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Sarah Paulson is the Great Pretender

Hannah Morrill | May 24, 2018 | Feature Features National

After being nominated for a trifecta of hefty awards and starring in the most #TimesUp female-blockbuster film to date, Sarah Paulson reveals she wants to be anything—anything!—but herself.
Silk gown, $8,700, Valentino, South Coast Plaza

If you ran into Sarah Paulson

at Whole Foods near the scallions or at Starbucks topping off your soy latte, you likely wouldn’t recognize her straightaway—and not because she isn’t striking or famous (she’s both). She has quick, bewitching dark eyes that can be at once flirtatious and menacing, and the kind of moony skin and statuesque neck that only the truly beautiful possess. She also has an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and this month you’ll see her in arguably the summer’s best and most anticipated blockbuster, the all-female Ocean’s 8, right next to Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway, among other A-list actresses. But never mind all that.

You wouldn’t recognize Paulson because when she’s working, she can’t bear to look like herself. “The more I can look in the mirror and not recognize myself, the more excited I am,” she says, calling from Los Angeles, where she is wearily waiting for the gas company to call during a determined five-hour window—because stars, they’re just like us! For Paulson, the act of physical transformation—the infinite and far more tedious hours in hair and makeup—is a rare gift, a treat, an honor: “It’s a reason to live,” she says of the transformative process.

As such, Paulson is damn good at physically transforming and at emotionally radiating exactly the kind of nuanced performance her characters require. In the last five years alone, she’s played (among many other roles) a sociopath; a drug addict; a pair of conjoined twins; and real-life prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which is where those little old awards come in. To uncannily embody Clark, Paulson would slip into bulky ’90s fashions, pull on a jaunty spiral-permed wig and walk through clouds of Magie Noire perfume. (She liked the way she felt in the wig so much that she traveled with it while doing press for the film.) “We’re constantly faced with all these ideas of beauty—things that Hollywood puts out there for us to gobble up,” Paulson says. “It’s very powerful when I look in the mirror and the first thing I’m thinking isn’t, ‘Are you pretty? Are you going to appeal to someone?’ I can work much more freely when I don’t have to concern myself with my looks.”


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