Few showrunners have been as prolific in the 21st century as Ryan Murphy, creator of Nip/Tuck, Glee, American Horror Story, Pose and many, many others. The series range from pulp to prestige, and run the gamut of genres and formats. He’s tackled true crime, anthology series, the half-hour network single-cam, period pieces, procedurals both medical and police, and teen dramas, thrice over. And things aren’t slowing down for him, either. This month, season nine of American Horror Story premiered on FX. And just today, the first project in Murphy’s Netflix deal — the Ben Platt–starring series The Politician — has debuted for all to watch.
Throughout all of Murphy’s far-flung concepts, some hallmarks carry over: a love of music, pastiche, exaggerated aesthetic, one-woman catchphrase machines, strokes of meta commentary about pop culture and stardom, power plays and group infighting, and broad emotional strokes. One other element that carries over throughout Murphy’s work: his stable of talent, who flit between series and alternate between hero and villain roles, switching out period-appropriate wigs. Here, we’ve compiled a guide to the most prominent recurring players of the Murphy-verse.
Note: we’re only counting American Horror Story as one series, so AHS MVPs like Denis O’Hare and Taissa Farmiga did not make the list. We appreciate you, Denis O’Hare!
You’ve seen her as: patient of the week Agatha Ripp on Nip/Tuck (she had self-inflicted stigmata!); Marcia Clark on The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story; actress Geraldine Page on Feud: Bette and Joan; and a psychic, a journalist, a witch, conjoined twins, a junkie ghost, an English actress, a Jill Stein–voting yuppie, Manson follower Susan Atkins, and this queen on American Horror Story. Paulson will star as Nurse Ratched in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prequel series, Ratched, on Netflix.
You’ve seen her as: a nosy neighbor, a strict nun, a head witch in charge, and a Marlene Dietrich type on American Horror Story. Lange went on to play Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan. And she wears leopard-print intimates and calls Ben Platt a slur on The Politician.
You’ve seen him as: On American Horror Story, he’s appeared in every season, as a high-school shooter, a mental patient, a reanimated frat boy, a Lobster Boy, a murderous Mr. Peanut type, a Trump supporter, Andy Warhol, Jesus, Manson, Jim Jones, and (scariest of all) a guy in this wig. He also played a spineless 1980s-era Trump staffer who is unworthy of Kate Mara and Indya Moore on Pose.
You’ve seen her as: a sadistic severed head, a bearded lady, a sweaty front-desk woman, an unhinged method actress, and a severe haircut on American Horror Story; Jean Blondell on Feud: Bette and Joan.
You’ve seen her as: a woman whose pet chimp eats her best friend’s face on Nip/Tuck; an enchanted maid, an angel of death, a fashion witch, a wealthy widow, a reenactment performer playing a Robin Weigert character, and an “ambiguous woman” on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen her as: a voodoo queen, a three-breasted woman, a blaxploitation vampire, and a method actress on American Horror Story; Sergeant Athena Grant on 9-1-1.
You’ve seen her as: a diabetic who eats her husband’s flesh to survive on Nip/Tuck; a fancy ghost, a nun, a swamp witch, Satan, and Aileen Wuornos in various American Horror Story seasons.
You’ve seen him as: a murder-clown fanboy, a male model, a cannibal, and a vampire version of Rudolph Valentino on American Horror Story; murdered naval officer Jeffrey Trail on The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Wittrock will also appear in Murphy’s upcoming Netflix series, Ratched.
You’ve seen her as: a history teacher on Glee; a mental patient, Roanoke survivor, cultist, and voodoo queen on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen her as: a glamour witch, a fortune teller, and a cub reporter on American Horror Story; Kappa Kappa Tau queen bee Chanel Oberlin on Scream Queens. She also stars in the current 1980s summer-camp slasher season of AHS.
You’ve seen him as: the OG AHS leading man, playing a psychiatrist and a sadist on its first two seasons. He also plays January Jones’s husband on The Politician.
You’ve seen him as: “Seregant Handsome” Dustin Goolsby on Glee; a fashion designer, a warlock headmaster, a showrunner, and a cultist psych on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen her as: the American Horror Story lead who started it all on Murder House; an emergency operator on 9-1-1.
You’ve seen her as: Rachel Berry on Glee; “Neckbrace” on Scream Queens.
You’ve seen her as: sorority girl and illegitimate Manson daughter Sadie Swenson on Scream Queens; a cultist, a witch, and a Manson acolyte on American Horror Story. (Could it be her own character’s mother?) She’s also in AHS: 1984.
You’ve seen him as: rival show-choir lead Blaine Anderson on Glee; a hipster on American Horror Story; the titular assassin, Andrew Cunanan, on The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Criss will star in and co-executive produce the upcoming Murphy Netflix series Hollywood.
You’ve seen her as: herself on Glee; fundamentalist Christian neighbor to witches on American Horror Story; a corrupt landlady on Pose. LuPone will appear opposite Holland Taylor in Hollywood.
You’ve seen her as: a CDC agent on Popular; Sue Sylvester on Glee.
Neil Patrick Harris
You’ve seen him as: a bitter former glee-club star named Bryan Ryan on Glee; a ventriloquist on American Horror Story.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
You’ve seen him as: OJ on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story; an actor on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen him as: Darren Criss’s brother on Glee; Andrew Rannells’s ex-boyfriend on The New Normal; a male prostitute and Lady Gaga’s vampire companion on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen him as: tragic, extended-stay hotel guests on American Horror Story and The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
You’ve seen him as: a handsome doctor on Glee and a handsome doctor on Scream Queens; a realtor named Brice on The New Normal.
You’ve seen him as: Puck’s half-brother on Glee; a murdered Roanoke fan on American Horror Story.
You’ve seen her as: prototypical Murphy-verse popular girl Mary Cherry on Popular; a client named Bliss Berger (these names!) on Nip/Tuck; a Manson girl, a cultist, and a Vanderbilt on American Horror Story; and … um … a person named Melissa who doesn’t factor into the synopsis of the New Normal pilot, so that’s all we’ve got on that.