Sarah Paulson: “I muscled a lot of what I’ve achieved by sheer force of will and relentless determination”
“If my career had turned out like the fantasy I had of what it was going to be, it would never have made me happy” – Sarah Paulson
Actress Sarah Paulson will now always see “Emmy Award winner” attached to her name after winning the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie trophy for American Crime Story for playing O.J Simpson trial prosecutor Marcia Clark. It was her first Emmy win after being nominated for an Emmy five years in a row — including two this year (she was also nominated in the Supporting Actress category for American Horror Story). However, Paulson is the first to say that her career has been whatever the opposite of an overnight sensation is — as she tells GQ, that might have been the best thing for her career instead of the “Julia Roberts” career she expected to have.
Paulson admits that her success as an actress came much later than she expected, but she sees that as a blessing in disguise. She explains, “If my career had turned out like the fantasy I had of what it was going to be, it would never have made me happy. But I couldn’t have known that until it didn’t happen. I found a success that is so much bigger and deeper and better, and it’s because it happened later. If any of what I’m having happen now—the successes—would have happened to me when I was younger, I would have been ruined. Because when you’re young, and things come super easily to you, and you have success right out of the gate, you’re liable to think that’s how it actually works. You start to think you don’t need to be fully prepared or committed to have these things meet you.”
She also recommends to go for opportunities that other people are passing on. Paulson continues, “I muscled a lot of what I’ve achieved by sheer force of will and relentless determination. And I wasn’t hearing a lot of ‘Everything’s going to be fine. You’re going to have everything you want.’ I would get one job, and then I wouldn’t work again for two years. Or I would get one great job, and it would very quickly become a nothing thing, or I would lose it last minute to someone who then went on to win the Oscar. To me, I ‘made’ it when I got the part in 12 Years a Slave and played a really hideous woman in an unapologetic way. I know some friends of mine who said they refused to play that part because she was so despicable. That was totally perplexing to me in a way that is sort of unforgivable.”
Another recommendation Paulson makes is that you shouldn’t try to be the “next” anybody — because that person doesn’t have the same tools that you do. She recalls, “There was a time when I believed if I was going to be successful, it was going to look like a particular thing. And that particular thing was Julia Roberts. I was young and wanted to be an actress, and success meant being an enormous mega-movie star. It had to look like the trajectory of the actors around me. I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do what they do,’ and that blinded me to the things I could do. I was so busy wanting to be Julia Roberts that it never occurred to me that my career could be something else. And that it could be equally rich, and—the most important thing—it would be mine, whatever it was.”