Two of Ryan Murphy’s favorite genres — horror and comedy — collide in his newest series, Scream Queens. (He’s concurrently writing, producing and directing three — yes THREE — series!)
The satirical look at sorority life is filtered through a lens of a 20-year mystery that’s lurked at Anytown, USA’s Wallace University. The series boasts an entire pledge class-worth of young starlets including Ryan Murphy muses Emma Roberts (American Horror Story: Coven, Freak Show and the upcoming Hotel) and Lea Michele (Glee) and Skyler Samuels (who appeared in four episodes of AHS: Freak Show) as well as Billie Lourd, Keke Palmer and Abigail Breslin. Niecy Nash and Nasim Pedrad add their sparkle as expert improvisers and the original Queen of Scream, Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Wallace U’s tough-as-nails dean, Cathy Munsch.
At This morning’s TCA panel, the cast and producers were a lively bunch, and it’s clear that the ladies have bonded. “There’s a sorority within this sorority,” gushes Lea Michele as Keke Palmer strokes her hair. With all of the female friendship in the cast, it’s surprising that only Skyler Samuels is the show’s only real-life sorority member at Stanford, where she’s a junior.
When asked about competition with MTV’s Scream, Ryan Murphy says there’s plenty of room in the horror genre. “The more the merrier. That show is a success in it’s own right.” He s says their shows are also quite different; with Scream Queens being funnier and more satirical and both shows have very different visual looks.
In Scream Queens, a vicious clique on sisters at KKT sorority, led by Chanel #1 (Roberts) and her minions Chanels #3-5 (including Abigail Breslin and guest star Ariana Grande) deliver some of TV”s most biting dialogue in recent memory. When asked about writing such horrible things multi-hyphenate co-creator, EP, writer and director Ian Brennan calls creating barbs, “The joy of my life.”
Equally hyphenated Brad Falchuck says, “Horror is about surprise and suspense.” And the cutting dialogue it gives his characters the chance to say and do anything as long as they’re consistent with their “screwed-up moral code.”
Jamie Lee Curtis says the show is a social satire. “Our characters say what people think, and this show fillets the imagined behaviors of human beings and shows what people really are.” She notes that underneath it all, we’re “inherently dark, inherently frustrated human beings who are trying so desperately to keep it together.” She continues, “Everyone is wearing a mask, and this show peels off the mask every week.”
But Emma Roberts, who get to deliver the show’s most outlandish lines, including calling the sorority’s cook, “White Mammy,” shares, “You’re reading [the scripts] and you say, ‘this is insane! Who says this?’ You have to be your character in the insane, crazy, and fun world.” But admits she apologizes to her costars when “Cut” is called.
When asked the difference between Scream Queens and his American Horror Story franchise, Murphy points to Scream Queens’ satirical and cartoonish quality vs. AHS’s darker, more sexualized tone. But he reveals that most of the Standards and Practices meetings he’s had with FOX aren’t about the show’s violence, but rather the language, slang and the push back over his character’s sexuality.
Niecy Nash plays Denise Hemphill and when asked if the former Reno 9-1-1 star was glad back to be in law enforcement, the hilarious Emmy nominee (for HBO’s Getting On) joked, “Law enforcement is a strong world. I play a security guard. [But] It’s always a good time in a uniform, if you ask me. Ryan Murphy had me at ‘hello.’ So, I’m kinda back in law enforcement.” I asked Nash and Nasim Pedrad if they practiced screaming when they got their respective roles and Nash laughed. “No, but I should have,” she told me. “The night I had to do a lot of screaming, I had the worst headache! Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t even give me any pointers!” Pedrad admits that her own screaming technique led to her losing her voice.
Jamie Lee Curtis revealed her acting secret to the panel because the writing on the show is so funny and she’s afraid to break character and ruin scenes. “I hold a pushpin or a toothpick in every scene to keep from laughing at Neicy.” She also reveals that Kevin Kline to this day because she ruined so many of his amazing takes in A Fish Called Wanda. Since Kline won an Oscar for the role, perhaps he should cut JLC a break.
Ryan Murphy hinted that none of his characters are sacred cows and any of them can be killed off, at any time. He says, “People need to have a reason to show up and see who’s getting killed.” Nash says that during breaks in shooting, the actors meet and try to figure out who the killer is. Falchuk explains that the actors “need that fear and urgency in their characters. They don’t know if they’re going to die, they don’t know they’re the killer. If they knew, it’d tip their performances.
But like his other anthologies, Murphy says everybody has the ability — if they live — to come back for Season 2. He reveals that his actors send muffin baskets and aren’t above bribery to survive.
Curtis reveals that says every actor performs takes with the direction of to acting as if they are the killer. So they can go back and “Knit the killer’s vest,” with hints you should have seen coming, but didn’t.
Scream Queens Tuesdays at 8pmET on FOX with a special 2-hour premiere on Sept. 22