Sarah Paulson: The gay interview


Out actress Sarah Paulson in the acclaimed new drama ‘Carol.’

By Chis Azzopardi

What does Sarah Paulson remember about the first time she kissed a girl? “Nothing that I’m going to tell you!” she teases, laughing as if to say “nice try.”

Not that the actress’ entire life is a secret. It hasn’t been. In 2005, when then-girlfriend Cherry Jones was named a winner at the Tony Awards, Paulson planted a sweet kiss on Jones’ lips. But the 40-year-old acting dynamo isn’t one to kiss and tell — a practice extending to many aspects of her public life, which she’s regulated for a reason: so as not to distract from the stories she’s a part of telling.

Those stories are wide-ranging. In addition to her chameleonic roles in Ryan Murphy’s FX hit American Horror Story, where she’s currently playing a hip ’80s-inspired druggie named Sally, she stars as Cate Blanchett’s former flame, Abby, in writer-director Todd Haynes’ powerful lesbian love story Carol, reviewed in this week’s Hollywood Issue of Dallas Voice. In the film, Blanchett plays a married woman with a passionate desire for a department store clerk named Therese (Rooney Mara). But it’s the 1950s — homosexuality is taboo, and the closet doors are closed. Paulson’s story is a different one, however. And the doors? They’re mostly open.

Dallas Voice: How do you reflect on your accidental coming out?  Sarah Paulson: I was very young, and I was in love. It was the reality of the person I was with. She just won a Tony Award — I’m not gonna pat her on the back, give her the big thumbs up and say, “Go up there and get your award, sweetie.” It was not a really conscious thought. I didn’t think of what the implications were gonna be. I just did what was true and honest to me in that moment.

The truth is, it was early enough in my career that there have been no attachments made to me as a performer. I think the thing that makes it somewhat easier in terms of there not having been ramifications is that I’m a character actress — nobody is assigning a particular kind of sexual anything to me, I don’t think. Maybe that’s totally not true. But it just seems if you’re sort of known for being a sex kitten and that’s how you come on the scene, and then you end up being a total femme fatale actress, and then all of a sudden you make a statement about your sexuality, it becomes news. Whereas I’m a character actress; I can do a lot of things. I don’t think anybody’s made one particular association with me that would then make them go, “Well, I can’t see her this way now.”

You do seem to put your career before your personal life.  I do think it’s more important, and I know that Matt Damon got a terrible amount of flak for the way he phrased those things [earlier this year, he said: “People shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play”], but the sentiment is still true: My personal life… I’m not gonna hide it from you, but I also don’t want you to think about that before you think about the character I’m playing. And so I want that to be of paramount importance — it’s of paramount importance to me that you believe the story I’m trying to be a part of telling you, and if my personal life is going to get in the way of that, I don’t like that at all. LOS ANGELES - JUN 11:  Sarah Paulson at the "American Horror Sto

Have you been strategic, then, in what you reveal to the public?  The thing with Cherry was very accidental. And, again, I was very young. If it happened to me today, I don’t know what I would do necessarily. I really don’t. I think what I’d like to think is that I would just be who I am and whomever I was with, if I had won an award or they had won award or if it was some kind of public thing, I would not do what I would do simply because I was afraid of being revealed. I don’t think that would be a choice I would make. But I think it was hard a bit because when she and I broke up [in 2009] there were some public statements said by her in, I think, an accidental way that ended up being hurtful to me, so I’ve been very kind of careful now about what I’m willing to talk about in terms of specifics.

So, it’s not been strategic; it’s been life experience. I’ve learned lessons, and therefore I behave in different ways now, and they are not in ways I’m upset about or ways that I think are not good. But like for Therese in Carol, you live and you learn and you come into your own and you start to be responsible for your own power and your own choices and what you’re willing to reveal. At the end of the day, I put enough of my interior life on camera when I’m acting by giving as much of myself as I possibly can – I don’t have to give everything to everyone.

