did a deal for him to be a producer-director next year, where he’s going to probably direct every third episode and definitely work with the directors on the visual style of the show ‘cause he’s such a natural for that. I marvel at him and his knowledge of old movies.
I will admit that when I saw the first cut of the finale, of the shot where Lana is being interviewed by the police and the camera is going around, I was like, “What is this nonsense?! I’m going to cut that so quick!” But then, he went under the table and I was like, “Well, that’s pretty genius!” He does a lot of that stuff. So, we did a deal where he’s going to be the guy for Season 3. I’m also doing a horror movie with him, right now. He’s just a great talent.
What can you say about the horror film that you’re doing with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon?
MURPHY: Well, there’s no deal done. We’re just working at it. But, I’m friends with Jason Blum, who is one of the producers on The Normal Heart, which is a movie that I’m doing, and he’s also the brilliant mastermind behind the Paranormal Activity series. Jason has a very great idea to do horror movies for a price, and I think he’s right. So, he said to me, “If there’s ever anything that you want to do, please come to me.” And the movie that I was most freaked out by, as a child, was this movie that no one ever saw, called The Town that Dreaded Sundown, which was based on the Texarkana killings. I just started to babysit my brother, and the ads for that movie would come on and I would get freaked out. So, I went to him with this and MGM was gracious enough to let us do it with him. We’re doing a modern-day version remake that’s a weird meta thing with that. Alfonso is in negotiations to be the director of that, which would hopefully shoot in the spring, before we go back to do Horror Story.
What can you reveal about Season 3?
MURPHY: The thing that I really wanted to do next season was something that’s funnier. I love this season and I think it was successful, but I really miss that Jessica Lange as Constance stuff, and I know she missed it, too. The only thing I’ll say about [Season 3] is that it’s a mixture of several cities, and it’s really about female power. I got Jessica to do it because I did everything she asked, which was the location, and I also told her that she would have complete hair and make-up and the best designer gowns, ever. She said, “Please don’t put me in a wimple again, ever!” So, she’s going to play a real glamour cat lady, in Season 3. But, I’m just now meeting with a lot of actors, so I don’t want to say too much. They’re actors that Jessica wants to work with. She’s become a non-credited producer on Season 3. She loves doing this show and she loves the 13 episode nature of this, so she can go do films, theater or whatever. This was a very hard thing for her. She’s never played a character like this. I think she is the most sensual actress around, so to put her in a black thing with no make-up was [difficult]. But, she loved it, by the end of it. She loved [the finale]. But, you will see a very different [character next time]. It’s a modern-day story, next season, with her. I’m sorry, I can’t say more.
MURPHY: Well, I always start off with the story, and I always start off with things that I have always been obsessed with. The season that we’re just about to do is another thing, like the asylum, that I was always really interested in, as a kid. So, I come up with the story and, obviously, it’s always now crafted around Jessica, for the most part. Before I talk to anybody, I go to her and tell her what the story is and what the character is, and then she has input. This year, she said, “I would like to work with X, Y and Z. Will you please meet with these people?” So, I’m doing that. I will say that, for Season 3, we’re going to have some actors from Season 1, who will return. I like that idea, and I know those actors are interested in that. That’s pretty much how we do it. And then, we’ll meet for awhile. I know who Sarah Paulson is playing.
MURPHY: She does not. But, the actors like playing the opposite of what they’ve done. I think it’s fun for them.
Have you given any thought to averting expectations, in future seasons, now that viewers expect you to kill off almost everyone, by the end of the season?
MURPHY: Yes. What Season 3 is about is more historical in nature. I always feel like it’s What’s My Line? when I can’t say what it is. I’m also interested in getting into a horror romance. I think that’s really interesting. That’s certainly something that’s going to be in the water for Season 3. I think Season 2 was really cool, and it was really about something cultural and social, but it was very dark and unrelenting, which was by design. I think you’ll see a very different tone, in Season 3, but that’s the joy of the show. As a person, right now, I do feel lighter and maybe want to embrace something a little bit more fun.
Will you have another icon at the center of the story, for Season 3?
MURPHY: We have a great icon, and it’s a woman.
