It seems like American Horror Story: Asylum’s thirteen episodes absolutely flew by. The season was wild and creepy and rich and satisfying, and an absolutely excellent follow up to the exquisite Season 1, American Horror Story. As I reported previously, I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the Asylum finale before it aired, followed by a Q&A session with the showrunner, Ryan Murphy. He was full of information about the just-completed season, the season to come, and the series in general.
Although I dashed out most of the Season 3 information immediately for your consumption last month, I had to hold back on the finale talk and anything that might have been associated with it; to be safe I waited on most all of the Season 2 discussion other than what was included in my season finale review.
Before we get to Mr. Murphy’s thoughts, here’s a quick reminder about the finale, and what some other members of the production have to say about it:
I now happily present for your enjoyment Ryan Murphy’s thoughts on Season 2 including the famous “The Name Game” scene, a little more on Season 3, plus violence on TV, aliens, and a bit about another horror project he’s currently working on – this time it’s a movie.
Murphy started out by explaining that the idea of shutting down Briarcliff was the kernel of an idea around which the season was built; shutting down the asylum, and that time period. He was inspired by “Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace”, a 1972 documentary by Geraldo Rivera that set up Rivera’s career as an investigative journalist. The finale was further influenced by the documentary Cropsey (2009). “It also was about the unraveling of our healthcare system in our country and how so many people were dumped there and left to rot there.” They researched a lot of the abuses shown in that documentary and incorporated them into the parts of Lana’s investigative report scenes in the finale.
The plan from the start was that the reporter would go in to the asylum, become a prisoner, get shock treatments, and eventually go back and shut the place down. But unlike the ending for all but one of the main characters in Season 1, there was never a plan for Lana to die in this season’s story.
Well, almost never. One reporter asked if there would ever be connections between the seasons’ characters or stories. “We had a wild hair for about a split second at the very early part of this where we were going to have Dylan (McDermott, who played the modern day “Bloody Face”) win the showdown,” Murphy laughed. “We were gonna set it a couple of years earlier and change his name to Ben Harmon (McDermott’s Season 1 character). We flirted with that for, like, ten minutes.”
He went on about the main character:
I always knew that (Lana) would survive. I did not know how fantastic her wigs would be… (Sarah Paulson, who played Lana) had so many dark days, but she loved it. She actually was weeping when the show ended, because she said ‘I’d never had a character that had a beginning, a middle, and an end like that.’ We took extra care with Sarah in that last episode to give her those Jackie Susanne wigs and the fur and the jewels.
I also liked that meditation on fame that was somewhat loosely modeled after all that Capote In Cold Blood stuff that I’ve always been obsessed with from when I was a journalist. She was kind of that ‘corruption of fame’ stuff I thought was really interesting.
And I know a lot of people were very furious with Lana after last night’s (penultimate) episode, because they felt that she left all of those people there to rot (laughs) but she goes back, and I love that she does try and, even after everything that Sister Jude had done, she does sort of go back to get her and she does succeed in closing down that place and I thought it was a very heroic ending for her.
What about happy endings? “I don’t know how people will react, but for me, I thought that Jude got a great happy ending. I know Jessica (Lange) felt that… This was a very hard thing for her, she’s never played a character like this. She is the most sensual, I think, actress around, so to put her in a black tight thing with no hair and no makeup… but she loved it by the end, she loved this episode, she loved all the stuff with those kids, she was very happy that Jude got a happy ending.
“I think Kit got a very strange happy ending,” he laughed. “That character, that was very influenced by Richard Dreyfuss’s (character), the last scene in Close Encounters, where he gets (on board the mothership) 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.
I always thought (Lana) was the smartest cookie in the jar. That’s how I told Sarah to play it, that ‘you are always the smartest person in the room.’ I liked that the hero of this season was a heroine, and I liked that she was a lesbian and I liked that she had an arc to her sexuality and I liked that she went thru a lot of different things and I liked showing that she got a happy ending and that she was in a loving accepting relationship, and I loved all that…. I liked that she had that great line from a week ago, somebody said ‘you’re a tough cookie’ and she said ‘I’m tough but I’m no cookie’. I think that’s what she was. ..
Paulson is so supremely gifted. For me Paulson was the great revelation of the season… She is, I think, the best of her generation and she works at it more than anybody I’ve ever met. She cares about it deeply and she goes over it and over it. I love her and I’m glad she’s coming back.
Murphy said that there will be more romance next season. “This season had a couple strong romances but the romances were like friendships. I think the strongest romance in the piece was Kit and Lana. it wasn’t a sexual romance. I love that friendship.”
Kit was played by Evan Peters, who will be returning next year, along with Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson. “At the end of last season Evan said to me ‘I cannot sob any more, I can’t do it, please don’t make me do it. I want to play somebody more buttoned-down and sort of less emotional.’ So that was in the back of my head certainly when we were coming up with Kit Walker, which was a very different character for him.” He laughed, “but next year he’ll probably go back to being a sobbing psychopath…. but I like, and the actors like, playing the opposite of what they’ve done.”
