Paulson at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con
Sarah Catharine Paulson
December 17, 1974
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Alma mater||American Academy of Dramatic Arts|
|Cherry Jones (2004-2009)|
Holland Taylor (2015-present)
Sarah Catharine Paulson (born December 17, 1974) is an American actress. She is the recipient of several accolades, including a Primetime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award. In 2017, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Born in Tampa, Florida, Paulson was raised there and later in New York City following her parents' divorce. She began her acting career after high school in New York stage productions before starring in the short-lived television series American Gothic (1995-1996) and Jack & Jill (1999-2001). She later appeared in comedy films such as What Women Want (2000) and Down with Love (2003), and drama films such as Path to War (2002) and The Notorious Bettie Page (2005). From 2006 to 2007, she starred as Harriet Hayes in the NBC comedy-drama series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, for which she received her first Golden Globe Award nomination. In 2008, Paulson starred as Ellen Dolan in the superhero noir film The Spirit.
Paulson has appeared on Broadway in the plays The Glass Menagerie in 2005 and Collected Stories in 2010. She also starred in a number of independent films, and had a leading role on the ABC comedy series Cupid in 2009. She later starred in the independent drama film Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), and received Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for her portrayal of Nicolle Wallace in the HBO film Game Change (2012). She was featured as Mary Epps in the 2013 historical drama film 12 Years a Slave, as Abby Gerhard in the 2015 romantic drama film Carol, and as Toni Bradlee in the 2017 political drama film The Post, all of which were nominated for multiple Academy Awards. Paulson's other films include Serenity (2005), New Year's Eve (2011), Mud (2012), Blue Jay (2016), Ocean's 8 (2018), Bird Box (2018), and Glass (2019).
In 2011, Paulson began starring in the FX anthology series American Horror Story, playing different characters in many of the show's nine seasons. For her performances in the series, she received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won two Critics' Choice Television Awards. In 2016, she portrayed real life prosecutor Marcia Clark in first season of the anthology series American Crime Story, subtitled The People v. O. J. Simpson, for which she garnered critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award and the Golden Globe Award.
Paulson was born on December 17, 1974, in Tampa, Florida, the daughter of Catharine Gordon (née Dolcater) and Douglas Lyle Paulson II. She spent her early life in South Tampa until her parents' divorce when she was five. After her parents' separation, Paulson relocated with her mother and sister to Maine, then to New York City. Her mother worked as a waitress, and Paulson lived in Queens and Gramercy Park, before settling in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She recalled of this period: "My mom was 27 years old [when we moved]. She didn't know a single person in New York City. She got a job at Sardi's Restaurant... She was so brave to be basically a debutante in Tampa, Florida, having a cotillion and a coming out ball – and she picked up and brought her two kids to the greatest city in the world, not knowing anyone. My mom's kind of my hero that way."
Throughout her childhood, Paulson spent her summers in Florida staying with her father, who was an executive at a Tampa door manufacturing company. She attended P.S. 29 in Brooklyn before attending Manhattan's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Paulson began working as an actress right out of high school. She appeared in the Horton Foote play Talking Pictures at the Signature Theatre, and in an episode of Law & Order in 1994. The next year Paulson appeared in the Hallmark television film Friends at Last (1995) opposite Kathleen Turner, playing the adult version of Turner's character's daughter. She also starred in the short-lived television series American Gothic (also 1995), playing the ghost of a murdered woman.
In 1997, Paulson made her feature film debut in the independent thriller film Levitation, playing a woman who discovers she is pregnant after an anonymous sexual encounter. Leonard Klady of Variety noted that Paulson and her co-stars are "not supported by the script", concluding: "Levitation is a grim, convoluted saga of identity and belonging. An ill-fitting combination of melodrama and magic realism, the indie effort will have a decidedly difficult time in the theatrical arena." She also appeared Off-Broadway in a fall 1998 production of Killer Joe. She subsequently played Elisa Cronkite in The WB comedy-drama series Jack & Jill (1999). The same year, she was also cast opposite Juliette Lewis and Diane Keaton in the drama The Other Sister, playing the lesbian sister of a developmentally-disabled woman in San Francisco, and in a supporting part playing a hostage in the comedy Held Up, opposite Jamie Foxx. The following year, she had a small supporting role in the comedy What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
Paulson had a minor recurring role in the HBO series Deadwood (2005-2006), and was a focal character in an episode of the FX series Nip/Tuck. She starred as the main character in the NBC series Leap of Faith. She was then cast in the period comedy Down with Love (2003) in a central role, portraying the friend and editor of a writer (portrayed by Renee Zellweger).