Did working on a movie about repressed sexuality have you reflecting on your own sexuality?  What it really made me think about is the power of love and how, at the end of the day, love is love, period. The end. It sounds cliché, but I think most clichés are clichés because they’re very, very true. And it’s very interesting, because I’ve been with men and women, and [the movie] puts a very fine point on that truth, which is that it’s very personal and that love is love, and sometimes you love a person you weren’t expecting to love — and how glorious is that?

How would you describe Abby’s relationship with Carol?  Carol and Abby were former lovers, for sure. But it was brief and it was much more meaningful to Abby than it was to Carol. In the scene with Cate at the bar, when we’re having our martinis and I say, “I hope you know what you’re doing,” about Therese, I basically say, we can just go back and have that furniture store in New Jersey and Carol basically says no. That is my 1952 way of saying, “Let’s try this again.” It’s code for, “Let’s make out.” Carol doesn’t want that with Abby. For me, what I was interested in portraying and making sure was there was that sort of sadness that Abby has — that light and love for Carol that’s not reciprocated – but still, that she would rather be in Carol’s orbit in any way that she can be, so she will be a friend to her no matter what.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

RECAP: ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’

AHSFS_Jessica_color_f_hires1If you’re as addicted to American Horror Story as most people I know, last night’s fourth season opener — which, like previous incarnations, follows its own new arc as a limited-run series — probably didn’t disappoint.

This cycle, called Freak Show, owes a lot to Tod Browning’s classic 1932 film Freaks which shows the grotesque and the tender side-by-side, down to the bearded lady (Kathy Bates, affecting a deliciously uncategorizable accent), the Siamese twins (two-headed Sarah Paulson, who may be eligible in both the leading and supporting actress Emmy categories), the tiny person and, natch, the clown … who, in this instance, makes Pennywise seem as harmless as Ronald McDonald. (If the image of that grinning skull-headed killer clown doesn’t freak you out more than Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, you’ve a stronger constitution that I have. I even waited until this morning to watch the damn thing, as I get easily frightened by toothy murderers in blood-stained yarn-ball tops.)

This is all par for the course with Ryan Murphy, who revels in the unsustainably exaggerated imagery of horror and musical-comedy, which can often be the same thing. While less sexy than Coven (the third cycle), Freak Show‘s lack of subtlety is one of its appeals. Who would ever attend a circus whose entrance was a fanged, grinning face designed more to terrify than to entice? When brutal murders start occurring in the 1952 backwater of Jupiter, Fla., who else would be the chief suspects other than an itinerant band of carnies (something the local police force seems slow to pick up on)? What pair of lovers would have a scary clown walk toward they and say “Hello” rather than run screaming in the opposite direction?

But there’s heart here, as well as gruesomeness. Jessica Lange plays Elsa, the German emigree ringleader of this pathetic traveling circus who is obsessed by stardom and glamour and imagines herself to be P.T. Barnum mixed with Marlene Dietrich. When she sings her number to welcome the milquetoast young man and his domineering mom (Frances Conroy) to the opening night of the show, it’s both wonderful and sad. That’s how most editions of American Horror Story play out: Only bad can come with good.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Emmy noms: Some of the gay stuff

The Emmy nominations came out this morning, and the details of them can be hashed over in the coming month, but I wanted to point out a few gay interest items on the list:

• Modern Family continues to dominate the comedy category, with the entire adult cast again snagging nominations, as well as for directing, writing, comedy series and guest actor/comedy Greg Kinnear.

• Once again, officially out actor Jim Parsons looks like the sure thing for actor/comedy for The Big Bang Theory, unless 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin makes a comeback. His co-star Mayim Bialik was also nominated, but not Johnny Galecki. The show is also up for best comedy series.

• American Horror Story, created by Glee mastermind Ryan Murphy, was nominated in the miniseries category, including nods for miniseries, actress/mini Connie Britton, supporting actor/mini for gay thesp Denis O’Hare and two for supporting actress/mini — Frances Conroy and shoo-in winner Jessica Lange.

• Game of Thrones is again in contention, though only last year’s winner — Peter Dinklage for supporting actor/drama — is nominated for acting. The show has lots of nudity (including men!) and this last season a great gay storyline.

