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  • Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Valentino and styled by Karla Welch.

    Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Alexander McQueen and styled by Karla Welch.

    What unexpected moments in your career are you now thankful for?

    I believe you meet the moment when you’re ready to meet the moment. I was supposed to do a play in New York when Jessica Lange was visiting L.A., and then it fell apart two days prior. I ended up going to dinner with her and Ryan Murphy, and Jessica threw her arm around me and said to Ryan, ‘Can’t you find something for her to do on American Horror Story?’ And the rest is history

    You’ve now played a whole gamut of characters for Murphy. How do you specifically approach playing the non-fictional roles?

    Playing real people is where it’s at for me. It’s an enormous responsibility to do something that’s truthful. That doesn’t mean the person you’re portraying or their family members will feel it’s right, and I have to accept that. The beauty of an artistic endeavor is interpretation.

     

    In your portrayal of Marcia Clark in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, you helped reveal the sexism that took place at the time. How far do you think the culture at large has come since then?

    I think this is a very gray area. And a lot of life lives in the gray area. There’s no question progress has been made. There’s a lot of work to be done, individually, that will affect the collective about how we value ourselves. Personally, I have my own work to do to feel comfortably powerful within myself and to look at things I’ve achieved as accomplishments, not happenstance.

    “I think about some of the swings I took and choices I’ve made—and that I didn’t say no when I wanted to out of fear.”

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    Sarah Paulson is here to make the world less lonely, one extraordinary performance at a time. “You want the audience to see something new that makes them feel connected to something in their own life,” she explains. “And you can take pride in that; you’ve chosen to do the weirdest thing with your life, which is to pretend to be other people, in the hopes of creating a little bit less lonely of a world for people to live in.”

    Speaking with Sarah shows how much of a stretch many of her characters are, given how deeply kind, warm and funny she is. Coming off this summer’s release of American Horror Story season 10 and this month’s Impeachment: American Crime Story, in which she plays whistleblower Linda Tripp, Sarah continuously inhabits roles that seem far from her true nature.

    Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Valentino and styled by Karla Welch.
    “I’ve been rewarded most in my life for the things I’ve chosen to do that frightened me.”
    Sarah may be tiptoeing like the rest of us back to normalcy, but when it comes to roles that terrify her, she embraces them head-on. “I sort of respond to things from a fear-based place,” she says. “That’s when a voice will come in and say, ‘What are you scared of? This probably means you have to do it.’”

    Paulson’s honest and powerful perspective on fear—especially after a year full of it—is exactly what many of us need to hear right now. It’s not about being fearless, it’s about moving forward despite it; “I’ve been rewarded most in my life, and I don’t mean externally but internally, for the things I’ve chosen to do that frightened me,” she explains. “Simply because I surprised myself that I was able to do it.”

    Read on for the full interview with one of the most introspective, talented actors of our time—plus highlights from Sarah’s sit-down on set with stylist Karla Welch.

    Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Alexander McQueen and styled by Karla Welch.
    What got you through this past year?

    It’s like that Barbra Streisand song, ‘People who need people are the luckiest people.’ I was so happy to be able to be near the people I love and was constantly acknowledging the good fortune of that.

    For Impeachment: American Crime Story, what was it like to executive produce and work with Monica Lewinsky?

    Monica is a wonderful, very smart, wise, soulful woman, who I feel really honored to know and call a friend. I think anytime you endeavor to do something about someone’s life, it’s challenging because you want to be as respectful as you can while telling the truth of the story. As an EP, I confronted my fear of watching myself, because I know it’s better for the project as a whole. I try to get out of my own headspace and think about what responsibility my character has in the story. It can be hard to do when you’re just in one lane, so it’s been really good for me in a lot of ways.

    “Playing real people is where it’s at for me. It’s an enormous responsibility to do something that’s truthful.”

    Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Chloé and styled by Karla Welch.
    What unexpected moments in your career are you now thankful for?

    I believe you meet the moment when you’re ready to meet the moment. I was supposed to do a play in New York when Jessica Lange was visiting L.A., and then it fell apart two days prior. I ended up going to dinner with her and Ryan Murphy, and Jessica threw her arm around me and said to Ryan, ‘Can’t you find something for her to do on American Horror Story?’ And the rest is history.

    You’ve now played a whole gamut of characters for Murphy. How do you specifically approach playing the non-fictional roles?

    Playing real people is where it’s at for me. It’s an enormous responsibility to do something that’s truthful. That doesn’t mean the person you’re portraying or their family members will feel it’s right, and I have to accept that. The beauty of an artistic endeavor is interpretation.

    In your portrayal of Marcia Clark in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, you helped reveal the sexism that took place at the time. How far do you think the culture at large has come since then?

    I think this is a very gray area. And a lot of life lives in the gray area. There’s no question progress has been made. There’s a lot of work to be done, individually, that will affect the collective about how we value ourselves. Personally, I have my own work to do to feel comfortably powerful within myself and to look at things I’ve achieved as accomplishments, not happenstance.

    “I think about some of the swings I took and choices I’ve made—and that I didn’t say no when I wanted to out of fear.”

    Image couresty of Olivia Malone. Wearing Michael Kors Collection and styled by Karla Welch.
    Can you tell us more about how you use fear as a tool?

    Very few people in life get to really look around and say, ‘I’m doing the thing I dreamed about.’ And that’s undeniably true for me. I think about some of the swings I took and choices I’ve made, and that I didn’t say no when I wanted to out of fear. I sort of marvel at that, given I know who I am inside and how shy I was as a little girl.

    How has fashion played a role in helping you transform into the characters you’ve played?

    Costume designers always play such an important role to me. I don’t think I could have played Nurse Ratched if it wasn’t for Lou [Eyrich] putting that yellow hat on my head. It informs exactly how you should stand. You can’t stand like a person in a modern era in those clothes. It’s sometimes from the outside in for me—from the clothes to the hair to the makeup—and then I can go from there.

    While you’re a master at transforming into a character, you’re also renowned for your personal style. How would you describe it?

    I’m a Dries Van Noten, wide-pant wearing, big Balenciaga-sneaker wearing, sweatshirt-on-top-with-a-beautiful-necklace type of person. It’s very reminiscent of my stylist Karla Welch, who is an absolute genius. You’re not going to find me in skinny jeans, ever. It doesn’t mean I don’t think my butt’s good, it just means I don’t feel like me. So I wear a high-waisted wide leg and feel like myself. And when it goes in and out of fashion, I won’t care because I feel at home in it. Right now I really want to wear the pieces that look and feel very much like me.

     


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