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The Untold Truth Of Sarah Paulson

From poignant works of art like "12 Years A Slave" to her many iconic roles in "American Horror Story," Sarah Paulson has cemented herself as one of the most versatile performers of her time. Among many other accolades, the classically trained actress rightfully earned the title as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2017 and has continued exceeding expectations ever since. Displaying a mastery on television, in film, and on Broadway that has made her an unstoppable force, Paulson boasts over 60 credits in acting, a handful of credits in producing, and even a directing credit. 

Paulson is not afraid of playing the dark, uncomfortable characters that many actors find too challenging. In fact, she says that if a role terrifies her, she feels "compelled" to do it. In a conversation with Harper's Bazaar, Paulson revealed her unconventional thoughts on playing the most repulsive and unlikeable characters: "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."

Similar to the myriad of complex characters she's portrayed, there are many sides to this actress that even die-hard fans don't know about. Let's dive into the untold truth of Sarah Paulson.

She won all five major TV acting awards in one year

Paulson's performance emulating lead prosecutor, Marcia Clark, in "The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" won her all five major TV acting accolades in the same awards season: an Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, Critics' Choice award, and Television Critics Association award. Paulson's performance was so good, in fact, that the real Marcia Clark attended the Emmy Awards that year as the actress' plus-one — and teared up at the acceptance speech.

Paulson addressed her words to Marcia, saying, "The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one. You want to get it right, not for you, but for them." She described how the role had taught her to be more open-minded and exposed her to Clark's heroic complexity.

Many other esteemed television stars have come close to Paulson's remarkable achievement, winning four of the five awards — including Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad" and Tina Fey in "30 Rock." But with this sweeping accomplishment, Paulson proved she's among the best of the best.

She has a knack for impressions

On "The Tonight Show," Jimmy Fallon and Sarah Paulson participated in a game called Wheel of Impressions, where Paulson surprised the audience with spot-on impressions of Drew Barrymore, Kathleen Turner, and Holly Hunter. The actress later sat down with actor James McAvoy in an interview for LADbible TV, where she attempted an array of impressions ranging from Shakira to Chewbacca, from Samuel L. Jackson to The Queen of England. (We know she's a versatile actress, but we never guessed she was this good.)

In 2018, the actress returned to Fallon's late-night talk show and shared an interaction she had with Drew Barrymore at a party where the "50 First Dates" actress poked fun at Paulson's very on-target impression. Paulson decided from that moment on to veer away from celebrity impersonation and focus entirely on animals because, as she explains, "You don't have to worry about running into them at a party." Paulson followed this announcement with a terrifyingly accurate dolphin impression. 

She worked at a restaurant for one day

Stars, they're just like us! In an interview with InStyle, Paulson shared a story about her first and last day working at Brooklyn restaurant, Circles, following her graduation from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. "Someone ordered a chicken Parmesan, and I realized I didn't know how to spell 'Parmesan,'" she explained. "I had to call my mother to ask her how to spell it ... and then I promptly quit. It was not for me." We can't blame you for that one, Sarah. Soon after this, Paulson was cast as Amy Ryan's understudy in "The Sisters Rosensweig" on Broadway, launching a career that has undeniably served her much better.

Speaking with GQ, Paulson acknowledges her gratitude for not experiencing fame until she was older: "I found a success that is so much bigger and deeper and better, and it's because it happened later. If any of what I'm having happen now — the successes — would have happened to me when I was younger, I would have been ruined. Because when you're young, and things come super easily to you, and you have success right out of the gate, you're liable to think that's how it actually works." Paulson instead had to struggle a bit and wait for the spotlight to find her, truly proving that all good things take time. 

Paulson is deathly afraid of flying

If you ever thought that an actress like Sarah Paulson, who portrayed horrific roles such as Nurse Ratched and the Supreme witch herself, could never possibly have a fear of flying, think again! On an episode of "Late Night with Seth Meyers," the actress admitted to only flying when it is absolutely necessary. She added, "I will not fly unless they let me into the cockpit to have a little word with them before we go."

