SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE PREMIERE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM!!!!
Nuns! Aliens! Bloody Face! Adam Levine! No one can accuse American Horror Story: Asylum of playing it safe in its wild premiere. A complete reboot of the previous season, AHS: Asylum took viewers inside Briarcliff Manor for a roller-coaster hour that saw Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude getting sexy in red lingerie and Adam Levine’s Leo losing an arm to something sinister. EW talked to series co-creator Ryan Murphy about the jam-packed hour, his inspirations, and what this means for Levine on the series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You kept the same music for the opening credits but new visual elements. Are these perhaps clues to the mystery surrounding Briarcliff?
RYAN MURPHY: I think so. We were gonna throw everything out and start from scratch. We built that entire insane asylum. That crew that is so brilliant went in and shot everything on that location months ago. They also had read many of the scripts. Yes I think they’re clues. I think the show in its subject matter has a little more gravity in terms of social significance this year, so some of them aren’t so much clues as metaphors. For example, the girl walking up and down in the staircase, in episode 2 you will definitely know what that’s about.
To me the editing and the energy felt very different to me. It almost feels like it’s supposed to keep you off-balance, like you don’t know what you’re seeing. Is that what you were going for?
When Brad and I did season 1, it was definitely influenced by masters like [Stanley] Kubrick. This year the thing that I was really obsessed with is I was really influenced by DePalma, who I think is a brilliant filmmaker, who I really feel like never gets his just desserts. It’s time for a Brian DePalma resurgence. So I was very into the filming style of DePalma’s works, specifically Dressed to Kill and Carrie. There’s a lot of slow motion, there’s a lot of languid filmmaking. In the first episode, as a tribute to Brian, we actually used two big pieces from Carrie’s score. So the same can be said of DePalma’s work which is very fever dream. Look at that last scene of Carrie—was it real? Was it a dream? So yes it was very influenced by his work particularly. Also it was very influenced by [Dario] Argento. The other great thing about it is Brad Buecker, who edited all the shows last year, who’s my right hand man, is also a brilliant director. The first two were edited and directed by Brad. It’s very interesting when an editor directs. It’s much more I think a psychological thriller as well.
Last year, it’s interesting to me, because people said to me “Oh the Harmon family is so venal and so terrible and we don’t root for them.” I think this year you have 3 or 4 people you’re really rooting for — definitely Jessica, definitely Evan, definitely Sarah, definitely Chloe. This year we’re really exploring the idea of madness, and I think madness, for people caught in that web, it must feel like a hallucinogenic nightmare reality.
DePalma was also clearly very influenced by Hitchcock. But DePalma was able to use sex in a much more graphic way. Obviously, American Horror Story will always be about sex and violence. But I’m really thrilled to talk about DePalma. One of our writers on our show, Jennifer Salt, starred in a Brian DePalma movie [1973’s Sisters]. They’re still really good friends.
You should get him to direct an episode!
Ha! I doubt he would come to television, but it certainly would be worth a call. I love him. I think he’s a very underrated filmmaker.
My colleague Jeff Jensen wants to know if you’re gonna direct an episode?
I really want to. It’s hard with three shows. The New Normal, I directed four of the first shows. I’m getting ready to do a Glee. I have a really nifty plan for the last episode of Horror Story this year. If I can make that work, I will. I want to.
Will the search for Alma and her disappearance be a driving mystery the whole season?
It continues for the whole season. It’s an interesting idea, which is for the audience basically to find out were the aliens real or were they all in his mind? We studied a lot about alien abductions, particularly the year we’re writing about. We say in the first episode that 1964 was a very important year in which religion and science collided. Right around the time of the space program is when a lot of people claimed alien abduction theories. I’ve always been obsessed with alien abduction theories because one of my best friends tells me over and over again that she was abducted and experimented on. So it’s a fascinating thing to write about.
We saw the alien limbs. But will we see its face?
Yes. We overshot the s— out of it. What we did last year with the infantata is you saw it for literally like 3 frames. It’s a very similar experience where we don’t show many of the creatures in the woods which are called Raspers. We don’t show too much. We want you to get invested in the story but we do show more.
One person we do see is Bloody Face. So is the modern day Bloody Face the same from the 1960s?
It could be. You definitely get the answer to that.
The twist with Adam Levine being dismembered within the first five minutes was pretty shocking. But he’s still in a bunch of episodes right?
Yes, he is going to be in a bunch of episodes. I mean, it’s clear after the first episode that he’s in a bad place. I wanted a big star in that. We actually wrote it for him. He did such a great job. He has this great movie star charisma. But what Janet Leigh was to Psycho, Adam is to this season of American Horror Story. He does not perish as quickly as anybody. And maybe he lives — I’m not saying anything.
But Leo and Teresa won’t bookend every episode right?
No. We made the decision to do a period piece but I really wanted to examine the Bloody Face legend. So this year we do sort of have a story within a story. The 2012 stuff is not in every episode. We skip around a little bit. But it’s definitely part of the storytelling engine and all designed to completely wrap up in the very last episode and the very last scene. I think it’s cool to tell a very modern story within a period frame work. I love the new Briarcliff dissolving into the old Briarcliff.
Will we find out what knocked out Lana, like, whose arm that was?
Oh yeah. It’s the fun thing about the show. Who is Bloody Face? Is Bloody Face still alive? What’s behind that door? Will Adam Levine live? What the hell is Dr. Arden making in that lab? Just another day in the writer’s room of American Horror Story. These are all mysteries very similar to last year where in the first episode we launched 5 or 6 mysteries and you follow them.
Is Eric Stonestreet coming back?
Yeah, we’re figuring that out.
And Ian McShane is gonna be on?
Ian McShane is coming on. I’m really excited about the Ian McShane part. I have loved him for a really long time. This is an interesting year in American Horror Story in that after episode 9, we go on a holiday break and then come back in January. So I really wanted like two-episode climactic thing and I wanted someone who could go head to head with Jessica Lange. We’ve written him a really amazing part that he starts shooting today. They’re episodes 8 and 9.
And Frances Conroy? You tweeted that she’s playing someone angelic.
Yes. I don’t want to give that away because that doesn’t happen ’til I think episode 7, but it’s one of my favorite episodes. Frances appears there and then comes back and forth throughout the season.
And Franka Potente?
Yep she’s amazing and she’s in episodes 4 and 5.
Can you tease next week’s episode, “Trick and Treats?”
It’s our Halloween episode, and it’s about the powers of Satan. It’s about a boy who is or is not possessed who suddenly, strangely knows a lot about Sister Jude’s secrets.
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