[O]n a weekly basis, Billie Lourd evades murderers for a living. Fictional, of course, but even so you may expect this actress’ fears to be in the realm of masked maniacs, axe-wielding psychopaths or even really sharp knives. But when asked what scares her, Billie’s answer is a much more pragmatic one. “Parking lots,” she deadpans over the phone in LA. “I don’t trust them; how do they hold all those cars up? And I’m the same with really tall hotels – don’t trust them at all.”
Billie’s droll sense of humour is one of the first things that strikes you about her, though given her acting dynasty family tree, it is, she says, one of the last things that people expect. Born in the early 90s to Hollywood agent heavyweight Bryan Lourd and actress Carrie Fisher (yes, the original Princess Leia) – herself the daughter of 50s screen legend Debbie Reynolds – the 24-year-old actress has been dodging misconceptions for most of her life. “People meet me and are surprised when I’m normal and I’m like, ‘yes it’s true I actually am a real human, separate from my parents, shocker,’” she says, with a laugh. “I don’t know what they expect to get!”
But she needn’t worry. This aforementioned sardonic wit is what’s helping Billie carve out a career without any leg-ups from her relatives. Following a chance meeting with television auteur Ryan Murphy at a party (“he maybe had too much wine, I told really inappropriate stories, he laughed”) she was cast in Murphy’s genre-bending Scream Queens, a slasher-comedy series that’s part Scream, part Clueless and completely addictive.
In its debut season, in which a murderer disguised as a red devil stalks a college campus, the series – which stars original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as the university dean – became one of social media’s most hyped shows, with Fox announcing that it was the network’s number one new show for the 18-34 age bracket. Billie plays Chanel No. 3, an emotionless bisexual sorority girl whose biological father is Charles Manson. Even her costume, which every week featured a different pair of fluffy earmuffs (Chanel No.3 has a fear of having her ears chopped off) spawned dozens of memes. And with season two on the horizon, it looks like Billie’s just getting started.
"If you start reading all these comments about yourself and worrying about what people think of you then that’s when it starts to get hard. You have to know yourself pretty well, but the more followers you get the more haters you get."
Were you a horror fan before the show?
I’m the girl whose boyfriend took her to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and she stole his popcorn and ran out of the theatre! Saying that, though, I quite like old horror movies – The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby – any horror film that’s a little more intellectual than just killing people. I think it’s the music that scares the shit out of me.
Scream Queens has been a runaway success, was that the reaction that you were expecting?
I don’t know what we were expecting really because it’s such a unique genre. We were expecting the fans from American Horror Story and Glee to get it, but it turned out to be so much more than that. Our fans range from 14-year-old girls to 60-year-old gay men. I think people reacted more to the comedy than the horror – we now call it “hysterrifying”. The mystery factor is what brings people back each week, though. The great thing about the horror aspect of the show is that it toughens it up a bit. When you put a little action in a romantic comedy guys feel okay about watching it and with Scream Queens if you put a really scary killer around a bunch of girlie stuff then guys feel okay about watching it. That’s the genius of Ryan Murphy. He’s able to keep people coming back. When else will you catch any guy watching a Lea Michele and Emma Roberts show?
What can you tell us about season two?
It’s set in a hospital for one. Jamie Lee Curtis has continued her feminist crusade and she recruits all of us to work there. Zayday is already a med student, so she’s a shoe in, I’m working in the fertility or jizz clinic – for lack of a better name! – Abi [Breslin] is working in the dentist office and Emma [Roberts] is working in the blood clinic, so it makes some kind of sense that we all get recruited to work in this hospital. John Stamos and Taylor Lautner are our hot doctors, and I end up having a moment with Taylor and Emma gets with John, and the craziness just ensues from there.
Are there any similarities between you and your character, Chanel No.3?
Absolutely! I think all of us have a lot of our real personalities in our characters – Ryan is a genius like that. In real life it’s true that I’m a little bit emotionless, and maybe a bit of a hardened individual – sorry! Better than being overly emotional. I do cry sometimes, but it’s only occasionally; people are very taken aback when it happens.
Scream Queens was one of the first shows you did as an actress, while the rest of the cast are quite established – were you nervous when you joined?
Yeah, it was really intimidating. On my first day I worked with Emma, Abi, Nick Jonas and Jamie Lee Curtis, and then there was little old me. I had one line and I was so nervous about that one line, but everybody is so welcoming and supportive. Because it’s mostly an all-girls show, I was worried about rivalries too, and if you’ve been to high school it’s exactly like that. In the beginning we had to work out the dynamics, but now we’ve fallen into a rhythm, we all can make fun of each other and joke around. It’s like a family; we really are that cliché.
