Tony-nominee Sarah Paulson: "If this is a dream, I don't wanna wake up"


If you happen into New York’s Belasco Theatre in the next few weeks, you might be on familiar ground: a family reunion, at full volume. The play is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Tony-nominated “Appropriate,” and the human volcano on stage is Sarah Paulson.

The play is about siblings coming together after their father dies: secrets get revealed, feelings get hurt, and very little is left unsaid. As the older sister, Toni, Paulson is in her element, creating a character who’s both powerful and vulnerable (if a bit unlikeable).

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Sarah Paulson (with Michael Esper and Corey Stoll) in “Appropriate.” 

Joan Marcus/”Appropriate”


Asked if she does not have a need to be liked, Paulson said, “As a person I’m like, Please like me. Please! I’m begging you! I’m like a puppy dog that way. I mean, of course I wanna be liked. But as an actor, I feel like I don’t think about it at all.”

And she still can’t believe it’s her name above the title on the marquee. She says seeing it for the first time was a shock: “I did cry. Because I thought, This is something I never could’ve imagined. I mean, my mother spent a lot of time taking me to the theater when I was younger, because she was a good mom, who knew that it was really a passion of mine.”

Her mom, Catharine Gordon, understood it all. She wanted to write, and when she and Sarah’s dad divorced, she moved her two daughters from Florida to New York City in search of a dream. And in what turned out to be the omen of a lifetime, she found work as a waitress at the legendary Sardi’s Restaurant on 44th Street, the very epicenter of Broadway.

Sarah wound up at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, where she did her best to stand out. “We had kids whose names were, like, Linnea and Romi and Suna and Soren. And I was like, ‘My name is Sarah.'” What to do? “I had everyone call me Saarah.”

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Actress Sarah Paulson with correspondent Tracy Smith. 

CBS News


And after graduating in 1994 she was really serious about finding work. She skipped college and went to Broadway, and before long she went from on-stage to on-screen, playing everything from a sketch comic opposite Matthew Perry (in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”), to an especially cruel slave owner in “12 Years a Slave.”

And then, she really got busy. In the series “American Crime Story,” she was unforgettable as prosecutor Marcia Clark in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”  That role launched her to the next level, but she still has yet to watch it … or anything she’s done since. “I’ve never watched ‘The People vs. O.J.,'” she said. “Sterling K. Brown is always like, ‘Mama, you might wanna check it out.’ I’m like, ‘Maybe I do.’ He’s like, ‘It’s pretty good!’ And I just know I will pick it apart.”

Paulson’s just as clear-eyed about her personal life. She and actor Holland Taylor, who is three decades her senior, have been together since 2015, though at the moment they’re working on opposite sides of the country.

“Holland and I live separately,” said Paulson. “I don’t know if you know this, but Holland is a good bit older than I am. And she lived a lot of her life on her own. And I lived a lot of my life on my own. And I think we both sort of arrived at this relationship sort of recognizing that we both wanted to maintain some of that. And we were both sort of adult enough, I think, to say, ‘I don’t wanna give this up, and I don’t wanna give this up, so let’s be together but let’s also be separate.’ Which is lovely, I have to say.”

Do you miss her? “Oh God, yes,” said Paulson, adding, “We get along great on the Facetime.”

Still, some things happen only in New York, like the event last week when Paulson had her portrait added to the caricatures of immortals that for generations have adorned the walls of Sardi’s – the very place where her mom once worked.

At the unveiling Paulson said, “You’re also honoring my mother, who was brave enough to move to Manhattan to follow her dream and thereby give me a giant springboard towards my own.”

It’s hard to describe the feeling in the room, but you can see it all in the face of a former Sardi’s employee. How proud is she of her daughter? “Oh, I’ve been proud of Sarah since the day she was born,” said Catharine Gordon. “It feels happy. And it’s gonna make me cry, so let’s not go any further with that one.”

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Sarah Paulson, her mother, Catharine Gordon, and Max Klimavicius, who runs Sardi’s, as Paulson is honored with a caricature for the walls of of the theater district restaurant, May 9, 2024 in New York City.

CBS News


Not only is Sarah Paulson now a Sardi’s laureate; she’s been nominated for a Tony for her role in “Appropriate.”

Gordon said, “Sarah’s a fabulous actress, and I know that. And I think she’s gonna win!”

“Mom!!” Paulson laughed.

All those seeds that were planted in her early days in New York, now are in full bloom.

“Pinch me, is what I feel,” said Paulson. “Pinch me. And if this is a dream, I don’t wanna wake up. We all have dreams as children, right? And some of us get to experience them. And I feel like I’m getting to experience it, and it’s really special.”

      
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Story produced by John D’Amelio and Ramon Parkins. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 



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