Even though you’re setting next season’s story in modern day, will you still have different time periods?
MURPHY: There will be time periods, and there will also be different cities. I love that. The great heroes of this show are our brilliant production designer, our brilliant costumer, and our DP, who are all coming back. They’re just great, and I know they really enjoy the research of the [different time periods]. This season, we did not do as much as we did in Season 1, but we will return to that in Season 3.
So, Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters will definitely be back for Season 3?
Anyone else you want to announce?
MURPHY: No. I’m talking to a lot of people. A lot of people like to do this show because they like to jump in the waters. It’s a four-month commitment. It’s not nine months. Some people are doing movies. Some people have committed to doing plays. So, we’re going to have some new people come in, and some old people will come back. I don’t feel comfortable saying anything until we’ve talked to them about what they want to do.
What are you going to do with the romance aspect? Does that mean you’ll have a younger focus, next season?
MURPHY: It could go either way. It could be Jessica Lange. There is going to be a definite return to a youth element, which I certainly liked from Season 1, but I like the star-crossed lovers from different tracks thing. This season had a couple of strong romances, but the romances were more like friendships.
Even though you’ve established this mini-series concept, have there been times when you’ve wished you could carry out a concept for more than just one season?
MURPHY: No, I never have wanted to do that with this. It was pitched as, “If this series is going to work, this is what it’s going to be,” and I like that idea because it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s very novelistic. I hope this show goes for 10 years because I have so many different kinds of horror that I would like to write about. But, I love that you can jump periods and you can play with different actors. I know the actors love playing different characters. So, it’s something that we’ll always stay with.
Have you ever thought about doing anything to connect the seasons, in any way?
MURPHY: We had a really wild hair, for a split second, at the very early part of this, where we were going to have Dylan [McDermott] win the showdown. We were going to set it probably a couple years earlier and change his name to Ben Harmon. We flirted with that for about 10 minutes. I guess there is a possibility. People really wanted to see how Constance (Jessica Lange), from Season 1, raised that child. Jessica was not interested in that, at all. But, things like that, we could maybe do. Never say never. But, I really like that the seasons have their own story. I enjoy that.
After recent violent events that have occurred, will you scale back the violence on this show, at all?
MURPHY: I think it’s a very personal thing. I always feel like movies and TV reflect the culture. But, I did just have a kid, so for the first time, I’ve been in a position to have a parental feeling about my work, which is very cool and unusual for me. So, I have been thinking about that lately. Would I want my kid to see this? What do I feel about that? All of this season was written and, for the most part, directed before Sandy Hook. We are doing a horror story, so there is that. But, I think that, just for me personally and not for anybody else – and I don’t even know how the other writers feel because we haven’t talked about it – I do feel like, if you’re going to tell a story with a gun, take a step back and think about it. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it, but I would probably try to do it responsibly.
In Season 1, we did do a Columbine-esque story with Evan that I thought was very moving and upsetting. It upset a lot of people, and a lot of people thought it was too much to even be on television, but we were making a commentary about the culture and that story, in particular. But, it’s interesting. It’s something that I’m certainly thinking about. I don’t claim to have any answers, but it does bother me. I think there are a lot of ways to convey horror violence without semi-automatic weapons, but that’s just for me. We always make sure that we shoot the violence in a way that can be edited down. So, we do talk about it, and I think we’ll talk about it even more, as we move forward. I know I will. I think the story that we have cooked up will not probably involve as much gun bloodshed, as we have done.
Have you noticed a shift, where people who used to beg you for roles on Glee are now begging you for roles on American Horror Story?
MURPHY: I notice that they now do both, which I find interesting. They do because I think people are drawn to what is hot and what people are writing about, and Horror Story has certainly had that great ride this year. Also, I’ve never had people with multiple Oscars call and ask to do arcs. That’s a new thing. The other thing that I’ve noticed about this show, that I think is happening to a lot of shows, is that the first season of Horror Story is now on Netflix and people who didn’t see that first season are watching it. I feel like people are catching up with it and are calling and saying, “As you’re crafting Season 3, I would like to throw my hat into the ring.”