'American Horror Story': Ryan Murphy on Season 3, his new horror movie, and rethinking screen violence after Sandy Hook

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Image Credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX

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The end of madness has been seen – and the future of American Horror Story has been teased. Last night in Los Angeles, AHS co-creator Ryan Murphy screened the climactic episode (entitled “Madness Ends”) of the FX drama’s sophomore year, subtitled Asylum, which wraps on Jan. 23. In a Q+A with journalists, Murphy discussed the writing of season 2, teased season 3, revealed plans for a horror movie he hopes to shoot this spring, and addressed the issue of screen violence given the current cultural conversation about guns and media influence. Some highlights:

The Season 3 Game Plan. Murphy said he knows the tale he wants to tell and which horror pop touchstones he wants to use. He’ll begin working with the writing staff next week to plot out the saga, then pitch the plan to FX for input and approval. Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters will return next season, playing new characters per the show’s novel anthology format. Murphy also said cast members from season 1 who weren’t in season 2 will return, and new faces will be joining the company. Murphy said that Lange has been offering suggestions, specifically actors she’s long wanted to work with. (He offered no names, though hinted that Oscar winners might be in the mix.) The third season will be set in multiple cities and in modern times, but will occasionally peek into the past, much like the first season. It will possess a lighter, more romantic and comedic tone, at least compared to season 2 decidedly dark bent, and it will also have a young star-crossed lovers element, similar to Violet & Tate in season 1. Murphy said “female power” will be a major theme. And he has promised Lange a decidedly better wardrobe, so he says to look for the star to play a more “glammed-out” character. Finally, Murphy says season 3 will have a signature, iconic monster, a la Rubber Man of season 1 and Bloody Face of season 2. And this time? “She’s a woman.”

Season 2’s Relationship To Season 1. While many AHS fans have wondered about – even agitated for – narrative connections between years, Murphy said he still isn’t interested in the idea, and remains committed to making each season, each story different and distinct in tone and content. But he did say that he and the writers briefly considered a big season 2 twist: Revealing that Dylan McDermott’s character – Johnny Rogers, the psychotic son of the serial killer Bloody Face (Zachary Quinto) – changed his name to Ben Harmon, the character McDermott played in season 1. “We flirted with that idea for 10 minutes” before discarding it, said Murphy. The producer wouldn’t rule out returning to storylines from previous seasons, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen soon. He is aware that some fans want to know what happened to Constance Langdon (Lange’s season 1), as well as her spirit-sired, Anti-Christ grandson. “Jessica wasn’t interested in that at all,” said Murphy. You’ll always have fan fiction, AHS watchers.

More Horror, Different Medium. Murphy is developing a feature film version of the movie that scared him most as a kid, The Town That Dreaded Sundown. It’ll be set in modern times and take a “meta” approach to horror. He’s working on the flick with Jason Blum, the producer behind the Paranormal Activity series. Murphy says that a key member of his AHS team will direct: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who helmed “I Am Anne Frank (Part Two),” “Spilt Milk,” and the season 2 finale. The director — whose AHS eps have been notable for its dynamic camera work and homages to other filmmakers (most notably, Brian De Palma) – will not only remain in the AHS fold, but will have an expanded role next season. He’s signed a deal to be a producer and will likely direct every third episode.

Murphy On Violence. American Horror Story is a horror show about horror, real and fictional. As such, there’s a lot of blood and violence, most of it rather sensationalistic, albeit knowingly so. The producer was asked if the Sandy Hook tragedy has changed his perspective on how to depict the brutality in the show. “It’s certainly something I am thinking about,” said Murphy. He shared that since becoming a parent, he has been reconsidering his responsibility to the images he is putting into the culture. “I do feel that if you’re going to tell a story with a gun, take a step back and think about it,” said Murphy. He brought up – and defended – a controversial episode from season 1 that depicted a Columbine-esque school shooting. He acknowledged it was “very upsetting” but also believed it was justified, as AHS aspires to cultural commentary and deals with the impact and generational legacy of such trauma. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. The season finale of American Horror Story: Asylum contains one act of explicit violence that involves a gun. END SPOILER ALERT. Murphy said “Madness Ends” was written back in October, two months before Sandy Hook. He said that given the nature and plot of Asylum’s story, he doesn’t know if he’d do anything different about that specific moment in the finale if it had been conceived amid the current cultural conversation on gun violence. He added that the execs at FX have always been sensitive to this issue, and he says, “I think we will talk about it even more now. I know I will.”

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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