By Lesley Goldberg
The cast and creators of FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel used their time in front of the Television Critics Association on Friday to preview what to expect from the fifth season of the anthology series.
As with every drama from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, plot details are being kept close to the vest about the season that explores a haunted hotel.
Lady Gaga leads the cast as an evil character. Kathy Bates plays Iris, Angela Bassett is Ramona, Evan Peters is Mr. March, Matt Bomer is Donovan and Sarah Paulson will play Hypodermic Sally. The Hotel cast also includes Finn Wittrock, Wes Bentley, Chloe Sevigny, Emma Roberts, Richard T. Jones, Denis O'Hare, Lily Rabe, Cheyenne Jackson, Max Greenfield, Glee’s Darren Criss and Madchen Amick.
Murphy previously revealed that all seasons of the FX anthology are connected and will feature characters from previous seasons checking into Hotel. He told fans at Comic-Con that it’s all part of a “connected universe” that will conclude with a “thesis statement” at the end of the show’s run.
The highlight of the panel was the cast, one by one, revealing details of just who they’re playing and who they have relationships with.
Wittrock is a male model named Tristan Duffy who is always looking for the next high who “finds the biggest high in Lady Gaga [her character], and they have a lot to do together.”
Jackson is Will Drake, a fashion icon who is “trying to creatively re-establish himself” and moves from New York to L.A. He’s also a father and a “little desperate.”
O'Hare is playing a character named Elizabeth Taylor who is fascinated with the movie icon. “I’m not actually playing the person but someone inspired by her awesomeness” in movies like Cleopatra and her eye make up. “I shaved my head — and other body parts — for the part.” The character works at the bar in the hotel with Bates’ character.
Sevigny is Alex Lowe, the wife of Bentley’s character and a mother and doctor. The couple “had a great loss” in their family and are coming to grips with that.
Bomer is Donovan, a denizen of the Hotel Cortez closely associated with Gaga, Bates and Wittrock’s characters, among others. “He has very interesting relationships with the lady folk in his life,” he said.
Bentley plays Detective John Lowe, who is married to Alex. He’s investigating grisly murders, which leads him into checking into the hotel.
Bassett is Ramona Royal, who has a strong “and real nasty relationship” with Gaga and Wittrock’s character. She’s an actress and while she doesn’t live at the hotel, she visits often.
Bates is Iris, who runs the hotel. “I have relationships with Matt Bomer and Wes and I can’t stand Paulson [her character]; I hate you,” she said. “Liz Taylor and I have a very close relationship.”
Paulson is Sally, who lives at the hotel and “hates Iris in a rather ancient way for reasons that will be revealed quickly,” she said. The character has a budding and dark relationship with Bentley’s character.
Murphy revealed that Gaga — who begins filming Monday and was not at the TCA panel — will play Elizabeth, the hotel’s owner. “She is a very wealthy social doyenne who is consumed with art, fashion and people and she has a nefarious plan that is revealed in the first episode that plays out over the season.”
Here are a few more things to know about Hotel that were revealed at TCA:
Hotel is much more in line with season one of AHS — the Connie Britton-led Murder House. “This season harkens back to the first season and is much more rooted in the honest, primal fears that the first season was,” Murphy said. He noted that which season and characters people enjoy says a lot about the kind of horror fan viewers are. Season one was a psychological season that appeals to “true horror fans.” Asylum was for people who really like drama. Coven was more for younger fans, while Freak Show was more artistic. Hotel, Falchuk said, further explores the horror trope of being trapped that builds upon Murder House, which was much more claustrophobic. “While I feel like the first season trapped you in that house, the second season was very oppressive in the asylum; [here] the horror is sneaking out of the hotel,” he said, noting the show would go outside to the streets more and have a moodier and noir vibe. “When you go home, whereever your bed is, it’s the least safe space in the entire world.”
Hotel, like Murder House, is set in Los Angeles. The hotel, Murphy said, is set in downtown Los Angeles and explores a lot of American horrors, including addiction. “We were really inspired by the ideal of this hotel surveillance video that showed a girl getting into an elevator in haunted hotel and who was never seen again,” Murphy said, noting Hotel was first conceived around two years ago when the story broke.
As for how Hotel connects to other AHS seasons, Murphy said to expect those to appear around episode six or seven.
AHS: Hotel debuts Oct. 7 on FX. The 13-episode season runs through the end of January.