Ryan Murphy, who with Brad Falchuk created American Horror Story, has but one directive for any TV Academy members who are iffy about putting the anthology series on Emmy’s short list.
Don’t. Be. Scared.
Invited to pen an overture to the skeptical voter, “I would just say to not let the word ‘horror’ throw you,” Murphy offers. “Don’t let it turn you off of something that I feel is a really emotional journey.”
Dylan McDermott, one of the FX hit’s Season 1 leads, echoes that sentiment, saying that while there might be an inclination to dismiss the miniseries’ maiden campaign as “just a horror show,” “If you look deeper into it, you realize the scripts and the acting and the production value and the very idea of this is special. If you’re a voter, you really do have to take it seriously and look under the gloss.”
“Yes, it is sort of a horror story,” Murphy allows, “but it’s almost a feminine horror story. It’s emotional, and it reaches its conclusions in a very cool way.”
But before we talk conclusions, let’s go back to the beginning.
SPINNING A GHOST STORY
Before there was Glee, there was abject horror.
It was almost four years ago — prior to the debut of Murphy’s musical dramedy for Fox — when he and Falchuk first batted around the idea for what would eventually be American Horror Story. An amalgamation of spine-tinglers such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and envisioned as a deeply dark exploration of infidelity, the envelope-pushing anthology series revolves around Ben (McDermott) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), a husband and wife who, with teen daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) in tow, relocate from Boston to Los Angeles. The move represents a way to escape a difficult couple of years during which Vivien had given birth to a stillborn baby, and Ben, a shrink, engaged in an affair with a nubile psychiatry student.
In other words, it’s really the stuff of any number of fractured family dramas, until you add in the extremely haunted house into which the Harmons move and the robust roster of restless spirits still residing within its walls — all determined to lure the new owners to grisly fates not unlike their own.
“I never go into anything with that [intent],” he says. “I just thought that what we were doing was unique and original, and I thought that people would really love the concept. Then once we attracted the cast that we did — Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Frances Conroy … Pretty much all of our first choices and a very sort of cool group of people — I thought, ‘There is something here.’ You can always tell if something is fresh if you can attract a certain level of talent.”
For most everyone in the cast, Horror Story marked their first time working with Murphy and Falchuk. And considering what the creators were about to ask them to do in the name of spinning this sometimes-unseemly saga, a frightening amount of trust needed to be earned and bestowed. [CONTINUE TO NEXT PAGE: 'THE PENTAGRAM OF TRUST']