Paulson continued to explain that some pilots would mess with her and go as far as joking that it was their first day on the job. The actress even singled out some employees of United Airlines for whispering her name over the loudspeaker in a way she described as "freaky creep-o" — which made her worry that the pilot was devoting too much energy to her and not enough to actually flying. Needless to say, she did not find it funny. Whereas she's an expert at terror on the screen, she doesn't believe it has a place in the sky.

Fan tattoos

It's no secret that "American Horror Story" catapulted Sarah Paulson to star status, but even the actress herself could not have anticipated the devotion of some of the show's biggest fans. In an interview for TV Guide, she recounted an interaction where a fan asked her to write one of her iconic lines on a piece of paper. Paulson, in a rush, scribbled the line quickly and moved on.

A year later, Paulson said the same fan approached her and pulled up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo of the handwritten quote, a line from Paulson's Season 2 character, journalist Lana Winters, that read: "I am tough, but I'm no cookie." It's a line that underscores the character's resilience and complexity and succinctly captures what makes her so beloved by fans.

Surprisingly, though, Paulson admitted she has some regrets about the encounter! "I was sort of upset because I'd scrawled it really quickly ... and it's not really completely legible. So I am sort of regretful that I hadn't written that more clearly." That's an understandable sentiment when something you've written will be on someone's body forever.

Her sexuality can be described as 'fluid'

Paulson revealed in 2013 that her sexuality is "a fluid situation," saying that she has been with both men and women but doesn't want her sexuality to be what defines her. Speaking openly with PrideSource, Paulson pointed out the obvious problem with giving "any kind of label just to satisfy what people need." She later elaborated to The New York Times on her aversion to labels and expectations, explaining, "If my life choices had to be predicated based on what was expected of me from a community on either side, that's going to make me feel really straitjacketed, and I don't want to feel that."

In 2015, Sarah Paulson was romantically linked with "Legally Blonde" actress Holland Taylor. Regarding the 32-year age difference, Paulson commented to the Times, "There's a poignancy to being with someone older. I think there's a greater appreciation of time and what you have together and what's important, and it can make the little things seem very small." Although many of Paulson's close friends believed that making her relationship public would negatively impact her career, she didn't care.

For her part, Taylor has gushed about how much she admires Paulson and the way she has handled their public relationship. "A big age span is a challenge to any relationship. And she's just very brave. She's very brave and she is very truthful and she's going to live her truth. And so I basically am following her lead and I'm blessed," she said.

Paulson came out accidentally

In 2003, Sarah Paulson and actress Cherry Jones made headlines when Jones won a Tony Award for her performance in "The Heiress" and she and Paulson shared a kiss before she took the stage to accept her award. "I was very young, and I was in love," Paulson recalls. "It was the reality of the person I was with. She just won a Tony Award — I'm not gonna pat her on the back, give her the big thumbs up and say, 'Go up there and get your award, sweetie.' It was not a really conscious thought. I didn't think of what the implications were gonna be. I just did what was true and honest to me in that moment."

Truth and honesty certainly seem to be Paulson's calling cards; the actress has long been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. In June 2016, she collaborated with the Human Rights Campaign and "American Horror Story" creator Ryan Murphy to create a video tribute for the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, sharing the stories of the individuals that lost their lives.

She was underwhelmed by a particular AHS season

One thing we can be sure of is that Sarah Paulson will always be brutally honest. During an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's "Awards Chatter" podcast, when asked about the then-current season, "American Horror Story: Roanoke," Paulson confessed to host Scott Feinberg, "I just don't care about this season at all. I know people will get mad at me for saying it, but ... I was so underwhelmed by the whole experience."

She continued by elaborating on the pressures of establishing certain expectations in one's acting career. "I felt really kind of trapped by my responsibility and my contractual obligation ... As much as it's my home, and I've loved it always, it was the first time I felt like I wish I could have gone to Ryan [Murphy] and said, 'Please let me sit this one out.'" The actress went on to joke that Murphy might be upset with her revelation, predicting that he'd call her up afterward and ask what she was saying.

Despite her (and fans') general ambivalence toward "Roanoke," Paulson gladly returned to the horror anthology series for Season 7, "Cult," explaining, "I didn't really have to be there, I wanted to be there, because of what we had all just been through ... as a country." Paulson continued, "I liked the idea that it was sort of mirroring what we were experiencing ... I was happy to be back for 'Cult,' but 'Roanoke,' I kind of went kicking and screaming."

