The award-winning actor talks about her new film Blue Jay and why her success means that she doesnt need to change her looks to get the roles she wants
From Marcia Clark to Mary Epps to Bette and Dot Tattler, Sarah Paulson has played a range of complex characters in stories with even more complicated plots. By comparison, her role in this weeks drama Blue Jay is simple. The film, which is shot in black and white and takes place over one afternoon, tells the story of two small-town high school sweethearts (Amanda and Jim) who reconnect after running into each other at the supermarket. The two spend the afternoon together and suddenly, things arent so simple any more. As Amanda and Jim ease themselves back into their patterns of familiarity, the film raises questions about heartbreak, romantic nostalgia and how long we can flirt with the past before it comes crashing into the present.
What do you think it is about old love that is so intoxicating? Why do you think were so tempted to look back at a previous relationship when were in a new, happier situation?
Nostalgia gives you real context for where you are today. Its proof that you exist, in a way, because you look back and think, I had this, I experienced this. So it kind of shines a light on why youre at where you are whether thats in a romantic relationship or that youre single because your last relationship was so harrowing that youre relieved to be on your own. I think it gives you a nice counterpoint for wherever youre standing. And we need that.
Why do we need that?
Were constantly as human beings trying to understand why we do what we do, and how we got to wherever we find ourselves today. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to look back and go, I cant believe I spent one day with that person, much less two years. Looking back is a way to sharpen the focus on the things you want to change in your life. I think theres something about nostalgia that really puts a fine point on the here-and-now, and that can be incredibly fascinating and interesting and engaging for the mind.
Youve had several relationships, and now youre in a new one with Holland Taylor. How do you stay present in it and avoid comparing it to what came before?
I dont feel like a very nostalgic person. I think about the past much more clinically. When I look back and wonder, Why was I doing that? Was it a waste of time?, I dont beat myself up. Instead, I say, Im so glad I did that, because now I really know what matters to me.
Holland has said something very wise to me before: All we have is right now. So theres no point in sort of pouring over old picture books or love letters. Something else she says is: Some things defy pondering. As in, what does it matter, the why of it? It was, it isnt any more, and lets look forward. And I think theres something very, very powerful about that. I have the great good fortune of being with someone who is older and wiser than I am. And I reap a tremendous benefit from her perspective, in terms of the power of staying in the moment. Because thats really all we have. Its a very powerful thing to keep reminding myself. And its certainly good for my very overactive brain.
The night you won the Emmy was hailed as a huge night for gay women in TV. Youve always pushed back against being labeled in terms of your sexuality, but did you feel a part of that collective win?
Its a complicated thing to talk about. The issues this raises are big and important, I dont want to give superficial answers. In terms of my speech, I wanted to say I love you to the person I love. Everyone else does it, so should I not do it because the person I love is a woman? And so I thought, you know what? Im just gonna do it. I wasnt worried over it. It was a flashing thought should I do it?. And I thought to myself, The fact that I am having this thought is wrong in the first place. The idea that I would have to take a moment before I say this to consider what impact it might have that could be negative, is an asinine thing to engage with mentally, and I refuse to do it. So I just said what I wanted to say.
Your speech got so much attention. What was the rest of the night like?
It felt like my wedding. I have never been married so Im saying this based on what other people say but like, every time I went to put a bite of food in my mouth someone would come over to me and Marcia [Clark], so Id scarf it down. Every time Id go to take a sip of my cocktail, somebody would say hi and Id have to put it down. And as exciting and as celebratory as the evening was, I couldnt feel my ankles, my feet were broken, I was home and in bed at 12.30. A few nights later I asked Marcia if we could go out and have a proper recap just us, wearing flats, and it was very sweet.
Beyond the headlines declaring this as a big year for women in Hollywood, does it actually feel any different to be working right now?
I think its hard to say. Because I played Marcia a woman who had been so wronged in the press and judged so harshly for the superficial things were trying to move away from: her hair, her lack of lipstick, the length of her skirt and I feel like we got that conversation sorted, in the sense that people now realize how wrong we were, its hard for me to feel in the moment that we havent made progress because I know there has been progress made in this one area, about this one woman. I know that what the show did was give Marcia something that she has not had before, which she deserved and was owed. So its hard for me to get a sense of where the true needle lies right now.
What about personally, does it feel any differently for you?
The two times I was ever asked to play a romantic lead on a TV show, I auditioned as a brunette and they wanted me to go blonde one wanted me to put these giant mermaid-like extensions in. And I put up with it then because of my own desperation to work. Now I would say no. If I need to have a prosthetic leg because its part of the story, then fine. If I need to be naked in the movie because its part of the story, I can get behind that. But I dont know why I become more beautiful to the masses if my hair is a particular color or length. I dont want to further the idea that a specific image is connected to appeal. I dont want to be responsible for that.
If as a collective of women, we can all start to stand up and say, I wont do that!, I can see us starting to move the needle at some point. But, I have to be honest and say, I only have the ability to do that now because of whats preceded it and because of the many times when I didnt.
Why are you able to say no to those kinds of requests now?
Its not because Ive won an Emmy. Its only come from the amount of work that Ive done, and the fact that Ive worked with Ryan Murphy, who is such a supporter of women and has never once asked me to do something that would make me more attractive. Not ever. Now I have an Emmy, however, someone in a room might be more inclined to listen to me when they havent before. And thats another conversation. Why is my voice only given more merit because Ive been given this honor for my work, whereas I might have had the same things to say six months ago?
Tell me about how you feel about American Horror Story, now that youre doing so many new projects. What does the show still mean to you?
American Horror story is my home. Its the place I feel the most comfortable. Working with Ryan was the first time I felt really seen by someone in a position of power. He went from giving me a part in three episodes on season one to throwing me into being the heroine in season two. Thats a big jump. And thats my point. Ryan Murphy knows himself well enough, he knows what he likes and he doesnt care what anyone else does. To have had that in my life only makes me want to do that more going forward, and for others to be able to have that as well. I will be at American Horror Story there as long as they will have me. It means home to me, it really does.
Blue Jay is released in cinemas on 7 October
This interview has been condensed and edited for length.
The post Sarah Paulson on relationships, her Emmy win and female beauty standards appeared first on Beauty Questions Information Answers.