‘Ratched’ Star Sarah Paulson on ‘The Hardest Thing [She’s] Ever Done’

Sarah Paulson currently stars as Nurse Mildred Ratch in the Netflix origin story narratively predating One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the Ryan Murphy series, she takes on a character often deemed villainous and amoral. She brings needed three-dimensionality to Nurse Ratched and unveils some of the mystery inherent to the woman. 

Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson of ‘Mrs. America’ attends the FX Networks’ Star Walk Winter Press Tour 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Paulson is a fan of Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Murphy is evidently a fan of her. The two have worked together many a time — American Horror Story, American Crime Story, etc. Yet, despite all the difficult characters Paulson has had to convincingly embody in Murphy’s twisted and treacherous tales, the “hardest thing” she’s taken on happened behind the camera.

RELATED: ‘American Horror Story’ Season 10: Why Sarah Paulson Is ‘Excited’ to Work With Macaulay Culkin

Sarah Paulson on directing ‘American Horror Story’

Sarah Paulson and Tracee Ellis Ross sat down for Variety’s Actors on Actors to discuss their careers. They noted the similar paths that they have been on, as well as the overlapping artistic opportunities that have presented themselves. Tracee Ellis Ross was quick to ask Paulson, “What was is like directing American Horror Story?” Paulson went on to explain why it quite challenging for her.

That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because it was personally very confronting for me. Because, I had to contend with the fact that I, by nature, am a panicker. And, the one thing you don’t want in your director is watching somebody, their eyes thinning with sort of abject terror. 

Sarah Paulson during Variety’s Actors on Actors

RELATED: Does Sarah Paulson See Nurse Ratched as a Villain?

Paulson explained that she is naturally a worrier, and to retain the calm disposition directors are expected to carry is no easy task for her. Not to mention, she expected to have more time to prepare her first time out the gate.

Paulson was asked to direct a different ‘AHS’ episode than she expected to

Paulson told Ross that her expectations surrounding her first directing gig were violated.

Part of what happens on American Horror Story is we get our scripts very close to when we’re shooting. And, I was supposed to direct episode 8 of the show. And, I got a phone call from Ryan saying, “Would you please direct the return to Murder House episode,” which is basically going back to season 1…”

Sarah Paulson during Variety’s Actors on Actors

Paulson explained her excitement at the chance to direct all these talented actors — Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, Emma Roberts, and more – yet, she had little to no preparation time. She was largely involved in the prior episodes, so she had to shift from performing heavily to working behind-the-camera, on an episode she never thought she would direct. 

Paulson explained that she was “very present” at the moment, and “terrified.” She was “aware” she was terrified, as she explained to Tracee Ellis Ross. She yearned to communicate with the actors in a way that was helpful, and she felt the associated pressure. Yet, despite all the internal terror preceding the experience, she said she would love to direct again.