What have you learnt from working with Ryan Murphy?
He keeps you on your toes, you have to be ready for anything. I didn’t even realise that I was going to be a big character on the show at first and he tests you for that – if you do well in one scene he’ll give you more. If you have a good work ethic it’s going to pay off, and that’s a great thing to learn. The show is kind of like Survivor: you can get voted off the island at any point, so you have to stay on the ball!
Your parents didn’t want you to follow in their footsteps – what were their reasons?
They’ve both been in the industry for so long – my mom since she was born! They’ve seen all sides of it and they didn’t want me to be in the public eye and scrutinised to that level if I wasn’t ready for it because it can really damage you. They’d encouraged me to do anything else. My dad was like, “just get a degree in literally anything else and then you can do what you want”, but to his dismay I decided to act! Sorry Dad, I’m doing exactly what you don’t want, like all kids do. It’s my rebellion
Did you have a specific view of the film industry before you got into it? And has that changed now?
I absolutely did. I got a pretty good sense of what it was like from my parents, but it’s a completely different beast when you get into it. I try to stay outside myself a bit and make sure that I’m not sharing too much, then that doesn’t work for me, so I just try and not get too wrapped up in it. If you start reading all these comments about yourself and worrying about what people think of you then that’s when it starts to get hard. You have to know yourself pretty well, but the more followers you get the more haters you get, unfortunately.
Have you ever worried about getting jobs because of who your family are?
It’s a constant struggle, and because of that I’m kind of happy that I don’t have my mom’s last name because I really want to try and do what I can on my own. Even with Scream Queens, I would have loved to get it from an audition instead of a chance meeting. But then again this show in itself has been like an audition! It is hard sometimes, though, I don’t want people hiring me because of my parents. My whole life people have assumed that I’m going to be a certain way and when it’s just me acting normally they’re a bit like, “oh, I wasn’t expecting that”.
Did you watch Star Wars when you were younger?
Weirdly, I wasn’t that interested. My mom put it on one time when I was about six and I was lying in her bed trying to get to sleep so was just like, “Mommy, it’s too loud, turn it off.” So for a while the main issue was that it was too loud! When I got a bit older I thought it was really cool though, you know, “check out my hot mom running with a gun, she’s pretty badass!” Now that I’m in the films of course I’m a bit more into it.
And your part for the second film has been extended?
Yes, Lieutenant Connix is back. Hooked on comics. My favourite thing right now is to make up play on words for Connix [laughs]. We filmed in London for two and a half months and I’m now obsessed with Daisy Ridley. And I’m also a huge fan of Nando’s since being in London – I went like three times a week and now have a huge store of Peri Peri sauce in my cabinet.
You’d fit right in in London then! So, before acting you went to Wesleyan University before switching to NYU – why the switch?
I grew up in LA and always had the idea that I wanted to go to a classic liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere and do the whole sorority thing, blah blah blah. Then when I got to Connecticut, two hours away from New York City, the reality kicked in. None of these people had drunk before, or done anything like that, and so they were doing the classic college thing, which I was over by that point. A girl came into my room one day and threw up and I was like, okay I’m done, this is not my scene. The school was incredible and my teachers were brilliant, but it was too isolated for me. I was going to New York every weekend anyway and going to school in the city made more sense for me because I was able to work at the same time, which really motivated me. I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not been to NYU.
Among other subjects, you studied psychology – did that help you as an actress?
Absolutely. Psychology plays a huge part in acting. You have to get into the mind of your character and break them down. I mean, it’s hard to get into the mind of a crazy, deadpan, bisexual that’s Charles Manson’s daughter but if anything will help, psychology will.
A lot of actors say that anxiety plays a big role in their life – is that true for you too?
Yes, definitely. I pray for a season three, four, five, every day, because usually with TV there is more consistency, but the problem with this show is that you don’t know if you’re going to come back. I live in fear. Every script we get I turn to the back page to make sure that I’m not dead. So far I’m okay but going forward, who knows? I think I’ll always have figuring out to do, everyone does, but that’s why I got my degree – if this doesn’t work out I have a back-up. There is so much that I’m interested in – I want to write, direct, make music, I want to open a fried chicken restaurant. Maybe even get a Nando’s franchise over to the States, now there’s a plan!