Sarah Paulson on playing the other woman in “Carol” and being out in Hollywood

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Carol seems to be the name on everyone’s lips lately, and for good reason. The film, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is a gorgeous game-changer for movies with central queer characters. One of the shining stars of the film is Sarah Paulson, who happens to be an AfterEllen favorite.

The out actress spoke to Pride Source recently about her experiences shooting Carol and why she’s not interested in labeling herself.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Actress Sarah Paulson attends the New York premiere of "Carol" at the Museum of Modern Art on November 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Via Getty

On her character Abby’s relationship with Carol:

Carol and Abby were former lovers, for sure. But it was brief and it was much more meaningful to Abby than it was to Carol. In the scene with Cate at the bar, when we’re having our martinis and I say, “I hope you know what you’re doing,” about Therese, I basically say, we can just go back and have that furniture store in New Jersey and Carol basically says no. That is my 1952 way of saying, “Let’s try this again.” It’s code for, “Let’s make out.” Carol doesn’t want that with Abby. For me, what I was interested in portraying and making sure was there was that sort of sadness that Abby has—that light and love for Carol that’s not reciprocated—but still, that she would rather be in Carol’s orbit in any way that she can be, so she will be a friend to her no matter what.

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Abby is very devoted to her friend, and the impression from the film is that the feeling is mutual. It’s not everyday that we get to see deep friendships between queer women portrayed on the big screen.

Reporter Chris Azzopardi asked Paulson if she was drawn to roles where the character’s sexuality is related to the role. Paulson had a very thoughtful response. 

As human beings we are very fascinated by sexuality and what it means and who we’re attracted and why, because I think there’s a really big mystery about it. There’s something so unknowable about it, which is part of what makes it so exciting. And I do think this about my career all the time: People think I pick such great jobs—that I picked “12 Years a Slave,” I picked “Carol,” I picked “Game Change.” I auditioned for them and I got the jobs. And so I’ve been lucky—I actually give the credit to Steve McQueen and Todd Haynes and Ryan Murphy and people who saw something in me that they went, “You’re the girl. I want you.” And so, it’s less about choices I’ve made and things I’ve been drawn to—it’s what has been drawn to me.

She was also asked about the kind of strangely invasive questions Cate Blanchett is often asked about playing a queer character.

I think it’s very interesting—all of it, really. Is anyone asking George Clooney what he likes about having sex with a woman? Nobody does. It’s a foregone conclusion that it’s just an acceptable reality and nobody thinks to bother to ask. But you have a story about two women together or two men together and all of a sudden it becomes fair game and assumptions are made that are just never made in the reverse, and I just think it’s terribly unfair. I don’t know what her reaction was, but I hope it was, “Bugger off!”

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Paulson also talks about how her rather spontaneous coming out in 2005 when then partner Cherry Jones won the Tony, and how it has affected her personally and her career.

I was very young, and I was in love. It was the reality of the person I was with. She just won a Tony Award—I’m not gonna pat her on the back, give her the big thumbs up and say, “Go up there and get your award, sweetie.” It was not a really conscious thought. I didn’t think of what the implications were gonna be. I just did what was true and honest to me in that moment.

The truth of the matter is, it was early enough in my career that there have been no attachments made to me as a performer. I think the thing that makes it somewhat easier in terms of there not having been ramifications is that I’m a character actress—nobody is assigning a particular kind of sexual anything to me, I don’t think. Maybe that’s totally not true (laughs). But it just seems if you’re sort of known for being a sex kitten and that’s how you come on the scene, and then you end up being a total femme fatale actress, and then all of a sudden you make a statement about your sexuality, it becomes news. Whereas I’m a character actress; I can do a lot of things. I don’t think anybody’s made one particular association with me that would then make them go, “Well, I can’t see her this way now.”

59th Annual Tony Awards - After PartySarah and Cherry at the 2005 Tony Awards. Photo via Getty.

Click here for the full interview where Paulson also talks about American Horror Story and friend and co-star Jessica Lange.

Carol opens tomorrow in select theatres.

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