The name Sarah Paulson has of late become synonymous with American Horror Story, since the actress has been a lynchpin of every different incarnation of the Ryan Murphy franchise. She’s currently filming not only its newest season, American Horror Story: Hotel, but also, simultaneously, a new mini series spinoff set to premiere in early 2016, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, in which Paulson plays prosecutor Marcia Clark. AHS has so far garnered the actress two Critics’ Choice awards, and lately sees her with her fourth AHS Emmy nomination–this time for American Horror Story: Freak Show, in which Paulson pulled off playing conjoined twins, a role, she says was “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”
It’s your fourth time around with an Emmy nom–do you still get nervous on the day of announcements?
Oh, yes. I’m one of those people who doesn’t sleep the night before, who is well aware that the nominations are happening and exactly what time they’re happening. It’s always scary because to me it’s an enormous honor to be nominated by the Academy and certainly now there’s so much content available. It’s even harder I think to get noticed in that way. So it means even more, and the fact that it’s the fourth time in a row feels…you know, the first time it happened to me I was sure it would never happen again. I know it would probably make me sound a lot cooler to pretend that I didn’t know nor did I care, but I do care, it does matter to me, and I was really hoping it was going to happen. I’m not one of those people that would ever say, “Oh I slept through the nominations and my phone just exploded.” You’re never going to hear that from me.
You’re shooting American Horror Story: Hotel and American Crime Story at the same time–how’s that going?
Basically playing the two-headed girls last year (the conjoined twins on Freak Show) prepared me for what I’m doing this year. These two people I’m playing do not share a body but they couldn’t be more different and it’s quite schizophrenic to be going back and forth between both. Obviously Marcia Clark has a very particular look, and it’s very different to the way I look as Sally on Horror Story, and I came to work the other day and I forgot to take off some of my makeup, because let’s just say it’s hard to get off. So I was there in the makeup trailer getting ready to play Marcia scrubbing off my makeup from the evening before’s work. It was a very wild, schizophrenic experience.
Obviously Jessica Lange is not on the American Horror Story set anymore–must be kind of tough to lose a member of the family
It’s definitely odd and at the same time there are so many new people. It’s sort of a revolving door of people. I miss having her around, but I’m too distracted right now with what I’m doing to be too worried about it.
How is Hotel going? What can you say about it?
It’s very different than previous seasons. You know, to me it sort of shares some similarities with Asylum in the sense that it’s in a hotel, it’s in one place. Not to say that things don’t happen outside of it, but to have one location everything revolves around reminds me a little bit of season two, so that’s sort of interesting.
At ComicCon you said your Hotel character is called Sally Hypodermic–can you say anything about the origin of the name?
It’s probably what you imagine might be in fact true. But I’m going to use the word ‘might’. ‘Might’ is the only way. I’m not going to confirm or deny anything.
Ryan Murphy also said your character in Hotel might be killed off because you haven’t had to die yet
I sort of feel like some of the characters who have died on the show have died in these fantastic ways that are incredibly memorable, and sometimes audiences get very attached to those stories and how it all went down. So I wouldn’t mind being involved in that kind of thing at all. However, my badge of honor will be one I will be sad to put aside, you know, that I’m the only one on all the seasons of Horror Story to survive. I’ve liked that badge–I wanted to continue it. But I respect Ryan Murphy enough to know that whatever he decides is basically what I’m going to do.
Before you started shooting you said that you were setting out to make Gaga your best friend–how’s that going?
Well I haven’t worked with her yet. So so far I have not made much movement on that plan. But I am just such a super fan. I need to tone it down. I need to start playing it really cool. We all know that everybody who likes somebody, that they have to play a little hard to get–I’m just like a dog in a window panting, waiting to be around her. It’s just really pathetic. It’s really just because I’m in awe of her talent and I really think she’s going to be an incredible addition to the show. I just think she’s a perfect fit. I can’t wait to have that experience. But you know, I’m a fan before I’m anything else, that’s for sure. But just wait until I see Emma Thompson. If Emma Thompson goes to the Emmys you’re going to find a story somewhere about how I stalked her. It’s going to be embarrassing for me, I’m telling you. I heard she’s quite nice but I just don’t know if she’ll be quite nice if I attach myself to her ankle and don’t let go.
What can you tell us about the experience so far of playing Marcia Clark in American Crime Story?
It’s been one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had, actually. I’ve played people who are alive and walking around, I’ve played real people before, but never someone where there is so much personal attachment to who people perceive her to be or what blame they want to lay at her feet. So I feel an enormous responsibility to not only tell the story honestly, but also to honor Marcia in a way. I have an enormous amount of respect for her–I think she’s an enormously gifted prosecutor, and there’s a lot of things that people wanted to blame her for that I don’t necessarily subscribe to. So it’s just very interesting to play someone who you have enormous respect for who is also walking around the world and you are mindful of what their reaction might be. At the same time I’m an actress and I have a responsibility to tell the story we’re telling. So it’s been a funny balance to try to figure out how to do all that. And also, you know, just her mannerisms and her way of walking. I found out what perfume she wore during the trial and I’m wearing that perfume. I’m doing all those kind of actressy things.
Do you refer to the footage of the trial a lot?
Oh my God, I watch it every day that I shoot. I mean, I’m on my way to work and I just listen to her in the car, I listen to her voice. I watch her before every take, almost, on my iPad. Oh yeah. I’m knee deep in Marcia Clark-ness.
Ryan Murphy has thrown everything at you over the years–what’s left? Is there anything you wouldn’t do?
I don’t know what else he can throw at me that would be as wild as the things I’ve done so far. I just hope he keeps throwing things at me in general because I’ve had the most extraordinary time working with him because he’s given me such challenging things to do. If you’re an actor you’re very lucky if you get one role in a career, much less two, much less three, that are incredibly challenging, and that people actually watch. conjoined twins thing I think was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, absolutely. I don’t know what I could do that would be harder than that. To me the most exciting thing about acting is the engagement you have with the other actor and I couldn’t even see myself, I couldn’t look into my own eyes–it was just very, very challenging. Maybe the ultimate challenge would be playing somebody completely without any real trouble at all. Maybe just a normal girl would be the ultimate challenge.