LOS ANGELES — Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of the new FX series “Pose,” knows he has defied logical TV series thinking with the programming he has created. Despite predictions his efforts would never fly, Murphy has been able to produce multiple hits.
“Everything that I’ve ever done, in terms of television shows, should not work on paper,” Murphy says. “But, who knew that a show about a high school show choir would become what it became?”
The high school series, “Glee,” defied all TV logic as it featured an unknown cast of young actors singing and dancing their way through each episode. He followed that up by making a massively successful spooky anthology series in “American Horror Story.” Murphy even has managed to use the well-worn TV theme of setting a show in a firehouse with “9-1-1” and found another hit.
Murphy takes another big chance with “Pose,” a series set in the 1980s that features the largest cast of transgender and LGBTQ actors in series regular roles ever for a scripted series. The stories will look at those who walk in competitions at events known as balls, the rise of luxury as a driving passion and the downtown social and literary scenes in New York.
All his shows appear to be radically different, but Murphy points out that almost every series he gets behind shares a theme: family.
“I’ve always written about a family in a community because growing up, I always wanted that, and I didn’t really have it. So I guess again, I return to my childhood themes in some way. But it’s very moving,” Murphy said. “Also, now is the time to tell the story about this group of people who sadly are more and more disenfranchised and cut off, and we wanted to celebrate them.
“They’re a part of our family, and certainly a part of mine and my community, and I think the timing of this show was very important.”
Murphy is so committed to the project he directed the initial two episodes of the eight ordered for the first season. He was part of the six-month nationwide search to assemble the transgender actors, including Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross. Also co-starring are Evan Peters, Kate Mara, James Van der Beek, Billy Porter, Charlayne Woodard, Ryan Jamaal Swain and Dyllon Burnside.
The cast of “Pose” is filled with actors who have little or no experience. For projects such as “American Horror Story” or “9-1-1,” Murphy would call seasoned actors he knew or had worked with to pitch them on being part of his next production. Even if there was no script for them to read, the majority would sign on to work with Murphy.
Putting together the “Pose” cast was different.
“We had open calls. We put out flyers in the current ballroom scene. We let the community know that we were going to cast authentically and that we were going to cast fairly, and that’s what we did. We spent months and months and months,” Murphy said. “I have not done this on a show since ‘Glee,’ where we had candidates for every role and we worked with them and we flew to New York, and then we flew them out here, and we did studio network tests.
“It was interesting and it was emotional. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say to somebody who never thought that they would fit in the room or be allowed to be in the room, ‘You’re in the room now, and you are a part of mainstream Hollywood, and you are involved in a show that is going to have a marketing and publicity campaign behind it.’”
Writer/TV host/transgender rights activist Janet Mock is a producer on “Pose.” She’s certain all viewers will be able to relate to the stories dealing with the need to make connections and have a support system. That will be just part of the many topics addressed.
“I think that what this show provides for me is an opportunity to have these people sitting with each other — my people, my community sitting with one another — and having problematic politics, having problematic relationships, exploring race, class, gender and sexuality in a way that is accessible, so that we can bring our audience along with us,” Mock said. “But then also is unique enough and personal enough that the folk from our community can have something that’s entertaining and a mirror for themselves.”
Murphy counted heavily on Mock to make sure the mirror being created through the cable series offered as true a reflection as possible. He jokes that he asked Mock “50 million” questions every day during the filming.
He also got input from some who had been part of the ballroom community in the ’80s and they were instrumental in helping give the series the proper look and feel for what was happening at that time.
“I was constantly corrected by these wonderful people that I love. ‘We didn’t do it that way.’ And ‘You can’t do that that way.’ ‘You just can’t do it that way.’ I was thrilled,” Murphy said. “I don’t have a lot of people who tell me ‘no,’ and I was told no 50,000 times a day. That’s what I wanted.
“When we shot these ballroom scenes, we had 60 transgender women in that room and they were very appreciative and thrilled to be there. It was a really joyous, momentous occasion, making the first two episodes. And I think that that’s what the show is going to be like, because it’s about letting people know that they’re seen, that they matter, and that their voices matter.”