Last fall, FX’s "American Horror Story" burst onto the scene as one of television’s best drama miniseries and was nominated for 17 Emmy Awards. This season, co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk flipped the script by changing characters, plotlines and the show’s setting from the “Murder House” to the dank and chilling Briarcliff Manor mental asylum.
Paulson spoke to b about her favorite TV shows, the differences between theater and TV, and about the possibility she would be playing Cinderella or Snow White if she hadn’t gone to school in New York.
Hi Sarah. Thanks for joining me. Now that shooting of “American Horror Story” is wrapped, I’m sure it’s nice not to be stuck in that asylum.
Actually, we’re still shooting. We’re on episode 9.
Do you watch the show when it’s on TV?
Yeah, I do but only during daylight. [Laughs]
You’re a big TV fan. What are some of your other favorite shows on television right now?
I’m completely obsessed with "Homeland." Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and that cast is great. I get total anxiety when I watch "Homeland."
With "Studio 60" and "American Gothic," you were on shows with a lot of promise that didn’t last as long as you would probably like. Is it weird that with "American Horror Story," you might have a show that has a successful tenure on TV, but you may not get to stay because the backstory and characters change every season?
For "American Horror Story," whatever you played the time before, the next season it’s something else. "Studio 60" was a great disappointment. I have a feeling if we were on HBO we would still be there. I’m honored to be on two shows that were very original and if "Studio 60" was still on TV, "The Newsroom" probably wouldn’t be on so there’s some good from that. Aaron Sorkin has done a great job with that show. But as far as "American Horror Story," I’d like to be back if they’ll have me.
You’ve said that Jessica Lange is the actress that inspired you the most. You worked with her in 2005 on "The Glass Menagerie." What was it like playing her nemesis of sorts on "American Horror Story: Asylum"?
Working with her is probably one of the highlights for any actress that’s worked with her. In the first season, our roles were as good friends. In this season, we’re playing enemies which is kind of fun. Working with Jessica will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Your character Lana is wrongfully imprisoned for wanting to get a story on "Bloody Face" and the asylum. If you were a journalist in reality, would you have left the asylum earlier and ditched the scoop or would you stay, knowing the risks of dealing with the unethical people who run the asylum?
I probably would have stayed, like Lana. I think there’s an element where Lana expects people to be good and decent. She didn’t expect Sister Jude to be a monster. She probably thought she would have just done her story and went on with her life. Instead she gets trapped in the asylum.
Lana was betrayed in a sense by her lover and in Episode 2 she loses her friendship with Grace after preventing her and Kit from escaping. Now that she’s truly alone, are the viewers going to see her give up or keep fighting for her freedom?
One thing you can say about Lana is that giving up is not an option. She’s already been through a lot. She’s been through the electroshock therapy. But by the time the show goes on, it will be hard for her to maintain that resiliency.
Some of the other cast members told me that filming the show was fun but also exhausting and that they wanted to do a comedy or lighter role after completing the season. Do you share that same thought and do you get so into your surrounding as an actress that it starts to become real for the time you’re on the set?
I’ve had my share of days where I’ve gone in the corner and cried my eyes out. Your mind knows you’re pretending, but your body doesn’t know your pretending. I feel I find energy from doing it because it’s so crazy.
You have experience in Broadway as well as TV and movies. What are the different challenges they present?
If you see any actor giving a half-decent performance on television they must be every good. In the movies, you have maybe three pages of dialogue a day, which is fewer than the amount you’ll get for TV. It’s a breakneck pace on TV. In terms of theater, which is probably my favorite, you spend three to five weeks in rehearsal. You have more time to perfect the performance, even though you can’t always make it perfect. Theater has a beginning, a middle and an end. You’re constantly discovering things. It’s a very "alive" experience.
In some of your interviews, you’ve talked about how important it was for your career to make the move from Florida to New York. Where do you think you’d be without going to school in New York and making that decision?
I thank my mother. I’ve always joked that I would have spent my career playing characters at Disney World. I would have gone from Cinderella to Snow White to the Evil Queen. [Laughs]. It’s not that I wouldn’t be acting, but without going to New York, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities. I got very lucky.
Did Ryan Murphy give you and the rest of the cast any idea when they will decide who is back for Season 3? I know you said you would like to return.
More than that, I’m quite hopeful. I’m crossing my fingers. I think Ryan has an idea of where he wants to go with the next season, but he hasn’t shared that information with the cast yet.
Is it hard to plan for other acting opportunities while your status for next season is unknown?
Yeah, and I think eventually they will let us know because other jobs will open and we need to make ourselves available if we’re not featured during season three. But I’m hoping I do get to be a part of whatever is decided on for Season 3.