Actress Sarah Paulson started her professional career in her early teens. In the mid-1990s, she appeared on such TV shows as Law & Order and American Gothic. After the short-lived, but critically admired Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, she found lasting success for her Emmy-nominated work on American Horror Story. In 2016, she received an Emmy Award for her portrayal of prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Her film projects include The Other Sister (1999), What Women Want (2000), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Carol (2015).
Early Life and Career
Born in Tampa, Florida, Sarah Paulson headed north to New York City to pursue an acting career at a young age. She made her professional debut in an off-Broadway production when she was only 12 years old, according to TVGuide.com. Paulson attended there the famed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, well known for its performing arts programs. Soon after high school, she landed a guest spot on the hit crime drama Law & Order.
Another early role was in the television movie Friends at Last with Kathleen Turner. Paulson was impressed with Turner. As she told Variety, working with her “was a very early lesson for me to be aware of people around you, to keep whatever’s going on with you privately private, and show up and do your work.” More TV and film work soon followed, including the short-lived horror series American Gothic and the 1999 drama The Other Sister with Juliette Lewis and Diane Keaton.
Critically Acclaimed Actress
In 2005, Paulson starred opposite Jessica Lange and Josh Lucas in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie. She also had a small role in the western series Deadwood that same year. Paulson’s next major TV project was Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. She played a devoutly Christian comedian on the series, which gave viewers a fictional look inside the making of a comedy show.
Paulson went on to star with Bobby Cannavale in the 2009 short-lived series Cupid. While that show failed to find an audience, she soon had a hit on her hands with American Horror Story in 2011. During the series’ first season, Paulson played a psychic medium. She has continued to tackle other interesting characters, including playing conjoined twins, in subsequent seasons of the show. Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the series tackles a different story each season. Paulson has received three Emmy Award nominations for her work on American Horror Story.
While on American Horror Story, Paulson has tackled several other projects. She received an Emmy Award nomination for her work on the HBO miniseries Game Change in 2012. On the big screen, Paulson appeared in the 2012 drama Mud with Matthew McConaughey. She also had a supporting role in the 2013 historical biography 12 Years a Slave.
In 12 Years a Slave, a critically acclaimed film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paulson played Mistress Epps, wife of a slave owner played by Michael Fassbender. Her character is especially cruel to Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a slave her husband loves. Paulson told Back Stage that playing such a despicable character was “a dance on the knife’s edge.” She continued, saying “because I’m not trying to defend her behavior. But from an acting standpoint, when you have to get into the head of someone who does indefensible things, you have to find a way to make things real for you.”
Paulson took on another well-received supporting role in 2015’s Carol. The film, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, follows a relationship between Carol, an older married woman (Cate Blanchett), and a young woman named Therese (Rooney Mara) during the 1950s. Paulson plays a former lover and friend of Carol’s in the critically acclaimed film.
In 2016, she took on another TV project, the highly anticipated miniseries American Crime Story: People v. O.J. Simpson. Paulson plays prosecutor Marcia Clark in the miniseries, and to prepare for the role she had dinner with the real-life lawyer her character is based on. She told Clark during their meeting that “I want you to know how much I revere your mind and the sacrifices you made for your family, all while having the white hot spotlight in your face,” according to an article in Variety.
For her critically acclaimed portrayal of Clark, Paulson won the 2016 Emmy Award for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, her first Emmy win. The actress, who attended the awards ceremony with Clark, addressed her real-life counterpart in her acceptance speech. "The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one," Paulson said. "The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark, not the two-dimensional cardboard cutout I saw on the news, but the complicated, whip-smart, giant-hearted mother of two who woke up every day, put both feet on the floor and dedicated herself to righting an unconscionable wrong . . .the more I had to recognize that I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial and careless in my judgment. I'm proud to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you I'm sorry."
Paulson also won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Marcia Clark.
Sarah Paulson has supported a number of causes including bringing clean water to the Adi Kliew Community in Ethiopia, Heifer International, Planned Parenthood and Unicef, among others.
In 2015, USA Today confirmed that Paulson has been dating actress Holland Taylor. She was previously linked to actress Cherry Jones.
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