Billie Lourd always knew she wanted to be an actress, despite the fact that her mother, Carrie Fisher, and her father, superagent Bryan Lourd, did everything in their power to dissuade her from joining the family business, including establishing a rule about getting a degree in something other than performing arts first. But when she graduated in 2014 from NYU, she still had her sights set on Hollywood — performing runs deep in her family history, of course, as her grandma is Debbie Reynolds and her grandpa was Eddie Fisher. Ironically, it was a family dinner that put her on Ryan Murphy’s (Glee, American Horror Story) radar last spring and landed her what is sure to be her breakout role as Chanel #3 on Scream Queens.
Yahoo TV caught up with the 23-year-old while she was in Los Angeles for the show’s premiere party Monday, and the self-described scaredy-cat discussed using Adele songs to nail Chanel’s walk, talking horoscopes and boys with scream kings like Nick Jonas, and working and eating her way through New Orleans.
It seems that many people who get cast in a Ryan Murphy production have an interesting casting story.
Mine was not the standard audition story. Mine was one of those Ryan Murphy has a casting vision situations. I went to my godfather’s birthday dinner in Silver Lake, which was already weird because I usually am not down to drive more than 30 minutes. I’m very lazy. But I decided to go that night, and I ended up sitting and talking with Ryan for two hours. I’d met him a few times at parties, but we’d never had a real conversation. He asked me what I was doing with my life, and I told him I was giving acting a try. Then I ended up telling him all these weird, inappropriate slightly sexual stories about my friend, who I totally threw under the bus for the sake of conversation, and Ryan just goes, “I think you would be perfect for Chanel #3.” I was like, “Who the hell is that?” He pitched me on Scream Queens and I said, “I love it. It sounds like such a genius idea. It’s hilarious. It’s dark. It’s everything I want to be.” I later went in for a couple of hours, read the script for the pilot, and was tearing up laughing even though I am not a laugh out loud person. Two weeks later, I was in New Orleans filming.
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It is kind of perfect that sexually inappropriate small talk is what landed you a gig working for him.
I think he was like, “Jesus this girl is far too open.” But that is exactly who this character is. She is really weird and mysterious, and she sometimes says things that make you go, “Where is that coming from?” I guess he saw that in me that night. Not sure if that is good or bad.
Are you a fan of the horror genre in general?
I am not a big horror freak. I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat in general. I can’t handle scary movies unless I am at home with the lights on and the doors locked or it is in the morning. But I am a huge fan of dark comedies, and I would say this show is more comedy than horror. Heathers is one of my favorite movies, and I’m so excited because I get to work with the guy who directed it, Michael Lehmann, because he is directing Episode 10. That’s my jam.
There’s also the sociological study aspect to the show. Was that important to you?
Yes, of course. Jamie [Lee Curtis] explains that bit so much better than I do. She’s so eloquent, but they are using the laughs and the horror genre to talk about the state of women. And there are so many powerful women in this show. And they’re smart and diverse and funny. No men are helping them. Actually most of the men are scared of us in the show, which usually does not happen in horror movies and shows. We are protecting ourselves.
Have you adjusted to working in the secret world of a Ryan Murphy show? How does it affect your daily work?
We literally never know anything beyond the script we are working on. In the pilot, I have like three lines, but I guess I impressed them with what I did with those lines because I keep getting more and more to say and do when I keep expecting less. We are working on Episode 10 now and we have three left, and yet I don’t know if I will live or die.
Or if you’re the killer, I suspect.
I could very well be. I don’t know, and they toy with us all the time. They always ask everyone who they think the killer is, and Ryan says that no one has figured it out yet. I think they do it on purpose because it makes us all play everything like we are the killer because we all secretly want to be the Red Devil. We will do a take and suddenly someone delivers their line a little darker than the last five times, and we all call them on it like, “Were you totally just trying to be the killer right now? I see what you did there.” I think we all think that if we play killer well enough, they will make us the killer. And I think it is brilliant, because I think they sometimes use what we say about what we think is going on in later scripts to throw everyone off more. It just gets better performances out of us. It keeps you on your toes.
