I do know what she means. Lana’s sexuality was only important in that it was being used against her. In one of the most harrowing scenes of Asylum, Lana is put through conversion therapy by psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quint0) and is forced to touch herself while watching a male patient masturbate. Hard to watch is an understatement, but Sarah said the response she received from viewers told her that the point was made, despite how difficult it might have been to participate in.
“I just remember people being sort of outraged that—I think it was probably easier for people to take in because it was from a different time,” Sarah said. “It took place in 1964 and everyone could kind feel the difference and the barbaric nature of things, how far we have come. I think it was very—there was a very fine point for them where you could kind of go ‘Oh my god. She could get out if she can just convert herself to—wait, what?’ And then the horror of that scene that was taken from real things that really happened then that still at some places in the world still happen—conversion and conversion therapy notions and ideas that are horse shit, obviously. At that point Lana was just so desperate. At first she fought it—when Threadson offered that as an option, she said ‘Absolutely not.’ And then it became clear it was the only way she was going to get out and so she was willing to try. It’s kind of a heartbreaking scene because you can see at the end how desperate she is and how much she wants it to work.”
One of the reasons American Horror Story is so poignant is that no matter what time its set in (1960s Massachusetts, present day Los Angeles) the social commentary is not only relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, but is forcing conversations about topics like conversion therapy, mental health and otherness to happen. Never before have some of these things been so blatantly explored on screen to the point where viewers are moved to be disgusted or outraged about the treatment of human beings. Outside of the writing and behind-the-scenes work that make this possible, it’s the acting that really carries these messages across, and that is in no small part due to Sarah Paulson’s incredible ability to inhabit a role.
Sarah has been in 30 films and close to 20 television shows, and she’s also an accomplished stage star, having worked with Jessica Lange before in the 2005 production of The Glass Menagerie. In it, they played a mother-daughter duo, which will be happening again on this fall’s American Horror Story: Coven (which is in the very early stages of shooting in New Orleans). Sarah plays Cordelia, who she says is straight and insinuates might not be a witch like her mother (Lange as Fiona). Photos from the set have shown some of their castmates donned in all black attire, but Sarah (whose hair is currently blonde) said, “I’m not dressed like that at all. I have a very different kind of look. Obviously I have different hair this year and it’s just different than last year. My character’s very different.”
Coven does not yet have any outwardly queer elements to it as of yet, at least not in the four scripts Sarah said she’s read so far, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be completely devoid of that sensibility. It is a Ryan Murphy production, after all.
“That’s always such a big part of the world of the stories he tells,” Sarah said. “He’s never ever ever shied away from that, even before it was cool or even before it was accepted or even before people were willing to watch it. He was really doing it so it’s certainly not for lack of — nobody could accuse him for not going there because he’s gone there. I’m sure the odds that something like this will be part of the story… it is probably likely.”
Outside of American Horror Story this year, Sarah appeared in the film Mud alongside Matthew McConaughey and is also in the upcoming feature Twelve Years a Slave. Up until now she was most well known for her role as Harriet Hayes on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, for which she was nominated for Golden Globe and Satellite Awards, and as the star of the shortlived ABC series Cupid. She was also praised for her part in Game Change with Golden Globe, Satellite and Emmy nominations. But what’s interesting about Sarah is that she’s still somewhat under the radar as a public figure, something that’s not necessarily a negative thing for an actor.
“I don’t know what that is about me but I’ll tell you it’s a blessing and a curse,” Sarah said. “Of late it’s been really great, it’s been a blessing because the things I’ve gotten to do have been very varied and different but I think there’s a time—sometimes the thing about this business that has been so frustrating is that people are looking for one specific thing that you do and then they want you to do that in every single job that you do and then if you vary from it people decide they don’t like it or decide that you’re not good.”
“On the one hand,” she continued, “I don’t think I’ve had that one thing that’s kind of defined what I can do as sort of— at the same time, I think, sometimes I think people don’t know where to put me. ‘Well what kind of—does she do comedy? Does she do this?’ I think ultimately in the grand scheme of things of being an actor it’s a great thing. I don’t know what it is about it. Either that I’m not making much of an impact—but I like to imagine it’s because I’m able to kind of immerse myself in the part and you kind of can’t see the thing you saw before, which is great. The only thing you’ll see in all the parts is that I have a lisp because I have one. Nothing I can do about it.”
We’ll have to wait until October to see Coven on our screens, but we can tune into the Emmys on September 22 to see if Sarah can win her first well-deserved Emmy.
“I had an Emmy fitting yesterday and I found a couple dresses but I never really feel like you find it the first time,” she said. “I’m excited to find it. I really like looking at Emmy dresses.”
She should look forward to many more fittings in her future.