Judging from the trailer, it’s clear “American Horror Story: Cult” is going to address the presidential election. But executive producer Ryan Murphy cautioned fans that it’s not what they expect. “I think people have the wrong idea about what it’s going to be, but that’s because people know my politics,” said Murphy in a Q&A with FX CEO John Landgraf after a preview of the first three episodes of the new season.”
“It’s not about Trump, it’s not about Clinton,” he explained. “It’s about somebody with the wherewithal to put their finger up to the wind and see that that’s what happening and using that to rise up and form power. And use people’s vulnerabilities about how they’re feeling afraid… and they feel like the world is on fire.”
Added Murphy, “Yes, the jumping-off point of the show is election night, and the characters have very strong points of view about Trump and Clinton, but it really is not about them. It really is about the rise of a cult of personality that can rise in a divided society.”
Murphy said that for many past seasons, the runner-up idea has been Charles Manson and the Manson family. “But it never felt right to me, because it’s been done a million times, and I didn’t know how to make it fresh,” he said. “But I kept coming back to the idea of the cult of personality.” This season he finally gets a chance to explore that. Evan Peters — in what Murphy says is the “best performance” of his career — will play a series of cult leaders, including the fictional Kai Anderson, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Andy Warhol. “We really examine how those people rise to power and why did people follow them,” he said.
He also revealed details about Lena Dunham’s character: She’ll play Valerie Solanas, the woman who tried to assassinate Warhol. She’ll appear in episode 7, which is titled “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins, Scumbag.”
“That episode is about the female rage then and in the country now,” he said. “[Solanas] told women to kill all men, and that was the only way you could rise to power.”
This season also stars Sarah Paulson and Allison Pill as a married couple, along with Billy Eichner, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson — as well as John Carroll Lynch reprising his infamous role as “Twisty the Clown.” Emma Roberts will return this season as a Michigan newscaster who is promoted above Adina Porter’s character “simply because she’s much more superficial and willing to do what it takes to survive,” and he said he was confident other “AHS” alums like Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates would eventually return to the franchise. “I’m sure she’ll be back some day,” he said of Lange. “It’s a very fluid way of working to have a group of people you love and can bring back and forth.”
Landgraf said while “Asylum” has been his favorite season to date, but based on what he’s seen, he says “Cult” has taken its place. He added, too, that trailer views have set record levels. This season is also the most grounded of them all, they revealed — there are none of the supernatural elements that appeared in seasons past.
Murphy was asked if he thought Trump would tweet in response to the show. “I would hope that he would have more important things to do,” he said. “I know he’s always been obsessed with the entertainment industry. All I can do is I can only be in charge of my side of the street….I think the work speaks for itself. I would be so shocked if he did — and yet not.”
Murphy said the season was fueled by his own anxiety over the election, which fueled much discussion in the writers’ room. “I’ve loved this season because the writers’ rooms have been so volcanic and emotional,” he said.
Added Murphy, “I’ll ask the writers’ room who they voted for Emmy awards, but I’ll never ask who they voted for president.”
And he said this season does represent both sides and that everybody is fair game. “Part of being an artist is being able to write about the world you live in and the times that you’ve been a part of,” he said. “We’ve been very careful to be fair…We’re not burning people in effigy.”
“American Horror Story: Cult” premieres on FX on September 5.