We’re smack dab in the middle of Ryan Murphy’s own horror story. “I’ve decided that between July 4th and Thanksgiving is my hell week,” he jokes on a brisk September afternoon as he walks through the 20th Century Fox lot where his loft-like offices are housed. The ubiquitous showrunner is in various stages of production on four series — Fox’s Scream Queens and FX’s American Horror Story, American Crime Story, and Feud — and he’s about to embark upon a busy Emmy weekend, thanks to a whopping 30 nominations for AHS: Hotel and the critically adored The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.
But first he’s got to pick out some turbans. Feud, his 2017 miniseries about the rivalry between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), will start shooting in a week and final looks need to be chosen. “I would say no turban,” he advises longtime costume designer Lou Eyrich, perusing a poster board full of looks for Lange. He eyes another combo. “Definitely a turban.” For the last look? He deadpans, “Give me some weird white f— -me pumps.”
Murphy’s shows are often just like him: flashy, dramatic, emotional, darkly funny, and occasionally polarizing. In the past that combination could sometimes lead to behind-the-scenes meltdowns (“I was never a yeller, I was never a headset thrower,” he says) but, more than any other current showrunner, Murphy’s work has truly transformed the TV landscape. He brought musicals back to television with Glee, revived the anthology series format with AHS, and elevated the true crime genre to Greek tragedy levels with ACS. “Ryan’s greatest skill is the big idea,” says good friend Gwyneth Paltrow, who worked with Murphy on 2007’s Running with Scissors and Glee. “The things that come into his brain are truly unique and very impactful. He has such a good instinct for reviving someone’s career or talking about something culturally that people didn’t even know they wanted to hear so much about.” Adds Sarah Paulson, who’s starred in nine Murphy projects, “He’s got this laserlike ability to pinpoint exactly what the thing is people want to be seeing.”
And now he’s finally being rewarded for that vision: The People v. O.J. Simpson won nine Emmy awards this year, a record for any of his projects. Sitting at his table at the Governors Ball surrounded by gold statues, Murphy is joyous. “I feel relieved and happy,” he says hours after his win. At 51 years old, Murphy is starting to really feel grateful for his success. “My life at this point is like a fantasy,” he says. “Everything I wanted came true.”
Also inside the latest issue of EW, an exclusive visit to the top-secret set of American Horror Story: Roanoke, the latest and most mysterious version of the FX series yet. “I was just sort of bored, and I wanted to reinvent the form,” says Murphy. “I wanted to do something smaller and intimate.” And he wanted to drop it like Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Scripts were destroyed. Code names were used. And those involved took a blood oath not to reveal anything. “It’s going to shock the audience,” says co-creator Brad Falchuk of Roanoke’s surprises. “It’s amazing it’s been kept a secret.” Until now.
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