21st Annual Hollywood Film Awards - Press Room
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As fans of the Ryan Murphy multiverse know, Annette Bening was supposed to lead American Crime Story: Katrina, a follow-up to The People Vs. O.J. Simpson about the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. But then the showrunner and network changed things up: the Assassination of Gianni Versace season was bumped up to Jan. 17, 2018, and Sarah Paulson was named the new star of Katrina. Now, we have a better idea as to the “why” of it all.

“What happened was, from what I understand, Ryan Murphy — who I’ve worked with before — decided he needed to stop and rethink the way he was approaching Katrina,” Bening told Vanity Fair at the Museum of the Moving Image Salute, where she was being honored. “He found that the best way to do it was to basically use one of the — there were a couple of major books written about Katrina that were completely brilliant and thorough and thoughtful, and one of them is called Five Days at Memorial. So I think he decided that he would just focus on the story by telling it that way.”

Bening was initially set to play Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco alongside Dennis Quaid as President George W. Bush and Matthew Broderick as FEMA director Michael D. Brown and Murphy originally was using another of those books, The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley, as the basis of the season. As Bening pointed out, “Kathleen Blanco really isn’t in [Five Days at Memorial].”

The book, written by Sheri Fink, tells of a New Orleans hospital that suffered through the hurricane without power for days. Paulson, who won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her People Vs. O.J. Simpson role, will now play Dr. Anna Pou, one of the real-life medical professionals at the facility accused of giving drugs to patients to expedite their deaths during the disaster.

Murphy, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, and Scott Rudin will executive produce Katrina.

According to Deadline, the creative team had hoped to still include Bening, Quaid, and Broderick in the revamp. Though, Bening, as she said, is out.

“[Murphy] was right: He needs to do it thoughtfully and carefully,” Bening said. “And maybe just making the Memorial hospital the microcosm of the larger thing is the way to do it. … It was a great, great tragedy, and there was so much unnecessary suffering and death because of racism and poverty. So it’s important when we’re told that story again, that he does it in the way that he thinks is right.”

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