Who else is coming back next season? “We want to have some new people come in, and some old people will come back.” EW reports that Taissa Farmiga, last year’s troubled teen, is in talks to return, and Murphy tweeted yesterday that Lily Rabe, this season’s Sister Mary Eunice, will definitely be returning.
Another reporter asked if we would be seeing more song-and-dance numbers next season, a la the “The Name Game” scene. “Always, with (Lange) now,” Murphy laughed. He is of course also a co-showrunner for his very different Fox series Glee, but the idea for that musical number didn’t come from him.
That happened because she was so tired of sweating in that outfit and the oppression and the caning and it was a very dark thing for her to do as an actor. So she came to my office one day and she said “I need you to give me something fun, I can’t take it any more.” “What do you mean? What do you want to do?” and she said “I want to sing again” because we did that thing very early on where Judy Martin was a sort of failed lounge singer. So we just came up with that, and I like it was a very organic thing we did… I thought what the song was about fit that episode perfectly, which was about how this asylum was run by the Catholic church and then the state came in and took it away, and the people became not individuals but numbers, so that worked really well. And then I showed her this picture of Dusty Springfield and she was very happy. So we copied that. And Paulson loved it, and Evan loved it.
And you know the other thing about this season that I just loved was, and I was really worried about it, was we had a lot of extras this year who were those mental patients. We were really specific with the casting of them in the first two episodes and we got like 20 of them and they played the same characters. Jessica would go up to them and thank them profusely because they came with characters, they made all that stuff up themselves and they would stay in character during the lunch breaks; at the lot at Paramount you’d see them walking around like zombies. They were really really great and dedicated and that number (“The Name Game”) lived and breathed by how game they were to do that dance and that choreography.
But I would love to always do something musical with Jessica Lange.
Murphy was asked if he had reservations about the amount of violence in the series, and in particular gun violence, given how the finale ended.
I think it’s a very personal thing. I always think that movies and tv reflect the culture. But I did just have a kid, and so for the first time for me I’ve been in the 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? Of course all of this was written and directed before Sandy Hook, but now I think … we are doing a horror story…
I think for me personally, 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 and do it responsibly… (In) Season 1 we did do a Columbine-esque story with Evan, that I thought was very moving and upsetting, and I think it upset a lot of people and a lot of people felt it was too much to even be on television, but we were making a commentary about the culture…
It’s something I’m certainly thinking about. I don’t claim to have any answers. But it does bother me, and I think there are a lot of ways to convey horror violence perhaps without semiautomatic weapons, but that’s just for me. It all feels so different for me now. (The finale) was written in October. Who knows how I would feel about it now. There wasn’t a cultural conversation about it like there is now…
(FX) has always been very very sensitive about (violence). It’s never been “you can’t do it” but we’ve had scenes where it was “okay you may want to talk about how you reframe the violence maybe it’s too much” and we always make sure that we shoot them in a way that you can edit them down. So we do talk about (violent scenes), and I think we’ll talk about them even more now as we move forward. I know I will, and i think the story that we have cooked up will not probably involve as much gun bloodshed as we have done.
How about aliens, will he consider doing another alien storyline? “I think I’m done with aliens (laughs). I thought the alien stuff was interesting because I always thought it was so metaphorical … I think that stuff was polarizing for people. The thing that I thought people would not like was the Lily Rabe possessed by Satan (storyline), which by far was a fan favorite this year.” He also said there was never a plan to give more time to the aliens story this season.
It was always what it was. I was always interested in those stories, and the fascinating thing about those stories was the people who claim to have been abducted and who had been on the ships. Did that happen? I don’t know. But I’m fascinated that the stories started to come out right around the time of the civil rights era, I was very interested in the timing of that. So really 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 – where did they come from, who were they. I like not saying too much about it so people can come to their own conclusions. If you read theories about it, from this season alone, so many people have wildly different ideas about what it was and what it meant, and I wanted it to be that way.
How very Lost-ian.
He is currently working on another horror project, a movie. “I’m friends with Jason Blum, the mastermind behind the Paranormal Activities series,” he explained.
Jason has a very great idea just to do horror movies for a price, and I think he’s right. So he said to me ‘if there’s ever anything you want to do please come to me.’ And the movie that I was the 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 (murders in the 1940s), and I was just starting to babysit my little brother and the ads for that movie would come on and I’d freak out. So I went with him with this and MGM was gracious enough to let us do it with them, so we’re doing a modern day version remake weird meta thing. So (Blum) is in negotiations to be the director with that, which would hopefully shoot in the spring before we go back to Horror Story.
But arguably the best news of the evening was his thoughts on the longevity of the American Horror Story series: “I hope the show goes for ten years because I have so many different kinds of horror that I would like to write about.”
Yes please. Yes, please.
American Horror Story Season 3, starring Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters, is expected to premiere Fall 2013 on FX.