“Ratched” star Sarah Paulson covers the October 2020 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine photographed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and styled by fashion editor Paul Cavaco.
As an actor, Sarah Paulson is known for her fearlessness. But her star turn on the new Netflix series “Ratched” might be her most daring role yet—one she’s been preparing for her entire life.
On her new Netflix show Ratched: “We were going for something, and I’m proud of it. It’s an exploration, and it has something to say, and it looks beautiful. It’s dangerous. It’s scary. It’s sexy….I feel a real sense of accomplishment with it. I still to this day have not watched People v. O.J. Not seen it. That was the beginning of my commitment to not watching myself. But because I’m executive-producing Ratched and because it was my first time doing something like this, I watched every frame of it, dailies every single day. And it was a very confronting experience. Dealing with one’s face is really something. It’s really something to just be confronted with your mug.”
On American Horror Story: “The biggest gift I’ve ever been given in my working life has been what my being on American Horror Story has made permissible with my relationship with an audience. They don’t expect any particular thing with me. That’s afforded me a tremendous amount of freedom.”
On welcoming the darkness many of her roles embrace: “It’s where the good stuff is. I’m much more interested in where there isn’t nobility. Human beings so often are motivated by the ugliest part of themselves … the stuff we don’t want to admit to ourselves about what we’re hungry for.”
On her perfectionism stemming back to her childhood: “I was left alone a lot as a child. There was a wish fulfillment, magical thinking, ‘If I could be X, I could have Y.’ The idea that the world worked in this very cut-and-dried way seemed like a way for me to manage my fear. Perfectionism is often a real consequence of being terrified.”
On discovering what’s next in her career: “It’s the one place I don’t feel frightened in terms of my ability to go somewhere unpleasant. I am unafraid to be ugly. I feel a certain sense of pride about being able to do that and without all the things that happen in every other aspect of my life when that comes up. But in this one area, I can actually say I feel capable of being fearless.”
On being a private person as a public figure: “To feel that I belong to anyone other than a person I would like to belong to, like Holland or my dog or my best friend or my sister … A bunch of strangers claiming me as their own feels a little confusing. Since I’m not an expert at figuring out how to move around it, I end up giving more than I want to sometimes.”
Ryan Murphy on producing Ratched with Paulson: “I realized that not only could she be the lead actress, but I wanted her to produce with me. It was this great evolution of our partnership.”
Steve McQueen on directing Paulson in 12 Years a Slave: “What’s interesting about Sarah is that there’s a fear, but that fear is overridden by her power. She gets better and better each take. When she’s really comfortable, it becomes extraordinary and different and unexpected.”
Lupita Nyong’o on working with Paulson on 12 Years a Slave: “I was terribly nervous and shy on set, though I think I hid it well. In walked Sarah, with a big, generous smile and warm spirit. I recall her coaxing me out of my shell by asking thoughtful questions and sharing freely of herself. I feel so blessed that she continues to be just a phone call away.”
[Photo Credit: Sam Taylor-Johnson for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine]