It was a double dose of horror at the Comic-Con International presentation spotlighting FX’s “American Horror Story: Hotel” and Fox’s upcoming series “Scream Queens.”
Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of both series, was joined my “American Horror Story” stars Angela Bassett, Matt Bomer, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates, and “Scream Queens” cast members Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Skyler Samuels, Keke Palmer, Abigail Breslin, Billie Lourd and, in her first Comic-Con appearance, Jamie Lee Curtis.
Moderator Tim Stack asked Curtis, the original “scream queen,” how it felt to receive the Hall H treatment.
“It’s an usual thing to get this kind of attention,” she replied, “and most people don’t get this kind of attention in any part of the universe. I’m a little freaked out by the tattoos of me on people. But other than that, I’m all right.”
On the new horror-comedy series, Curtis plays university Dean Cathy Munsch, who decrees the elite Kappa House sorority must open pledging to all students. Unfortunately, that order comes down just as a devil-clad serial killer begins wreaking havoc across campus.
Murphy said the show’s origin is rooted in “American Horror Story: Coven,” which featured a similar merging of horror and social power plays among young women.
Emma Roberts makes the transition from “American Horror Story” to “Scream Queens,” which Murphy describes as “’Halloween’ meets ‘Heathers,’” after playing a mean-girl character on “Coven.” She’ll dive back into that type of roll again as Chanel Oberlin.
“I’m obsessed with both those movies, and he described Chanel Oberlin to me, my new character, and I was in love,” Roberts said. “She’s the president of Kappa Kappa Tau. She takes her job as sorority president very seriously. She’s very fashionable and bitchy. You’re going to love her, and hate her, and hate to love her.”
But while Roberts’ new character may not be that different from her previous role, her co-star is switching things up. “Glee” veteran Lea Michele is leaving behind the dancing to play Hester, a sorority pledge confined by a neck brace.
“I didn’t really know anything going into it,” she said. “Ryan called me back in October. We were just starting the last season of ‘Glee,’ and he said, ‘New show, Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, neck brace, are you in?’ and I was like, ‘Sure.’ I would do anything with Ryan, and honestly it’s the greatest thing to play something so different.”
Moving to “American Horror Story,” Stack asked the cast about the antics of the previous season, “Freak Show,” starting with the logistical difficulties of Evan Peters’ fake hands.
“I had to have people cut my chicken,” he said, “and I had to have people unzip my fly and zip it back up.”
Sarah Paulson, who portrayed conjoined twins, was asked which of the two she preferred. Although she insisted they were equal in her mind, Kathy Bates called out her co-star, claiming she clearly enjoyed playing “the raunchy one” more.
Bates, who used a distinctive accent in her portrayal of the bearded lady, was asked whether she retained the affectation once the camera stopped rolling.
“She kept it,” Paulson interjected. “We’d be at dinner after two days of shooting and she still had it.”
While some of the “Freak Show” actors utilized makeup and special effects, others in the supporting cast had physical conditions. Murphy credited casting director Eric Dawson with discovering performers who may have never otherwise been given an opportunity to display their talents. Sometimes parts were even rewritten to fit the actors.
“In the case of that show, we did that four or five times throughout the season where we just found those amazing people,” he said. “Many of whom had dreams of being an actor but never could get roles. It’s really rewarding and fun to see that because you see this amazing talent that otherwise you wouldn’t.”
Moving back to “Scream Queens,” Keke Palmer told the audience what she thought of her character, Zayday.
“She’s spunky, she’s cool, she knows what she wants to do, and she’s really not into taking anybody’s mess,” she said. “But she develops a relationship with Skyler’s character, Grace, and because of that she decides to take on Kappa Kappa Tau with the homegirl to see what it’s about.”
Opposing Palmer’s character will be the other Chanels, played by Abigail Breslin and Billie Lourd.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to play a bitch,” Breslin said. “It was weird though because yesterday everybody was talking about how they feel that as they’ve been writing the new scripts, the characters start picking out personal traits about all of us. And mine just keeps getting crazier.”
“I’m enjoying playing her so much,” Lourd said. “I get to tap into my dark, cynical, evil side.”
Not that the characters in the show are likely to boil down simply to good and evil. Curtis proclaimed how impressed she’s been with Murphy’s ability to create such layered characters.
“That’s what makes you come back every week, to see what’s the new color,” she said. “It is such a pleasure, and for me a rarity, to have a writer that supports everything that you do.”
Curtis was a key component to get the show running, as Murphy said he didn’t want to do it without her.
Unlike “American Horror Story,” which transforms itself after every season, “Scream Queens” is intended to continue on with the surviving cast members in different stories, much like the slasher movies that inspire it.
‘Many of them will continue and many of them will not, which is sort of the fun of the show,” Murphy explained. “I’m already getting many, many bribes, which is always fun.”
He knows who Season 1’s murderer is, but he hasn’t told any of the cast. Instead, he instructs the actors to do their scenes as though they are the killer.
“Every actor has to get into that mindset,” Murphy said.
And while “Scream Queens” has a murderer to deal with, “American Horror Story: Hotel” is going gaga with a special role for Lady Gaga. Murphy recounted how he received a letter from the performer, asking to be on the show, followed by a phone call in which she requested to play an evil character.
“I said, ‘OK. You’ve come to the right place,'” Murphy said. “She’s been very collaborative and very fun. When you work with somebody like her, you sign up for something that’s larger than life.”
Neither Murphy nor the cast would let slip many details about the upcoming season of “American Horror Story,” but he did allow them to share their character names. Matt Bomer will play Donovan, Angela Bassett will play Ramona, Evan Peters will play Mr. March, Sarah Paulson is Hypodermic Sally, and Kathy Bates is Iris.
Taking questions from the audience, Bomer was asked what drew him to “American Horor Story.”
“It was really about getting to collaborate with Ryan,” he replied. “There’s something about his writing that just frees me up as an actor in a way that I haven’t really experienced on any other jobs.”
Asked whether any of the “American Horror Story” actors had ever shot a scene that scared them, Paulson had an immediate reply:
“That electric-shock therapy that I had in Season 2 was really scary, because I was trying to find footage on the Internet of what it really would have been like,” she recalled. “But I couldn’t find any of that, so I ended up watching Jack Nicholson in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest.’”
Another fan asked about the significance behind Naomi Grossman’s “American Horror Story” character Pepper appearing in both “Asylum” and “Freak Show,” when there previously had been little to no continuity between seasons.
“We have a long-term plan with the show and things are connected, so characters are connected to different seasons, and she is obviously the first,” Murphy replied. “This season you’ll see more and more and more of that. Characters from previous seasons will come back and check into the hotel.”
”Scream Queens” premieres Tuesday, Sept. 22, on Fox, while “American Horror Story: Hotel” debuts Wednesday, Oct. 7, on FX.
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