“Scream Queens” is a killer comedy-horror series from “Glee” executive producers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. Murphy and Falchuk are also executive producers of “American Horror Story.” In “Scream Queens,” Kappa House, the most sought-after sorority for pledges, is ruled with an iron fist (in a pink glove) by Chanel Oberlin (played by Emma Roberts). But when Dean Cathy Munsch (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) decrees that sorority pledging must be open to all students, and not just the school’s silver-spooned elite, all hell is about to break loose, as a devil-clad killer begins wreaking havoc across the campus.
An over-the-top, biting satire, “Scream Queens” (which premiered on Fox on Sept. 22, 2015) is part black comedy, part slasher flick and a modern take on the classic whodunit, in which every character has a motive for murder…or could easily be the next victim. “Scream Queens” ensemble cast includes Lea Michele, Abigail Breslin, Nasim Pedrad, Oliver Hudson, Skyler Samuels, Keke Palmer, Billie Lourd, Diego Boneta, Glen Powell, Lucien Laviscount, Niecy Nash, Nick Jonas and Ariana Grande. Here is what Curtis (who rose to stardom in the 1978 horror film classic “Halloween”) said in a roundtable interview with me and other journalists at 2015 Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Can you tell us the story of how you got cast in “Scream Queens”?
It’s the same story of everyone [starring in “Scream Queens”]. We are sitting at home, the phone rings, and it’s Ryan Murphy. That’s how simple it is. Ryan Murphy calls you up and says, “Come into my office.” You go in his office, and he says, “I’m going to write a show for you. Here’s what it is. Want to do it?”
And you go, “Sure!” And that’s how it is. You don’t need anything else. It’s very rare in our industry. I’ve been acting for a long, long time. And it’s only happened to me a couple of times where someone’s called me and said, “I’m going to write a part for you.” And every single time that’s happened for me, it’s been the biggest success of my career.
What appealed to you the most about “Scream Queens”? The comedy, the horror or something else?
He said it was going to be really funny and really scary and dark. He reiterated that it would be funny. He said, “It’s everything you’re strong in.” The jobs that I have done that have been my biggest success have all those elements in it. And he was basically saying, “I’m going to write to your strengths.” And that’s something that most people don’t say.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, we are all trying to get the job. We’re actors. We sit there in judgment saying, “Please choose me to be that person.” There are a hundred women in line saying, “Please choose me to be this person.” In this case, you literally have someone saying, “I choose you.” And that changes your life.
In the horror movies that you’ve done, you’re the one being chased by a killer. In “Scream Queens,” would you like to be the killer?
First of all none of know in advance [who the killer is]. Nobody knows. We get a script, and nobody knows if we’re going to live or die. And [our characters] could be dead already, but we’re not going to know until we see the show.
You’re known as the original “scream queen” because of all the horror movies that you’ve done. What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned about horror fans?
The people who love horror films are in fact the gentlest people and the most loyal. There is a deep respect for the genre that I don’t understand because I don’t like to be scared. And so it’s not something that I understand.
But a year ago, I went to a horror-film convention for charity in Indianapolis, Indiana. And I did it very specifically, one time only, for charity. And I’ve got to tell you something, that fan base, when they heard I was coming, they turned out. I raised a boatload of money for a children’s hospital in Los Angeles.
And what I really came away with was how deeply devoted these people were to me, as a representative of these films. It really moved me. It moved me to tears. I think that they are loyal and loving and gentle people who loved to be scared.
Even though you’re a successful actress, do you feel it’s still hard to get good parts?
Oh sure. It’s not easy, all of this. We all have dreams. We all think we can write things. It’s not easy to get things made. I’m an old lady, and I’m not in showbiz that much. Nobody’s going to be writing me something, unless it’s Ryan Murphy doing something like this. You can’t make that happen.
I was unemployed and happy to be unemployed when the phone rang. I wasn’t looking for a job. I was very happy to be living my very good life with my family when Ryan Murphy called me.
And that’s how it happened with Jim Cameron [who directed Curtis in 1994’s “True Lies”] and John Cleese [who directed Curtis in 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda”]. These people called me at my house and said, “I’m going to write something for you.” Now, that happen to me very often, but each time, it’s been a wild success.
How are your screaming skills these days?
I think we are born screaming, and one would hope that we don’t die screaming. I hope we die quietly and gently with our friends and family around us. But I can throw it down when I have to. I’m going to reserve the right not to.
For more info: “Scream Queens” website