As the annual PaleyFest came to a close on Sunday, the critical and fan darling "American Horror Story: Hotel" seemed like the perfect selection to conclude the festivities, as the cast and creators gave the festival an appropriate laughter and love-filled send-off. Because for a show that embraces and celebrates darkness as much as it does, the panel was, in fact, anything but that.
For starters, Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson went at each other back and forth the entire evening, constantly teasing one another in between a sweet series of hugs and playful gestures. And then the wonderful Denis O’Hare mused about his love for his character, Liz Taylor, even paying homage to her as he effortlessly stepped onto the stage in heels. The fans, naturally, ate every bit of it up.
In its fifth season, "Hotel" further expanded the "American Horror Story" universe to the comfort (or discomfort?) of the infamous Hotel Cortez, a fictional location in the cold, dead heart of downtown Los Angeles, a place home to the ungrateful dead. When a detective is led to the Cortez to investigate a series of murders, he is instead met with the bizarre characters whose cries echo loudly through the walls of the hotel. "Casper," this surely ain’t.
Held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk made surprise appearances as they sat by executive producer Tim Minear and their talented cast of actors, including Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Finn Wittrock and Cheyenne Jackson. Despite the heavy content of the show, the cast had a lot of trouble holding back laughter almost the entire time, as they shared stories from behind the scenes, from how they saw a version of Lady Gaga the world isn’t familiar with, how the creators came up with the show’s terrifying monsters and the unexpected ways the actors related to their characters. The creators even teased on what might be coming around the corner for the beloved anthology series, whose fifth run with "Hotel" will surely be another one to watch out for at this year’s Emmys.
For highlights from the panel and an exclusive interview with the notorious John Lowe himself, check out all the creepy goodness below.
Starting an anthology was a massive leap of faith.
Although Ryan Murphy was not the first to create an anthology series, we can most definitely give him credit for starting the trend in 2011, when "American Horror Story" first terrorized our screens and began to grow as what would become a massive cultural phenomenon. The anthology model has certainly become quite popular in television in recent years, with similarly acclaimed shows such as "True Detective" and "Fargo" following suit — changing the story just enough every season, while remaining true to the essence of the show.
With "American Horror Story" in its fifth season with "Hotel," there’s no doubt that Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have found their groove as they navigate the dark waters of the horror genre in every season. But when asked by panel moderator and Entertainment Weekly writer Tim Stack about what he thinks makes this model as successful as it’s become, Murphy responded by first thanking the individuals that believed in him and helped him create the show from scratch.
"It was a really big leap of faith because at that point, you literally had to burn the sets down every year," Murphy said. "The thing in television that you’re looking for is a way to monetize your success, and there was no way yet that you could prove it to [the studios]… It was a real leap of faith and they put their trust in us."
After five seasons and heading into a sixth, it might be safe to say that that risk has certainly more than paid off. Or as Sarah Paulson succinctly put, "Thank you, Ryan Murphy."
Stop the presses: Lady Gaga is actually just a normal human being, much like the rest of us.
Lady Gaga’s The Countess was an undeniably significant part of the season, and while she wasn’t present at the panel, the love and admiration for her was definitely in the air. In regards to what ingredients she brought to the show, Brad Falchuk confidently described her as "fearless," adding that "there was nothing she wouldn’t say yes to with an exclamation point."
Muprhy agreed, stating that he found her to be "incredibly moving as a person." Despite the Gaga that we all think we know as the worldwide superstar, at the end of the day, Murphy said that she simply longed for a sense of community. Thus, she found herself right at home on the "Hotel" set, especially after putting her acting aspirations aside for her career in music.
And for Gaga’s first major acting role, she wasn’t keen on slacking around, even going so far as to ask Murphy if she could see which scenes of hers had been cut from the final products. When he asked her why she’d even want to do that, Murphy recounted Gaga’s response: "’Because it really helps me to see what I did wrong and what you chose as the right ones,’ [she said]. The thing about her that I loved was she really was a student through the entire process."
For Paulson, despite the fact that the pair only worked together once on set, she likened the superstar to Jessica Lange, in the sense that as actors, they are both able to push the boundaries and emotionally mirror their opposite performer. Paulson sang Gaga’s praises endlessly and said, "She was one of the more emotionally available actresses that I’ve ever worked with. She was just right there, [like] if you’re feeling something, she’s often feeling the exact same thing, and it was a really beautiful thing that’s rare. And she absolutely had that."
Wes Bentley connected to John Lowe in a unique and deep level, but not how you’d expect.
