Sarah Paulson on ‘Ratched’, Character Research and “Honoring” Louise Fletcher’s Performance


Sarah Paulson in Netflix's Ratched

“In terms of research… which I’m sure sounds like an excuse of a lazy actor, but what I never want to feel is more informed than the character.” – Sarah Paulson

If you ever wondered what made Nurse Ratched so stern and tyrannical in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Netflix has created a series, Ratched, exploring her origins featuring Emmy Award-winning actress Sarah Paulson portraying the younger version of the character played by Louise Fletcher in the celebrated 1975 film adaptation of the novel. In an interview with Variety, Paulson spoke about the research that she didn’t do for the role and doing justice to Fletcher’s performance.

Nurse Ratched has a backstory as a World War II Army nurse in the original novel, but Paulson remarks that she actually did not do much specific research to portray the character. She explains:

“In terms of research, I think that’s important for me around this subject of research, which I’m sure sounds like an excuse of a lazy actor, but what I never want to feel is more informed than the character. If I learned more from a clinical standpoint about the consequences of that kind of abuse, I worry that it would keep me in a cerebral place instead of an emotional place. And I also thought, ‘I don’t want to look at this from a person who has processed it and who understands how this can affect a human being’s life and what the consequences can be.’ … So I wanted to still be inside of it. I didn’t want to be breaking it down from a clinical standpoint or a real comprehension standpoint. When we get further down the road and the story is deeper or more years have passed than maybe that will be different because maybe she has a different understanding of it, but we’re not there yet.”

On the other hand, Paulson says that she did intend to do justice to Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched, which earned Fletcher the Academy Award for Best Actress:

“For me the biggest challenge was honoring and holding Louise Fletcher’s performance as closely to my heart and in my mind as I could but also allowing the freedom along with that to create as well — because the biggest thing for me to move around was the fear of global humiliation. This is a very real reality that we live in a time when everyone has access to a computer and everyone can put their opinion about what they see and what people are creating and endeavoring to do all over the internet. It’s a very vulnerable-making thing — to undertake anything from a creative standpoint — because it’s subject to critique, and that’s all fine and it’s always how it’s been, but I think when you’re taking something on that has so much meaning for people, even in a cursory way, having to move around that for myself — “Do I really want to do this?” when I’m basically asking myself to walk right into the fire of comparisonville, is scary. That was really hard.”

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