In 2004, she had a supporting role in the ABC series The D.A., which was cancelled after only four episodes. In the spring of 2005, Paulson starred in a revival of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, opposite future American Horror Story co-star Jessica Lange.Ben Brantley of The New York Times deemed the production as "misdirected and miscast... reality never makes an appearance in this surreally blurred production." Later that year, Paulson appeared Off-Broadway in a production of Colder Than Here, opposite Lily Rabe (also her future co-star on American Horror Story). The production received an unfavorable review from Variety, with critic Dave Rooney writing: "Rabe speaks in an affected monotone while Sarah Paulson has the measured, upward-inflected delivery of a children's TV presenter... this mannered, melancholy play elicits a mainly impassive response, which is no small obstruction in a work dealing with loss."
Also in 2005, Paulson had a small role in the Joss Whedon-directed science fiction film Serenity. In the 2006-07 television season, Paulson co-starred in NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, playing Harriet Hayes, one of the stars of the show-within-a-show. This role earned her a nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries or Television Film. In December 2008, Paulson appeared in the screen adaptation of Will Eisner's comic book The Spirit, playing an updated version of the character Ellen Dolan.
In 2008, ABC cast Paulson in the pilot Cupid, which was ordered to series. It was a remake of the 1998 series starring Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall. In the new version, Paulson starred opposite Bobby Cannavale. It debuted in late March 2009 on ABC but was cancelled on May 19, 2009, after six episodes. In February 2010, Paulson was cast as the circa 1982 mother of main character Meredith Grey, on the ABC drama Grey's Anatomy, appearing in a flashback sequence in a season-six episode. She then played Nicolle Wallace in the HBO film Game Change (2012), based on events of the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign. For her performance, she earned Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations.
In the spring of 2010, she starred in Donald Margulies's Collected Stories alongside Linda Lavin on Broadway. The same year, Paulson filmed the independent drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which she starred opposite Elizabeth Olsen and Hugh Dancy, portraying the wealthy sister of a woman who has escaped a cult. The film was released in the fall of 2011. Simultaneously, Paulson guest-starred in three episodes of the FX anthology series American Horror Story, playing medium Billie Dean Howard. Paulson returned the following year for season two, American Horror Story: Asylum, in which she played a new character, Lana Winters, a writer who is committed to an asylum for being a lesbian. During this time, she also played the supporting role of Mary Lee in the acclaimed 2012 drama film Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey.
Paulson returned to theater in March 2013, appearing in an Off-Broadway production of Talley's Folly opposite Danny Burstein. She then starred in the third season of American Horror Story, titled Coven (2013) as Cordelia Foxx, a witch who runs an academy for other young witches. The same year, she starred as Mary Epps, an abusive slave-owner, in the historical drama film 12 Years a Slave. The film was a critical success, earning numerous accolades.
In 2014, Paulson appeared in the fourth season of series of American Horror Story, titled Freak Show, playing the roles of conjoined twin sisters Bette and Dot Tattler, who are members of a circus freak show. She returned for the fifth season, subtitled Hotel, in the role of Hypodermic Sally, the ghost of a drug addict trapped in a Hollywood hotel. She also reprised the character of Billie Dean Howard in the last episode of the season, making a crossover appearance. During this time, Paulson also took on the role of Abby Gerhard in the Todd Haynes-directed romantic drama Carol (2015), a period piece in which she played the supporting role of Cate Blanchett's close friend.