Is there a moment or a scene that you are really excited about/proud of?
I have that feeling every day, to be honest. I am so lucky to be on this show. I am learning so much, and yet everyone treats me like I know what I’m doing. I love doing all the stunts, but those come later and I don’t want to spoil anything. On the pilot, which Ryan directed, we have to walk down the hallway and stairs a lot. Initially he was getting very frustrated with us because we were not doing it at the pace he wanted. He wanted us to really hustle down those stairs. So he came up running behind us, singing Adele, “Rumor Has It,” and clapping his hands. So now anytime we are walking we get into “Rumor Has It” pace. Someone will start singing, and we immediately start doing the Chanel walk better.
There are multiple Chanels in Kappa Kappa Tau. How would you describe yours?
My Chanel is dark, sexual, very deadpan. My vibe is Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Rec mixed with Winona Ryder in Heathers. She is not around much in 1 and 2. She just says a couple snarky things and walks fast, but in Episode 3, you find out she has a very dark, complicated past. I come out with some information about one of my parents. I don’t know if it is true, but she tells people that as if it is true. I will also explain why I wear my signature earmuffs.
How many pairs of earmuffs exist?
Not enough. I wear them every day. In the beginning there was, like, one pair, but now I’ve got about eight pairs. We’ve gotten into bejeweling them, and some have lace and sparkle. There’s different kinds of fur. But I wear them, like, 16 hours a day and it is super-superhot in New Orleans, so I need more. It is uncomfortable for sure. I had one hairstyle where my hair was braided over the earmuffs so I couldn’t take them off all day. I had to give myself a deep ear massage after. You know what it feels like? When you wear earphones on the plane for too long and your ears get stuck to your head and are sore. That’s my life.
Best part about filming in New Orleans?
The food. It’s incredible. I’m obsessed. I am a Southern girl at heart, so I have a pulled pork sandwich and Key lime pie every day. It’s a problem. It’s all going straight to my ears.
You come from a long line of Hollywood folk. Was there ever a time when you thought about not being an actor, or was it just a given?
It’s in my blood. They tried to get me not to do this. Inside it was always a given, but I always told people I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, a CEO. I was totally fooling everyone. Both of my parents were like, “Please do not do this. Do anything else. Go and get a degree and be a doctor or a lawyer.” Like every other parent, but I couldn’t shake it. I went to performing arts camp. I lied and said that I was going to knitting camp. They’d show up, and I was the lead in Music Man. So I always secretly planned to follow them into the business, but it was taboo at first. But now they see how much I love it, and they are supportive.
But you did go to college first?
Yes, I went to NYU, and my parents had a rule that I needed to major in something other than acting if I wanted to pursue acting after college. I made my own major called art and business as religion. But I basically could take anything I wanted, so I had acting, music, philosophy, religion, and psychology. I’m really happy they did that. It gives you perspective about life and experience, and I also had a ton of internships where people treated me like shit, made me cry, and made me fetch water. So I never take for granted my job now because it is much easier than those jobs and there are so many people on our crew that are working their asses off and working harder than me. I make sure to know everyone’s name and say thank you and just try to appreciate them because I have been in their shoes, and had I not gone to college I don’t think I would have had that.
Unfortunately, people see a cast of mostly young women and they assume you are all talking behind each others’ backs and pulling hair. As a group, how have relations been, and are you bucking those clichés?
We have honestly become a family. Jamie’s our mom. Emma and Lea are the older sisters. Abby and I are in the middle. Keke and Skylar are like the cousins who become your best friends. We all get along superwell. We have sleepovers. We do ladies’ night. People work out together. We go out to eat and get drinks. We have inside jokes. We have become superclose. It is better to respect each other than fight each other. We bring different things to the table, anyway. There’s more power in getting along.
I get a kick out of the idea that the men on the show are getting the experience that women usually have on male-dominated sets.
One hundred percent. They have to get in on all the conversations about horoscopes and boys. We don’t have to talk about football. But it’s good for them. We are turning them into better boyfriends.
Watch the premeire of Scream Queens:
Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.