‘American Horror Story’ Spotlight: The 3 Best Sarah Paulson Characters

Sarah Paulson has been on American Horror Story since its inaugural season. I choose the word “inaugural” as AHS is virtually an institution, that of which show creators have since incessantly borrowed from to devise their respective anthology-based series. Ryan Murphy may not have been the first, but he for sure re-catalyzed the approach.

Billie Lourd, Sarah Paulson, and Lou Eyrich
Billie Lourd, Sarah Paulson, and Lou Eyrich attend The 21st CDGA (Costume Designers Guild Awards)| Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for CDGA

Ryan Murphy, with AHS, initiated a widepsread trend that proves to be rather successful across genres. However, while many networks have produced anthologies, not many boast the impressive cast that AHS retains.

From Kathy Bates to Angela Basset and Sarah Paulson, AHS always brings a star-studded ensemble to the screen. Sarah Paulson, in particular, deserves recognition for her devotion to Murphy, as well as her impeccable performance chops; thus, it’s time to bring her best three characters back into the spotlight.

3 Sally McKenna (AHS: Hotel)

Sally McKenna represents one of the only characters Paulson has played on AHS who isn’t an emblem of righteous morality. Similar to Wilhemina Venable (AHS: Apocalypse), the role allowed Paulson to spread her wings in a new direction.


A drug-addicted seductress with an expression that is uncomfortably bewitching, she harbors a desperate need for love and affection. The character – fraught with suppressed trauma – is forced to endure the afterlife in constant conflict with her murderer. Capturing the distressed underlying the disturbed, Paulson delivers an eerie and puncturing performance.

2 Cordelia Foxx (‘AHS: Coven’ and ‘AHS: Apocalypse’)

The tortured witch turned Supreme. Cordelia Foxx’s journey – that from a presumably mediocre witch to the HBIC – is a classic undergod story that Sarah Paulson delivers with a refreshing degree of sincerity. Her performance is not in any way trite, as the narrative arc would lend itself. Instead, it is poignant and revelatory, and audiences celebrate alongside her long-awaited accomplishment.

Cordelia Foxx is one of the most multi-dimensional characters on the show. She is remorseful, but will not hesitate to make the difficult decisions. She is strong, but not closed off from extreme sadness or regret. She is the witch who will put her life on the line to save those in her coven, but she will also stand tall as she utters, “Because, I’m the F***ing Supreme.”

In this role, though easy to come off as “caricature” of an unrealistic persona, Sarah Paulson embodies the identity with an astounding level of conviction.

1 Lana Winters (‘AHS: Asylum’)

Lana Winters took Sarah Paulson to a new level in terms of stardom. A hardened reporter who refused to let men stand in her way, in a time when women were expected to do so, she is a feminist icon.

A well-written and multi-faceted character, Lana Winters repressed her sexuality as a result of childhood rape and torture; however, her spirit remained strong. Winters is one of the characters who represent AHS as a whole. She is referenced in other seasons, and many still consider this early character Sarah Paulson’s best on AHS.

Honorable Mentions: Wilhemina Venable (‘AHS Apocalypse’) and Shelby Winters (‘AHS Roanoke’)

While not making their way into the top three, Wilhemina Venable (AHS: Apocalypse) and Shelby Miller (AHS: Roanoke) deserve a little recognition.

Wilhemina Venable, always garbed in royal purple and walking with an air of superiority, was simply a joy to watch. The one in charge, Venable used her authority – in a calculated fashion – to manipulate others and bend them to her will. However, concealing shame with composure, it was hard for viewers to write her off as evil.

While Roanoke, as a season, may have suffered from misdirection and a convoluted plot trajectory, Sarah Paulson delivers an exceptional performance as Shelby Miller. With a scream destined to send chills down your back, Paulson shows off her ability to capture and deliver what it means to be truly afraid.