Emmy Hopeful: Sarah Paulson - 'AHS: Asylum'
Emmy Hopeful: Sarah Paulson - 'AHS: Asylum'
The sublime second season of American Horror Story, subtitled Asylum, swapped season one's supernatural spookies for something much more terrifying: human nature. Specifically, the horrifying ills we're capable of inflicting upon one another when the watchful eye of society has turned away.
And while slews were subjected to Sister Jude and Dr. Arden's mental and physical abuse inside the seemingly-impenetrable walls of Briarcliff Manor, no one suffered more than Lana Winters, played with an expertly-honed mixture of excellence and exasperation by Sarah Paulson. Often victimized, but never a victim, Paulson's ability to exude strength even in the weakest moments ensured Lana was a character you could, and would, always root for.
ETonline caught up with the actress (an Emmy nominee last year for Game Change, and current Critics Choice Award winner for AHS:Asylum) to talk about tackling this seemingly insurmountable role, the physical toll playing Lana took on her and find out why she's returning for a third Story!
ETonline: Ryan Murphy famously gives his actors little-to-no information when they sign on for AHS. How much did you know coming in?
Sarah Paulson: I knew everything through the aversion/conversion therapy scene, which was at the end of episode four, because we had given four scripts before we started shooting. But when I signed the contract, I had absolutely no idea what I would be doing aside from what Ryan told me one night at dinner: that I was a lesbian reporter named Lana who smokes. I had no idea that I was going to be captured by Bloody Face, no idea that Jessica [Lange, who played Jude] was going to insist I have electro-shock treatment to try to take away my gayness, no idea that I would attempt a coat hanger abortion, no idea that I was going to be breast feeding Zachary Quinto, no idea that I was going to have to murder Dylan McDermott as a seventy-five year old woman; none of those things were known to me. Which when I say it out loud ... [laughs] it's funny because I can't believe I did all of those things on television. Like, what show do you do all of those things on?!? Only American Horror Story people; only American Horror Story.
ETonline: In retrospect, are you glad you didn't know that coming in? Would the enormity of all that been too overwhelming?
Paulson: I think it was a good idea. There was a moment at the end of the second Anne Frank episode where I drop through the floor into the lair and wake up to find my girlfriends body and [Quinto] puts on the Bloody Face mask. Basically when I read that, I didn't know how I was going to stay on the show. How do you get me back into the world of the show, which takes place at Briarcliff? How is she going to survive this? Maybe she won't. So I think [not knowing] helped infuse some of my real terror and panic from actually being terrified and panicked that I would not be able to play Lana Winters anymore.
ETonline: What kind of physical toll did playing Lana take on you?
Paulson: It was both exhausting and exhilarating from an acting standpoint. I was over the moon with what I got to do, but it was quite harrowing and not easy. I remember having very melancholy days because I had to spend a lot of time in a very dark place in my brain. As an actor when you are doing something emotionally draining twelve hours a day, where I was being held captive, you have to stay in a certain place mentally. I knew I couldn't go over to craft services or my cast chair and check my iPhone to return texts or emails. I don't fancy myself a Method actress at all, but with this character I did find myself more removed than I normally am. I asked them to leave me strapped to that bed, because I thought it would help me be in an exhausted place where I'm at the end of my rope. That was a hard thing to sustain for the hours and hours while you are shooting, but it was the only way I could do it. Your mind knows your pretending, but, in terms of the adrenaline and the fact that you are actually crying, and that you are that upset, and you are screaming, and you are simulating terror, your body does not know that it is not real. Your body feels really wrecked afterwards. But the actress in me was like, "Bring it on! Keep it coming!" Because I love doing this, and this is why I do this; so I can be able to go to these places.