• One of the most welcome nominations was for Kathryn Joosten, who died just days after her touchingly hard-scrabble performance on Desperate Housewives ended with her death, was nominated for supporting actress/comedy. She’d won twice before in the guest actress category. Not in the supporting category? Previous winner Jane Lynch of Glee; Chris Colfer of Glee was also overlooked.

• The reality competition program continues to play it safe — in the history of the category, The Amazing Race has won every year except one, when Top Chef sneaked in. When will RuPaul — the show and the host — get the credit she deserves?!?!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 Year in Review: Tube


GAY FAMILY TIES | The two-dad household on ‘Allen Gregory’ takes a big turn from the suburban kookiness of ‘Modern Family.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

In a year when most people began to feel broadcast and cable television had become all but irrelevant in the era of streaming, the most proletarian of American entertainment still managed some remarkable work — both from returning series and new entries (marked with a •).

10. American Horror Story (FX)• You have to begin watching this series — as you do Ryan Murphy’s other current show, Glee — understanding that it’s a fantasy that does not, and is not intended to, make a lick of sense. Why doesn’t the family in the cursed L.A. “murder house” move out? Why do they constantly lie … and get caught? How can so much drama happen to just a few people? You’re asking for trouble if you think — you’re meant to just go along for this ride, a grotesque riff on Gothic horror movie clichés with a spicy bit of kink added. Jessica Lange as a creepy neighbor rockets into a stratosphere of kook that’s unmissably delicious.

9. Glee (Fox) Murphy’s other series is already showing its age after only after its third season, but whoever expected it would be anything other than what it is, a flash of gay brilliance that couldn’t last longer than a high school career anyway? It remains in the top 10, especially for gay audiences, largely because of the end of last season, which featured touching work by Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch.

8. The Killing (AMC)• A moody mix of Twin Peaks and 24 with a Scandinavian bleakness, this investigation into the death of a girl in Seattle, laden with dread and impenetrable characters who often do the wrong thing, was an addictive mystery. The season finale didn’t quite work, but that only makes me look forward to Season 2.

7. Happy Endings (ABC)•

6. Modern Family (ABC) This one-two punch of queer-friendly sitcoms — as perfect a pairing of half-hours since Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley — show the gay experience from the perspective of boring suburbia and slacker 20-something with wit and true character development between ModFam’s couple Cam and Mitchell and Happy Endings’ gay Oscar Madison, Max.

5. Raising Hope (Fox). The sleeper sitcom hit of last year continues to delight audiences who can detect the sophistication lurking in creator Greg Garcia’s comedy about lower-class denizens. (He did it before with My Name Is Earl.) The clever gay-friendly message is conveyed ironically, but for a story about child-rearing, it’s as raucous as a sitcom can be.

4. RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo). The third season of Drag Race was just as good as the second (the first was really a training ground for the style). Campy but also incredibly sincere, it’s one of the funniest reality shows ever on TV and one where most of the contestants actually seem to have skills. When Season 4 starts next month, we’ll be glued.

3. Allen Gregory (Fox)• Jonah Hill had, for me, fallen into the Seth Rogen category of overstayed-his-welcome with a repetition comic persona in his largely crass movie roles, but Allen Gregory changed all that for me. A smart, stylish animated sitcom about a pretentious kindergartener and his two-dad family (including a hunky former straight man and an adopted Asian sister) has some of the best jokes about gay characters on any show. Ever.

2. The Walking Dead (AMC)• There is virtually no gay content in this zombie series, just some of the most chilling action sequences ever on TV (and the hottest guy on TV in the totally ripped Jon Bernthal). It’s really the sound editing that gets to you in this drama about the end of world at the hands of ravaging flesh eaters. Who knows where it will go? But you sure wanna find out.

1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central). The 12 months leading up to presidential primary season would simply not have been the same without the genius commentary (with Stewart, confrontational; with Colbert, ironic) about the crazed political atmosphere we have found ourselves in. Colbert’s establishing of a SuperPAC, which he actually uses to point out the insanity of our laws, was as mind-blowing as comedy has ever gotten.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas