Sarah Paulson Nearly Became a Smoker After ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’

Since debuting on FX in 2011, American Horror Story has often made use of the same actors. Given the anthology nature of the series, its stars often take on different characters each season. However, few have been as versatile or as celebrated as Sarah Paulson. The actor has been so committed to her work that she even almost became a smoker for another popular series.

Sarah Paulson at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
Sarah Paulson at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Sarah Paulson has been working with Ryan Murphy for many years

In the first season of American Horror Story, Paulson plays Billie Dean Howard. She’d later reprise that role on the show. But for each subsequent season, Paulson added at least another character — sometimes several — to her repertoire. However, after eight consecutive seasons as an American Horror Story cast member, she sat out 2019’s edition, subtitled 1984.

However, her absence wasn’t the result of a falling-out with series co-creator Ryan Murphy. In fact, her longtime collaboration with Murphy has kept her quite busy. In addition to American Horror Story, Paulson has appeared in several other Murphy-produced projects. These include a 2004 guest appearance on Nip/Tuck, an episode of Feud: Bette and Joan, and the lead in Ratched.

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She played Marcia Clark in 2016’s ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’

Undeniably, Paulson’s work on Murphy’s shows has done wonders for her career. But her role on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story almost had a much different effect on her life. In a 2016 appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Paulson shared how playing the chain-smoking Marcia Clark in the Murphy-produced show led to an unhealthy habit.

“I don’t smoke at all in life. When we first started, I was coughing a lot. And then eventually I started to be like ready for a smoke. … I was like, ‘Hey, hey!’ I got me a little crazy for ciggies. … I also smoke in American Horror Story, and I was shooting them at the same time. So it was a real situation.”

It does sound like Paulson was able to break the habit soon thereafter though. Still, the fact that she got so lost in her character is a testament to her willingness to fully commit to a role. Notably, Paulson won many accolades — including an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild award — for The People v. O.J. Simpson. So whatever she did seemed to work. 

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Both projects nearly turned Sarah Paulson into a real-life smoker

The bulk of Paulson’s most famous work has been on TV. But she’s also cultivated a solid movie career over the years as well. Early on, she starred opposite Mel Gibson and Renee Zellweger in What Women Want and Down with Love, respectively.

More recently, she delivered standout supporting turns in Netflix thriller Bird Box, M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass, and the film adaptation of The Goldfinch. Her latest movie is Run, a critically acclaimed thriller currently available to stream on Hulu.