“There was, like, a Sprinter van with an editing bay in it that would come to set on ‘Hollywood,’ to where I’d be shooting a scene on ‘Hollywood,’ and then I would go edit music videos in the van for like 20 minutes on my break and then go back to shooting ‘Hollywood,’” Criss, 33, says on Wednesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket” from his home in Los Angeles. “I would be clean-shaven on ‘Hollywood,’ then I would go to the ‘Royalties’ set with a fake beard to match my beard. Then I’m flying to Vegas…to do these shows with Steve Aoki. It was just insane. Again, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I love that stuff, but, boy, that was really rough.”
“Hollywood,” Criss’ latest collaboration with Ryan Murphy, is a reimagining of Tinseltown in the 1940s as if there was no discrimination. Criss stars as an aspiring director who is in love with a Black actress (Laura Harrier). The idea for the series came about while Criss was having dinner with Murphy at the Sunset Tower Hotel.
“At the time, he was like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do,’” Criss said. “I said, ‘Well, give me three adjectives. Give me adjectives of things that you want to work on, and let me see if there’s something swimming around in my head that I want to develop and see if you want to do it.’”
“He was like, ‘I want to do something period, young and hopeful,’ to which I immediately mentioned that I had just finished Scotty Bowers’ book [‘Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars’],” he continued. “I was like, ‘There’s just so much lore in the 1940s Hollywood scene.’ If you’re an entertainment historian or you’re just a fan of Hollywood, the 1940s is almost like a genre where there is a canon and there are tropes of, you know, did you hear the one about so and so? Did you hear the one about this?”
Two days later, Murphy called Criss to tell him he sold the pitch to Netflix. Criss became an executive producer on the series, but insists credit for its creation must go to Murphy, Ian Brennan and Janet Mock. “Early on, Ryan would run things by me, which I appreciated,” he said. “I was involved in a lot of the initial creative discussions. Again, I was just like, ‘Look, you’re Ryan Murphy. You do your thing.'”
“Royalties” is a different story. Criss created the comedy and wrote the series with his “A Very Potter Musical” collaborators Nick and Matt Lang. Criss and Kether Donohue star as songwriters trying to make it in the business. “We had to make the whole thing in a very small window of time between the writing of the songs, producing. I did 10 songs, 10 days,” Criss said. “Pre-production was so short, [director] Amy Heckerling said yes very close to when we started shooting. She had a less-than-pleasant amount of days to do pre-production, and when she got to L.A., she was told that she also had to prep 10 music videos.”
But they made it work. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Criss said. “So there’s this kind of scrappy can-do, f— it, let’s just do it live attitude to what we did with ‘Royalties’ that does make its way for some really fun, weird, interesting stuff. But we had to do it so fast.”