Asked how much the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning is in this dance musical series, and why he thinks this world is something that would have “mainstream” interest, Murphy told TV critics: “I always loved Paris Is Burning. They were rock stars to me when I was growing up.” Murphy and Brad Falchuk at one point discussed doing a TV version of the docu filmed in the mid- to late-’80s chronicling the ball culture of New York City, but they decided it would be difficult “to take those iconic people and make a fictionalized version” of their lives for a TV series, Murphy explained. And then they got the script that led to Pose.
Steven Canals wrote the script in 2014 while studying screenwriting at UCLA, then spent a few years being told it was “too niche” and that there would not be an audience for it being and asked where would “a show like this live.” Fortunately the script made its way to Murphy, Canals said at Friday’s TCA Q&A. “And he got it.”
Murphy is making TV history with his latest FX drama, assembling the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles ever for a scripted series. Now is the time to tell this story, about this group of people who, sadly are more and more disenfranchised and cut off,” Murphy said. “We want to celebrate them…The timing of this show is very important.”
Murphy said the project’s historic casting “was one of the amazing things for me.” “My job was to ask questions,” he said of the experience. “I was constantly corrected by these wonderful people. I don’t have a lot of people who tell me no. I was told no 50,000 times a day.”
Murphy described casting the series as being like the search for Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, spending eight months letting the trans community know the series would be cast “authentically and fairly”; candidates for every role were flown to Los Angeles for studio tests.
Ryan reiterated how important he feels it is to do this show now, describing it as “wonderful” to tell someone “who never thought they would fit in the room or be allowed in the room, ‘No, you are in the room now'” and that this series would be supported by a publicity campaign like that of Fargo or American Horror Story and that they were not being shunted off to the side and patted on the head.
“That was very moving,” Murphy said. “One of the greatest weeks was when I got to call the actors and say: ‘Hey, are you sitting down? You got the part.’ … It was a very fulfilling, emotional experience. … I’m tearing up talking about it. It’s very powerful,” he added
“That happened to me,” Murphy said of a scene in which a character’s father finds out he is gay and “beats him bloody with a belt.”
“That was my coming-out experience with my father,” Murphy said.
“I can’t believe my life and can’t believe that things have changed so radically in my lifetime,” the producer described of the era in which the series is set. “If you asked me then if I would be allowed to be married and have children like you, I never would have believed it,” Murphy told reporters, describing himself as someone who “survived” and feels a responsibility to give back and to support “people who still don’t feel included.”
Set in 1980s New York, Pose looks at the concurrent rise of Trump-era downtown social and literary scene and ball culture worlds. Murphy co-created the show with Falchuk and Canals. The three executive produce alongside Murphy’s American Crime Story collaborators Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson as well as Alexis Martin Woodall and Sherry Marsh for Fox 21 Television Studios and FX Productions. Trans activist director Silas Howard will serve as co-executive producer.
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