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Sarah Paulson Has a Thing for Vulgar Performances and Good Cries


I find Gena Rowlands to be the world’s most spectacular performer, and this is the performance of a lifetime. It was so devoid of vanity that for me is of great value, because sometimes this industry dictates that you pay a lot of attention to what your exterior is looking like. It infiltrates the work in a way that can be really dangerous. I thought: “This is an actress who is not afraid to be loathed, who is not afraid to be humiliated, who is not afraid to be ugly. This is the kind of acting I want to do.”

4. Kim Stanley

The movie “Frances” was one of the more defining moments for me. I remember being a 14-year-old and coming across it on television. It was this scene of Jessica Lange sitting in the car, staring at her house. And I thought, “What is this, and who is that?” But Kim Stanley was the most astonishing thing. This is probably something for my shrink to decipher, but I’m drawn to performances that are not about endearing oneself to an audience. I remember when I did “12 Years a Slave” being confronted with these feelings of, “Should I be bothered by the potential hatred that will be held by viewers for me?” But there was something that struck me as so true and so vulgar in terms of her living so vicariously through her child’s success, and her child’s beauty, and her child’s bravery. It was something I’ve never been able to shake.

5. Joan Armatrading’s “Heaven”

I think it’s the most exquisite love song ever written. I grew up with all my friends worshiping Madonna. And I worshiped Joan Armatrading and Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell and the Pretenders and all this music that my mother had these records of. When she was out of the house, I would just put them on and cry like a good little artist who wanted to be a poet-performer. I had never heard anybody sing about love in a way that had all of the elements of the actual experience, which was exhilarating and mournful and celebratory. It’s my idea of heaven, for sure.

6. “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

It’s the most exquisite book about pain I’ve ever read. But really what it’s about is friendship and the circuitous route that it sometimes takes. There was something so poignant to me about the love story between these friends, it just made me weep. And I mean sob uncontrollably in my bed at night before I turned off the light.

7. NPR’s “Throughline”

It’s revisiting moments in our history in an effort to give greater clarity to where we stand now. And I think it’s important, given what we’re dealing with politically as well as from a social justice standpoint, to re-examine what you held to be true, and to perhaps give context to those stories. This podcast gives me a real opportunity to be told about it in a way that is inventive and clear and made by young people. I find it to be wonderful.

8. “I May Destroy You”

I don’t know how Michaela Coel made a show that is about sexual assault, and yet it’s about everything else that happens in one’s life as well. And she challenges you to confront so many widely held beliefs. Arabella is a character who sometimes you don’t like very much. I think there’s such bravery in creating a character that an audience struggles with wanting to spend time with. And yet in the very next beat, you fall in love with her again. And the very next beat you weep for her. And the very next beat you’re laughing uproariously. Also, it’s got the world’s greatest title.

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