Beginning in February 2016, Paulson starred in the first season of the true crime anthology series American Crime Story, subtitled The People v. O.J. Simpson, portraying prosecutor Marcia Clark. She garnered widespread critical acclaim for her performance and won various awards, including the TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama, the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Miniseries or Television Film.
In June 2016, the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting; in the video, Paulson and others told the stories of the people killed there. In the fall of 2016, she starred in the sixth iteration of American Horror Story, subtitled Roanoke; in it, she was cast in the dual roles of British actress Audrey Tindall and tortured wife and yoga instructor Shelby Miller, the latter of whom is portrayed by Tindall's character in My Roanoke Nightmare, a documentary within the series. She also reprised her role of Lana Winters in the final episode of Roanoke, in which the character makes a crossover appearance.
After completing Roanoke, Paulson appeared in the series' seventh season, Cult (2017), in which she played restaurant owner Ally Mayfair-Richards, as well as Susan Atkins in the 10th episode of the season. She also starred as Geraldine Page in one episode of the first season of drama anthology series Feud (2017), which chronicles the turbulent working relationship between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Paulson was then cast in the heist film Ocean's 8 (2018), co-starring with Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, and Rihanna. The film was a commercial success, grossing nearly $300million at the worldwide box office.
Paulson returned for the eighth season of American Horror Story, titled Apocalypse, which premiered on September 12, 2018. In Apocalypse, Paulson reprised both the Murder House and Coven roles of Billie Dean Howard and Cordelia Foxx, respectively, and also starred as the villainous Miss Wilhemina Venable. In addition to appearing as three characters, Paulson also directed one of the season's episodes, marking her directorial debut. She played Sandra Bullock's character's sister, Jessica, in the drama horror film Bird Box, which was released on Netflix in December 2018.
In 2019, Paulson starred as Dr. Ellie Staple in the superhero thriller film Glass, Xandra in the drama film The Goldfinch, and Dr. Zara in the animated adventure film Abominable. Paulson then starred as Alice Macray in the FX limited drama series Mrs. America, which premiered in April 2020. She also starred as Clarissa Montgomery in the HBO satirical comedy television film Coastal Elites, which premiered in September 2020. In September 2017, it was announced that Paulson would star as a younger version of Nurse Mildred Ratched, the villain of the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and its acclaimed 1975 film adaptation, in the Netflix drama series Ratched, a prequel to the novel which would portray the character's origins. The first season was released on September 18, 2020.
Paulson will star in the lead role of the thriller film Run. In August 2019, it was confirmed that she would portray Linda Tripp in the third season of the true crime anthology series American Crime Story, subtitled Impeachment. In January 2020, she confirmed that she will return to American Horror Story for its tenth season, after being absent for the ninth season.
Paulson was in a relationship with actress Cherry Jones from 2004 to 2009. Addressing her sexuality in a 2013 interview with Broadway.com, Paulson said "the situation is fluid for me." Before her relationship with Jones, she had dated only men, including then-fiancé playwright Tracy Letts. She would later comment: "If my life choices had to be predicated based on what was expected of me from a community on either side, that's going to make me feel really straitjacketed, and I don't want to feel that."
She was ranked one of the best dressed women in 2018 by fashion website Net-a-Porter.
Paulson appeared in such films as What Women Want (2000), Down with Love (2003), Serenity (2005), The Notorious Bettie Page (2005), The Spirit (2008), Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), New Year's Eve (2011), Mud (2012), Game Change (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Carol (2015), Blue Jay (2016), The Post (2017), Ocean's 8 (2018), Bird Box (2018), Glass (2019), Abominable (2019), and Run (2020).
On television, Paulson starred in American Gothic (1995-1996), Jack & Jill (1999-2001), Deadwood (2006), Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007), Cupid (2009), American Horror Story (2011-present), American Crime Story (2016-present), Mrs. America (2020), and Ratched (2020-present).
Paulson has accumulated nominations for seven Primetime Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards, receiving one of each for her role in the limited series The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. She was also nominated for her work on other television programs, such as the comedy-drama series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the political drama film Game Change, and the horror anthology series American Horror Story. For her performance in the Academy Award-winning period drama film 12 Years a Slave, she was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.