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Sarah Paulson Biography


Home > Actresses > P > Paulson, Sarah > Biography


Birth Name: Sarah Paulson
Born: 12/17/1974
Birth Place: Tampa, Florida, USA


Born Dec. 17, 1975, Paulson spent the first five years of life in her birthplace of Tampa, FL, at which point her parents divorced and her mother uprooted her to Maine before eventually settling in New York City. Paulson attended grade school in Brooklyn, but during the summers she returned to spend time in Tampa with her close-knit father and two sisters. As a youngster, she was the master of ceremonies for a play and with that experience - coupled with the summer she was inspired by the film musical, "Annie" (1982) - Paulson knew that she wanted to become an actress. This enchantment with performing prompted many impromptu theater productions at home, all of which usually co-starred her siblings. But the real world beckoned and she was accepted into the drama program at New York's prestigious LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in 1989, and later attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Paulson's presence on the New York acting scene began in earnest in 1994, when at the age of 19 she landed an understudy role for a Broadway revival of "The Sisters Rosenweig," as well as a role in an off-Broadway play, "Taking Pictures."



Paulson secured her first television gig with a guest starring role on "Law and Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), which led to greater exposure and the subsequent made-for-TV movie, "Friends at Last" (CBS, 1995). Not one to let her skills sit idle, Paulson began showcasing her abilities as the much-loved spirit Merlyn Temple in the chilling cult drama series, "American Gothic" (CBS, 1995-98), in which she helped her brother (Lucas Black) navigate the treachery of a small town's sinister sheriff (Gary Cole). Ripe from her first major success on TV, Paulson proceeded to jump into the feature film world with a lead role in the low-budget film "Levitation," (1997), a forgettable story about a young pregnant woman's search for her biological mother. A year later, she received strong notices for her role in the off-Broadway play "Killer Joe" (1998), which she unfortunately followed with the rather uncomfortable and unintentionally funny romantic drama "The Other Sister" (1999), in which Paulson played the of sister of a sheltered, slightly mentally disabled young woman (Juliette Lewis).



Continuing her employable streak, Paulson was back on the small screen in her second major series, playing the ex-girlfriend of Ivan Sergei's character of Jack on the romantic comedy "Jack and Jill" (The WB, 1999-2001). Although on the show for only two seasons, Paulson proved to be pivotal to the show while befriending co-star Amanda Peet, with whom she would collaborate on future projects. While on "Jack and Jill," like any smart actress, Paulson continued to pad her big screen resume during her TV down time, landing a small part in the Jamie Foxx pre-stardom action-comedy vehicle, "Held Up" (1999). Though that film came and went without fanfare, she made a bigger splash with a larger part in the hit romantic comedy, "What Women Want" (2000), portraying Annie, the secretary to Mel Gibson's misogynistic main character. In 2002, following the demise of "Jack and Jill," Paulson snagged the lead role of New York ad executive Faith Wardwell on NBC's sitcom, "Leap of Faith" (2002). Although the show was short-lived, it continued to showcase Paulson's comedic side and proved the newcomer could juggle a leading series role.



Around this time, she would also demonstrate her diverse range, alternating between her already proven comedic chops and her dramatic skills both on screen and stage. A dramatic performance as the youngest daughter of LBJ (Michael Gambon) in the John Frankenheimer-directed telefilm, "Path to War" (HBO, 2002) was followed up by a lighter performance opposite Renee Zellwegger and Ewan MacGregor in the Doris Day/Rock Hudson homage, "Down with Love"(2003). Though the latter film was a stylized tip of the hat to 1960s romance comedies, the film fell flat and generated dismal box office. Now a recognizable face, though still not a name, she delivered a two-episode stint as a deputy district attorney on "The D.A.," (ABC, 2004), and played a woman seemingly afflicted with a stigmata on the controversial plastic surgery drama, "Nip/Tuck," (FX, 2003-2010). The following year, Paulson started a six-episode run on HBO's gritty period western, "Deadwood" (2004-06), playing Alice Isringhausen, a tutor to a young orphaned girl (Bree Seanna Wall) who turns out to be a Pinkerton agent spying on Al Swearengen (Ian McShane).



Proving she inadvertently had a nose for a good cult project, Paulson landed the role of Dr. Caron in the big screen adaptation of the fan-boy favorite series, "Serenity" (2005). Initially a sci-fi/western series created by Joss Whedon, the film version was a big hit with critics, but struggled at the box office. Unfortunately, Paulson's contributions were overshadowed by the series' regulars all being cast in the film, with fans already attached to the actors/characters of the recently cancelled series. By 2005, Paulson was considered a dependable character actress equally at home in all mediums and genres, though she still lacked that one role that would put her over into a new stratosphere of fame. Having previously gone back to the 1960s with "Down With Love" (2003), she delved even further into the past to play famed photographer Bunny Yeager in the 1950s-minded "The Notorious Bettie Page" (2005), starring Gretchen Mol as the famed pin-up and bondage model. Once again imbuing a diligent sense of empathy into the work, Paulson's performance was largely ignored due to the film's lack of commercial success.



Perhaps a bit disenchanted by her constant back-and-forth between mediums, Paulson needed a change of pace. Broadway had never been far from her thoughts, so when she returned to the Barrymore Theatre where she had made her stage debut as a "Rosenweig" understudy years before, it was a homecoming of sorts for the actress. Now she was front and center playing Laura Wingfield in the revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." Both the play and the cast, which included Paulson's idol, Jessica Lange, earned rave reviews. Though Paulson typically tended to focus on her career and keep her personal life quiet, she was indirectly outed as a lesbian by her girlfriend, older actress Cherry Jones, with whom she attended the 59th Annual Tony Awards. During Jones' acceptance speech, following her Best Actress win for "The Heiress," she thanked her girlfriend by the name "Laura Wingfield" - the character Paulson was then playing in The Glass Menagerie - which was widely considered to be a public proclamation of their relationship. Two years later, both acknowledged their love for each other in an interview for a LGBT event, only to split in 2009.

Meanwhile, Paulson returned to the screen with a role in the independent film "Griffin and Phoenix" (2006). While not a memorable film, the project teamed her once again with "Jack & Jill" co-star Amanda Peet. The pair collaborated further when both were cast by "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin for his highly-touted, but ultimately troubled comic drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07), starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. Despite all the star power, it was the little known Paulson who brought a fresh and balanced perspective to the tricky role of Harriet Hayes, a comic actor on the show-within-a-show who also happens to be religiously devout. Critics took notice, citing her performance on the ratings-challenged but very prestigious offering, as the best thing on the show. After "Studio 60" was a bust following its first season, Paulson moved on to episodes of "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-2012) before playing the police commissioner's daughter in the superhero noir "The Spirit" (2008). Following another short-live series, "Cupid" (ABC, 2009), she was a guest star on a number of popular series like "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005- ), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and "American Horror Story" (FX, 2011- ). Paulson went on to have a prominent supporting turn in "Game Change" (HBO, 2011), where she played Nicolle Wallace, the real-life senior advisor to the ill-fated McCain/Palin campaign who had the daunting task of preparing Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) for a run at the White House. Her performance earned Paulson widespread acclaim, as well as Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress.




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