Sarah Paulson Reflects on Her Big Break ‘Law & Order’ Audition


“The right pair of eyes watching you sort of could determine whether or not you can have a successful career or not.” – Sarah Paulson

Long before the critical acclaim and awards, Sarah Paulson was a young, hungry actress just looking for a break. And like many other actors, Paulson made her first major appearance on television on Law & Order. Paulson’s TV debut came in a 1994 episode of the long-running series, but reflecting on that audition with Collider she reveals that she nearly blew it — until the late Law & Order producer Edwin Sherin helped guide her.

Remembering that audition early in her career, Paulson explains:

“The right pair of eyes watching you sort of could determine whether or not you can have a successful career or not. I went to audition for Lynn Kressel who was casting all the things at that time in New York and I went to audition for her for Law & Order. I got a callback. I went then to the producers’ session which was down where Law & Order’s shooting, some other place, and I went in with Ed Sherin and Constantine [Makris], he had been the DP I think or one of the ADs and he was directing this episode. And Ed Sherin is married to Jane Alexander, he’s just this wonderful director-producer, but I did my audition and in the audition I was supposed to cry, because in this episode I was gonna have to cry a lot.”

Of course, nowadays Paulson could easily cry in an audition — not that she typically has to audition anymore. But in this one, well, she had some difficulties. But thankfully, Sherin helped her find that emotion. She continues:

“I remember doing the audition and I did it and I sort of looked up at him and I’m all of 19 and he went, ‘I think you’re feeling something right now that if you allowed yourself to feel it would be exactly what you would need to do in this scene. Are you feeling embarrassed?’ Because I didn’t cry at all, the whole scene. I couldn’t cry because I was nervous. He 100% knew that I felt humiliated and embarrassed and he just said, ‘Do you feel that way?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And then I started to cry and he said, ‘Go. Read the scene now.’ And I did and I got the part.”

While Paulson is forever grateful that Sherin gave her that opportunity, she confesses that she doesn’t understand why he reacted that way. She reflects:

“But that, much like the Ryan Murphy stories of later, that’s the difference between an actor who gets to work a lot and a person who doesn’t. For whatever reason, Ed Sherin took that extra moment with me, didn’t let me leave the room. I to this day could ask him what made him do that. Maybe it was total luck. Maybe there was something he saw. But he’s why I got that job, which then allowed me to continue to pursue the career because I was able to make a living and getting some communication that it was the right choice. It’s these little tiny moments where you just go, ‘God, what would have happened to me if he hadn’t done that?’”

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