She's not afraid of a challenge

According to Variety, Sarah Paulson and "AHS" creator, writer, and producer Ryan Murphy had been in talks for years about Paulson seeing the view from the director's chair. But when she finally stepped behind the camera for "American Horror Story: Apocalypse," it wasn't for just any episode. She directed "Return to Murder House," which comprised a whopping 72 scenes — around double that of the usual episode (for reference, the previous episode had only included 28 scenes).

It was only one week before the episode was set to begin filming when Murphy offered her the position. "I thought, 'Don't let your fear of failure stand in your way. It's never worked for you before to shy away from something because you're afraid,'" she said. "So I just thought I better heed his call."

Paulson has referred to her relationship with Murphy as "the creative marriage" of her life, and we can probably all agree that it's paying off. Paulson explained that Murphy often shares his ideas with her before even his own husband. She admits that she doesn't know why they understand each other so well, but that whatever the case, they can often communicate using only a single word. It makes sense that she was up for any challenge he presented her with.

Sarah Paulson's relationship with Jessica Lange

When discussing "American Horror Story," it's impossible not to think of Jessica Lange and her many bizarre but compelling characters. An award-winning actress since the '70s, Lange has earned a title as one of the most renowned artists in her industry. So it should come as no surprise that she and Paulson, a fellow luminary, struck up a friendship. In a 2017 interview with Adweek, Paulson recalled how she and Jessica Lange met in 2005 when they were both performing in "The Glass Menagerie" on Broadway. Lange was so impressed with Paulson's work that she personally recommended her for a role in "American Horror Story" — and we know exactly how that went.

Paulson even had the opportunity to direct her friend and colleague in an episode of the series, and Lange had nothing but positive things to say to Deadline about Paulson's 2018 directorial debut. "[Sarah] is just a natural director," Lange said. "She's coming from it, of course, as an actor, so she understands how an actor works and prepares, and what's needed to get the best performance. She was incredibly well prepared and inventive ... I loved working with her."

She's experienced sexism in the industry

Even the most respected and distinguished artists are not immune to sexism and entertainment. Speaking to Hayley Campbell about discrimination in the industry, Paulson explained that whenever she's auditioned for a lead role as a brunette, she's nearly always been asked to dye her hair blonde for the part. She noted that, inexplicably, brown hair seemed to lack "the same allure, the same sex appeal, the same power, that a blonde would have. It wasn't even a subterranean message: it was overt." She lamented this superficial and harmful practice, calling it "a way to communicate to somebody that how they come into the world is not enough."

Paulson has always been a vocal feminist. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Paulson explained how she had grown up believing that women didn't work well together. This idea was reinforced by movies and television, with most women being portrayed as competitive or catty in nature. The problematic bias even affected her work when she appeared in the all-female movie "Ocean's 8." Paulson shared about the experience, "More than one person has asked me if we had any fights, which was shocking to me because I thought, why would that be the first thing people would assume would happen if you put eight women in a room together?" But that wasn't even the worst of the sexism: People apparently made bets on whether the women would be late or who would take the longest to get ready. (Paulson makes a point to mention that the cast all routinely got ready with time to spare.)

Paulson's career changed after AHS: Double Feature

Paulson captivated viewers each week with her performances as Tuberculosis Karen and Mamie Eisenhower in the 10th installment of Ryan Murphy's anthology series, "American Horror Story: Double Feature." But unfortunately for die-hard fans, 2021 marked a new chapter for Paulson in which, for the first time in years, her career was open-ended. 

When asked by Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens Live" what her next project with Murphy would be, Paulson responded that it was "the first time in about three years" where she didn't know what came next. "I think this is my last season ... probably," she admitted, instantly breaking hundreds of hearts.

Whatever path her career takes, we can confidently expect to see her gracing our screens with many unique projects to come. The actress shows no signs of slowing down or definitively ending her prolific creative relationship with Ryan Murphy — nor of departing from the truthful, nuanced performances we've all grown to love.