Time and time again, stories about addiction continue to be a constant in the worlds of television and film. After all, everybody has their own vices, although people handle them in various ways. For Wes Bentley, who has celebrated a successful return to acting after suffering from his own demons, has had to face his own addictions before going back into the spotlight. As he ventured into the dark, twisted world of "Hotel" as a detective with a dark past, he was able to connect with the character in quite possibly the most unexpected of ways.
While he isn’t exactly keen on playing addicts over and over, he described the experience as exciting, and an opportunity that he hadn’t really gotten to properly explore before as a performer. On the red carpet, he said to Indiewire, "I have my own history, but it’s not necessarily something I always want to play. But in this setting, in the way they wrote it, it was really interesting and different, so I was excited about that. I was excited about tackling it in that way."
The actor praised the writing of the addiction metaphor while openly detailing his own experiences, reflecting on John Lowe’s addiction issues in a way that most people might neglect to do. "As an addict, you don’t know yourself. You don’t realize the things that you’ve done," he said. "And the realization in that moment, of seeing who you truly have been, and how dark you’ve become, or how deep you’ve gone, it’s horrific. It’s its own horror."
Inspiration for the monsters came from everywhere, even from Madonna herself.
As a genre show that absolutely commits, one of the greatest strengths of "American Horror Story" is its ability to freak us all out with horrifying creatures that look as if they’ve crawled in from the depths of our nightmares and onto our television screens. This season alone, they brought out the Addiction Demon, Bartholomew and of course, that terrible bed monster.
When asked about what inspires them to create such colorful creatures and how exactly they do that, Murphy cited an unusual and unexpected source of inspiration. During the process of creating the Addiction Demon, he recalled, "It’s crazy, but truthfully, when we were cooking it up, there was a moment in Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ video that I was very struck by."
However, it goes from beyond just Madonna to inspire a fire in the writers as they concoct nightmarish creatures. Murphy said that influence comes from everywhere, but especially pop culture. "Everything usually on the show… between [the writers], we’re usually influenced by some pop culture thing that we make our own and twist them a little bit."
Sarah Paulson could be double the trouble at the Emmys this year.
During the last season of "American Horror Story" on "Freak Show," Sarah Paulson played two characters simultaneously with Bette and Dot, a pair of twins that shared a body. This year, Paulson actually found herself juggling a similar sort of a horror story of her own, having to switch between two characters in one day. During the day, she’d be filming "Hotel," but at night, she’d be on the set of "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," for which she’s also been receiving much critical acclaim. If things go well, Paulson could very well be in the running at the Emmys for both shows.
On the carpet, when asked about how she would react to possibly being nominated twice, she said, "That is something I can’t really fathom, no. That seems really crazy." Before saying that she wasn’t a greedy person, she humbly clarified that she, of course, would not give any one of them back, if she were to win. "I would be very honored. It’s hard for me to comprehend, [to] wrap my brain around it."
At the very least, Paulson was already quite disciplined and seasoned enough to take on Hypodermic Sally during the day and Marcia Clark at night. She managed to seamlessly switch between the two in the span of a day, especially when the roles could not be more different from one another. She explained that her experience on "Freak Show" could not have been better timed, as it unknowingly served as the proper training for what was to come a year later. At the panel, she said, "I do think that playing Bette and Dot the year before actually was a very good warm up… that [it] couldn’t have been planned or expected. It just sort of happened organically. Something as simple but important, was that Marcia was left handed, and so was Bette, and so I was sort of used to [switching between roles] in a different way that I never would’ve been prior."
As well as it all had gone, Paulson continued, "It was a good warm up, but it was absolutely enough to make me think I was losing my mind." Who could blame her?
The next season will be even more ambitious than ever before.
Not that "American Horror Story" has ever lacked in ambition, but according to the creators, the show will double down in a way that they have never done before. According to Murphy, the next season will find the writers as more ambitious than they previously have been, as they continue to develop what will become of a very big future for the show.
As he teased the eager fans about what to expect, Murphy set the bar quite high for everybody involved, so it only seems natural that the show would only keep evolving into a much bigger beast. "I think that the show has always sort of felt, to me, like an opera," he revealed. "I think both things that we’re writing right now will have a different form that we’ve never done, so we’re excited about that. We’ll talk about it soon, but we haven’t landed on it yet."
Despite all the secrecy, Murphy did confess that the creepiness to come next time around will maybe or maybe not involve creepy children. After all, what is horror without being scared to death by the face of innocence itself? "If you look at horror tropes, I think that the innocence of children, that sort of wide-eyed entryway to some world is always very dramatic and satisfying. Both ideas that we’re working on now do have elements of children," he said.
And while he was naturally secretive about what exactly their two ideas were, he at least did reveal one thing: "Every darling person up [on stage] who wants to come back, can come back."
"American Horror Story: Hotel" is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Watch the trailer for "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" below…