“I’m definitely not shy of discussing my childhood love of Nick Jonas.”
Earlier this week when FOX aired the season finale of its addictive horror/comedy Scream Queens, even Skyler Samuels, who plays campus freshman Grace Gardner was on the edge of her seat. “I was losing my mind. I was like–hold the phone–this killer is back? I was there filming the show everyday and I still don’t know who that killer is,” she says. The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, keeps the cast in the dark. There are strictly no digital copies of the scripts, and that finale was filmed only a few weeks before it aired. “The curiosity eats away at a certain part of me. I know just as much now as anybody who watched the show–which is crazy, but also I think part of the fun.”
Samuels not only plays the new girl in Scream Queens, but is also, in a way, the “new girl” among her all-star cast. Her co-stars–Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Ariana Grande, Keke Palmer, and Abigail Breslin–were all household names before the show. While LA-bred Samuels has been acting for most of her life, starting with guest roles in shows like Wizards of Waverly Place and That’s So Raven, then lead roles in short-lived series The Gates and The Nine Lives of Chloe King, she’s just started to get a taste of mega visibility that comes with joining a primetime network TV show. “You know how when you apply to college and you have a reach school? Scream Queens is like my reach show,” she tells ELLE.com. “It’s something that’s really big and sensational, with a lot of people I’ve always wanted to work with. It’s a bucketlist item.”
Here, we chat with the rising star about her time filming Scream Queens, how female friendships are portrayed on screen, and why she’s heading back to Stanford next month to finish her studies.
How do you feel now that the finale has aired?
It was really a very fun, bitter sweet evening. I was watching Twitter explode–I always follow the live tweets of the show because they’re so crazy and hilarious because people are writing as they’re watching the show in real time. I’m like texting everyone I know, and they’re like ‘No, we don’t know who [the killer] is!’ It could be any one of us. It’s now going to be my mission before the end of this calendar year to figure out who’s the killer in the last scene. I have to know!
Now that you’re all done, what’s your favorite memory with the cast?
I’m definitely not shy of discussing my childhood love of Nick Jonas [who plays Boone]. I’m not shy about it at all. We haven’t talked about it in person, because I kind of chickened out and tried to keep my cool while he was on set. Like [lowers voice], “Yo Nick, what’s up. Cool. Cool.” The 12 year old inside of me was doing backflips. I was like, “Oh my god I’m talking to Nick Jonas!” I was so excited. During the “Ghost Stories” episode when Boone comes back and he dresses like Joaquin Phoenix, totally crazy. There’s this scene where Keke [Palmer] and I have to tackle him. So, we’re trying to pull on his arms and have this fake fight. I was making these crazy sounds like HUAH-HEGH-HUH and he broke out laughing so hard. Nick has a great poker face, it’s very had for him to break. But, he just burst out laughing and I’m so proud I made Nick Jonas laugh. It was like the crowning moment of my middle school life, but much later in life.
How has getting cast in Scream Queens changed your life?
Scream Queens was a big, sensational show. There’s nothing subtle about a Ryan Murphy show and I love that. It’s a big crazy production. It’s always got these really well developed, slightly cooky, sort of off kilter characters and he really creates a world. They exist sort of in their own universe which I just love and it was so much fun to be a part of. It definitely opened my eyes to be a part of something so big and sensational. I’d say my life is pretty normal day to day, although strangers have come up to me like, “Dude, who the hell is the killer? I have to know!” And if you don’t watch Scream Queens, out of context that exchange is super confusing in public.
You must’ve gained a lot of new fans.
I have to say the fan interaction from the show is probably my favorite part. It was really nice to connect with people week to week and interacting via Twitter and Instagram and having a real time conversation with people. I liked seeing how they comment on our pop culture references and the mockery we make of sororities, people giving their feedback on that was really special and cool. It’s hard to connect with the audience sometimes, but Scream Queens got me as close as I could get and that was a really wonderful experience.
I LOVE THAT EVERYONE ON SCREAM QUEENS HAS A MOMENT WHERE THEY ARE THE HERO AND THEY ARE THE VILLAIN.
What do you think about the way media portrays female friendship?
TV shows always pit girls against each other, there’s always a nemesis. You have all these archetypes and stereotypes that you’re used to seeing on TV, particularly on a show that caters to young people the way Scream Queens does. And what I love about Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, our creators, is they’re so in tune with what’s actually happening in real pop culture. They’re not sugar coating some kind of dynamic that doesn’t really exist in real life. They know exactly what’s going on in female life. They know how people are talking. So, what I love is that on Scream Queens it isn’t black and white: who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy, who’s the mean girl, who’s the good girl. In real life, people are so complicated. It’s even more complicated that in real life. People aren’t just one thing. They’re layered.
How did Scream Queens tell a different story?
I love that everyone on Scream Queens has a moment where they are the hero and they are the villain. That is absolutely true of Chanel and that is absolutely true of Grace who, in theory, couldn’t be more different but at the same team, traverse the same struggles of being tempted by evil, but also stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing and helping out their sisters. I think the Chanels all grow throughout the course of the show and they rely on each other. I think as far as Grace and Zaday, they oppose everything Chanel stands for, but then I think Chanel comes to terms with the fact that we’re not threatening her empire. We are all working together. I think it’s nice to see that evolve in a realistic way. There’s not a sappy hug and make up moment. It just happens sort of quietly over time, which I think is real life.
You took some time off from studying at Stanford to film Scream Queens. Now that the show’s a hit, do you think you’ll still be going back, or acting full-time?
I’m still think of myself as a student first, then actor. When I had to take a semester off school to film this show, I sort of had to realize that I’m totally an overachiever, a do-a-million-things-at-one-time kind of girl. Then I was like, ok, wait, I might be an overachiever but I’m still a human being. So, I put everything I had into Scream Queens and it was incredible, and now I’m actually packing my bags and getting ready to go back to school in January. Ironically, I think I can still graduate on time in June of this year. Hopefully. I’m getting my degree one way or another–that’s definitely not changing.
A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT I DO BOTH. LIKE OH, I’M NOT AS SERIOUS ABOUT ACTING BECAUSE I LIKE SCHOOL? WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE ONE OR THE OTHER?
So you’re going back to being a full-time student? Do you think people will treat you differently?
I think people might. But, the funny thing about Stanford are that my classmates are, like, Olympians and programming for Uber and Microsoft and NASA, whatever. A part of me is like, Scream Queens? Whatever. That girl just found a cure to cancer. Everybody has their own crazy, weird, special thing. I’ve always found during my time there that people are like, “Acting? That’s cool. Whatever.” I sort of love that attitude. Supportive, but not disruptive.
Have you found that your prioritizing school has affected your career?
A lot of people don’t know what to do with the fact that I do both. Like oh, I’m not as serious about acting because I like school? Why does it have to be one or the other? I’ve always said the thing that has helped me be the best actor I could be are my real life experiences, which have come in the form of my school experiences: meeting different people, learning different things, immersing myself in different topics and social situations, and sort of challenging myself to grow emotionally, intellectually. To me, the two go hand in hand. You know, I only have a little bit of school left. After that, I guess I’ll just be an actor-actor. Unless, I pull a James Franco and stay in school forever!