Ever since Donald Trump won last year's US general election, Hollywood has been talking - and writing - about its new president. But American Horror Story: Cult takes it to the next level, centring its entire seventh season around the controversial new president and what it means for America.
As always, the series preys on viewers' deepest fears and phobias. But this time, they're more real than ever. Showrunner Ryan Murphy tells TimeOut how he came up with the idea - and whether he's worried about a Trump backlash.
TIMEOUT SURVEY: Tell us what you think and win a year's worth of movie tickets
This is probably the first full season of narrative television that was conceived, developed, and written in response to the November election. Did you already have the idea for Cultbefore that?
Ryan Murphy: That's interesting... My process of how we do American Horror Story is really weird because I have to have the idea really nailed down by October 1. That's always my rule. So, I have six weeks to go before we figure out and lock in what is next year because of the production schedule. And, many seasons, the runner-up idea for the show had been Charles Manson and the Manson Family ... I just kept being drawn back to was the idea about cult of personalities. So, every year I would discard it, and I wanted to do it three years in a row.
And then, last year at this time, everybody was talking about the election and everybody was talking about those two candidates. And I would say around September 1st of last year is when the idea - putting the idea of the election being the jumping-off point, and then, mixing the idea of the Manson cult of personality, and somebody who rises like that within a, sort of, disenfranchised community took root.
Satire is a key part of the American Horror Story series - in particular this season. How do you strike the right balance?
This show has always had an element of that, you know, it's always really embraced pop culture. I think that we're trying to make a point, but not take it too seriously. And I think that's evident in the first episode where Sarah Paulson chases clowns with rosé. I think we've all turned to rosé a lot in the past year. And I was doing that in my life. So, I'm like, 'you know what, she's going to chase these clowns with rosé. That's what's going to happen.'
There's a very good chance Donald Trump will Tweet about this. Are you guys anticipating that? Are you dreading that?
Well, I would hope that he would have more important things to do. That's my first response. But I mean, every day there's some new shock where you think that, you know - I don't know how to feel about that. I know that he's very involved and has always been obsessed with the entertainment industry. All I can do is I can only be in charge of my side of the street, right? So, if that does happen, and people have asked me that, I guess my response would be, "Well, I'm not going to respond to that because I think the work speaks for itself." But I would be so shocked if he did, and, yet, not. But I'm prepared. I'm prepared to say nothing. I would like to handle it like a gentleman.
A lot of people think this is political, political, political. When the whole thing happened with Kathy Griffin, that whole incident with the photos, did you guys have pause at any point?
Never. No. No. I mean, part of being an artist is to be able to write about the
world that you live in and the times that you're a part of. And I've always done that in my work. I've tried to. Sometimes, I've succeeded, and sometimes, I've failed. I think that we've been very careful to be fair. I don't think that you're going to watch the show and see anything like what Kathy went through, because that's not what we're writing about. We're not doing that; we're not burning people. That's not what we want to do.
You talked about how it's a reflection of your anxiety that you're revealing that you think people will relate to it because of the anxiety. Now that you're much farther into it, do you feel like it's helped you work through that?
For me, it was cathartic. I also think because it does have a certain degree of humour and the acting is so good, and it's actors that you love, I think they help lead you through something that could be very difficult. For me, I would say - I'm still drinking rosé, I don't feel particularly calm. I don't think anybody does. To be honest with you, I feel that in this country, probably in my own bubble, there was a sense with the election of Barack Obama, like, oh, things are changing; people are getting along; diversity is happening. That's when my career started to happen. So I felt really shocked by what happened, and yet, then, looking at it in the writing, I realized, oh, I shouldn't have been so shocked; I should have understood more. For me, that has been the great gift of the show, that it's just made me look at all different sides of the equation and research it more.
What: American Horror Story: Cult
When: Wednesday, 8.30pm
Where: Sky Soho