Sarah Paulson Hesitates To Describe Herself This Way

Sarah Paulson is a celebrated actor known for her ability to portray complex roles, like the ones seen in Ryan Murphy’s shows. Regardless of how her fans, cohorts, and critics describe her, there’s one word Paulson refuses to use to describe herself. 

Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Sarah Paulson is celebrated for her work with Ryan Murphy 

Before joining Murphy’s roster of talented actors, Paulson starred in Law & OrderDeadwoodStudio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and Desperate Housewives, amongst other things. When she met Murphy, Paulson said she redefined what success meant to her. 

“When I met Ryan Murphy, [success] dove-tailed and revealed itself to me,” Paulson said during an interview with the Off Camera with Sam Jones podcast. “I wasn’t looking beyond [working as an actor] so much, which kept me content where I was, but then as opportunities come, you get hungrier.”

When Paulson met Murphy, those opportunities came pouring in. And her hunger intensified. 

As a child, Sarah Paulson aspired to be Julia Roberts 

As an up and coming actor, Paulson wanted to be the next leading lady in romantic comedies. When she was young, Paulson wanted to have a career like Julia Roberts. 

I wanted to be that kind of winning —charm personified, America’s darling kind of person because I thought that was how you define success,” Paulson said.

As she matured in the industry, Paulson realized how different success looks for every actor. In reality, she was never interested in doing a “big, sh*t-kicker, popcorn movie” — the kind of film you would “grab your girlfriends and go watch.” Instead, Paulson took on roles that allowed her to chase honesty.

Sarah Paulson hesitates to call herself an ‘artist’ 

Regardless of her experience as an actor, Paulson struggles to define herself as anything but. 

“I always feel so uncomfortable using the word artist to describe myself,” Paulson admitted. “I really appreciate when people say that [I’m an artist] — I know I say that about people whose work I admire, but for me, I always feel a little like, ‘Don’t say that about yourself.’ So I always hesitate to say it. But I think the pursuit of excellence and honesty in my work has always been a driving force.” 

Sarah Paulson found her definition of success playing Marcia Clark 

In 2016, Paulson brought the role of Marcia Clark to life in another Murphy project. Paulson’s portrayal of Clark in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson caught the attention of audiences and critics alike. What’s more, it earned her the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series. 

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Ironically, Paulson said playing Clark made her life “worse.” Suddenly, after winning an Emmy, Paulson felt an immense amount of pressure.

“[You think] ‘Is that it?'” she said, adding:

[You think] am I ever going to get a part that’s that exciting and exhilarating and challenging and scary and resonate with people? Am I ever going to have a chance to have to fight hard for a character while doing it? Is it ever going to matter to me as much?

Paulson wants to continue striving for excellence as an actor. And for many of her fans, she has done just that.