Ryan Murphy on Netflix's 'Hollywood,' 'The Prom' and adjusting work and life in coronavirus era
Like everyone else, he's had to shift gears as the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically affected life and work, including a shutdown of TV and movie filming.
Murphy, who signed a huge deal with Netflix in 2018, had to delay the final days of shooting on "The Prom," based on the Broadway musical, that he's directing, but had already finished work on "Hollywood," his seven-episode revisionist look at outsiders who triumph in the film industry in the 1940s, which is available for streaming May 1.
Netflix Thursday released a first batch of photos from "Hollywood," which stars Patti LuPone, Jim Parsons, Darren Criss and Dylan McDermott. The limited series, co-created by Murphy and Ian Brennan, mixes fictional characters with real-life movie stars who suffered because of their identity, including Rock Hudson, a closeted gay man, and Hattie McDaniel, the first black Oscar winner.
With so many projects on hold, Murphy, 54, who has made representation of women, the LGBTQ community and people of color a major focus of his work, talked to USA TODAY about "Hollywood," the status of his films and TV shows and what he's watching during the pandemic:
Question: What inspired "Hollywood"?
Ryan Murphy: Ever since I did "Feud" (an FX miniseries about golden-age film idols Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), I had been working on a piece about the buried history of Hollywood. I was very interested, even as a young person, in three people: Rock Hudson, Anna May Wong and Hattie McDaniel. I'd been sort of noodling with that and then Darren Criss and I had dinner after ("The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story") and we were talking about what we wanted to work on next. And we both wanted to do something that would be inspirational, upbeat and that had a happy ending, that was about victories.
Q: How did you become interested in old Hollywood?
Murphy: I was sort of raised by my grandmother, and she was a movie buff, so growing up I (heard) about that and she would give me books about it. … The older I got, the more that I was interested in the rot below the surface, the darkness below the glamour, and the idea that what we think we see in movie stars is really not who they were at all. They were projecting something that was created for them, but they were not allowed to be themselves. And I've always been very interested in my own struggle with that and my fight to be authentic in Hollywood, to be able to be true to who I am and write what I want to write and produce what I want to produce.
Q: "Hollywood" was finished before the coronavirus shutdown. Did that affect work on "The Prom," which stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Andrew Rannells and Nicole Kidman?
Murphy: "The Prom" was pretty much all shot. We had two days of second-unit (filming) left. "The Prom" was never going to come out until later in the year, like Thanksgiving or Christmastime. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up those moments this summer. … So, that movie wasn't really impacted by this because I had already shot almost all of it.
Q: How has your other work been affected?
Murphy: I was supposed to start shooting the new season of "American Horror Story" and the new season of "American Crime Story: Impeachment" this week. That obviously is not happening. I had shot one episode of my limited series with Ewan McGregor, "Halston." That got shut down. I had shot an episode-and-a-half of "Pose." That shut down. So, yeah, I had four or five things that were impacted. That doesn't bother me. What I'm trying to do is make sure that my cast and crew hear from me and feel taken care of and know that there's someplace they can turn, because it's a dark time and a scary time for so many people. I just want to make sure all my people feel safe.
Q: Have you been watching TV during this stay-at-home time?
Murphy: Like everybody else, I watched "Tiger King" on Netflix. I just spend a lot of time watching MSNBC, and then, like, wanting to jump out a window because every day you just can't believe it. Thank God that we do have some media and leaders who are good. I've been spending a lot of quality time with my children, both of whom are toddlers. I've been so busy for the past 10 years that I have not stopped, so I'm just trying to hunker down and do some writing and have some quality family time. That's what I'm interested in right now.