With a newly extended run and two Lucille Lortel nominees to boot, the Off Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play Talley’s Folly has much to celebrate. Though one of its stars, Sarah Paulson, is best known for her prolific TV work (most recently, Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story), she’s been acting on and off Broadway since the age of 16. She stars as Sally Talley in the two-person show alongside three-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as a young nurse from Missouri with a dark secret. VF Daily caught up with Paulson about competing with Scarlett Johansson for Broadway gigs, her dream roles, and working with Michael Fassbender in Twelve Years a Slave. Highlights from our chat:
VF Daily: How has it been to be back onstage? You’re no stranger to the theater.
Sarah Paulson: It’s pretty exciting. The last play I did was another two-character play on Broadway, with Linda Lavin. It was a Donald Margulies play. So this was the first time I’ve been onstage in three years, and it was both totally exciting and completely petrifying, as everything involving theater is.
I know we’ve seen you a lot in film and even more so on television lately. Is theater something you were looking to do again?
In my fantasy I would like to be onstage once a year. Sometimes it doesn’t work out with the timing of a TV schedule. I prefer to be onstage as much as possible, but the great parts don’t come along that much and sometimes really famous movie stars snatch them up.
I know your schedule is probably so crazy, but have you been able to see anything?
When I first got here we were in rehearsal, so we had our evenings free. I saw The Other Place with Laurie Metcalf, which is probably my favorite performance I’ve seen here. I think that she is a truly astonishing theater beast. She’s a theater creature.
On to Talley’s Folly. What a beautiful, romantic show. How has the response been for you?
I’ve never been a part of a play before where I’ve been able to feel the emotion from the audience by the end of the story. We’ve been collecting for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for the last week, so Danny makes a curtain speech so the lights come up and you can see all these people in the audience with their tissues out, wiping their eyes—men and women and younger people. It’s just a very powerful thing to be a part of to know that the story you’ve told has moved people.
In the play, your character, Sally Talley, alludes to the fact that she may be in love with Matt. After an hour of watching her reject him, she finally cracks.
I think he was the first person that she met that she could imagine having a life with. Probably the reason it was so devastating for her was that she knew she couldn’t because of the secret that she was holding was all the more reason for her to try to push him away. She knew that if he got too close, she would never want to leave him.
Do you relate to Sally at all?
I do. I usually feel like the role comes to you to sort of illuminate some piece of where you are in your life. I feel like I myself am a single woman and I’m childless—by choice—at this point, and I don’t know what will happen.
The thing I worry about for myself is I spend a lot of time alone, and another person comes around and you’re like, What are you doing here? Get out of here. I definitely feel a connection with her because I understand what it means to believe so deeply that there’s something true about you that maybe you’re not a person that can be loved and that you’re broken and that you’re not a viable option for someone if they really knew your secrets and things. I can certainly relate to that.
What are your hopes for the takeaway?
I think the greatest thing about this play is that there’s a tremendous love story here, but there’s a tremendous story about the power of hope. Any kind of hope in life is a win. To not have any hope is where things start to get really bleak. Things are possible. The impossible can be possible. I love the idea of people walking away with the idea of hope and possibility.
Is there anything that you’re dying to do onstage?
There’s one character I’ve wanted to play my whole life, but I think I’m too long in the tooth for it. I always wanted to play Abigail in The Crucible. And I would like to play Hedda Gabler, actually. That’s something I’d like to do. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance. That’s a role that, you know, Scarlett Johansson may want to play, so I may be out, you know?
You did a part in Twelve Years a Slave. How was that? I mean Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, my God.
I play Michael Fassbender’s wife in the movie.
I’ll say. He’s really the most spectacular creature. That was a pretty amazing job. I play a very horrible, racist woman, but I think the movie is going to be very powerful. I just looped a little bit of it the other day to rerecord some dialogue and it was my first time seeing some of it. It looks incredible. I feel very proud to be a part of it. Steve McQueen is a genius, a really special filmmaker.
I have to ask just because I’m curious—you were wearing a wig, right?
Yes, ma’am. I’ve had many wigs for this character. For whatever reason, the first wig I had on my head didn’t like me. One day I was onstage, and, you know, I don’t leave the stage for essentially 97 minutes. All of a sudden it looked like a bird or a small chipmunk had crawled up the back of my wig.
Oh my God.
I had a freak attack and jumped out like I had stuck my finger in an electric socket. So we had to get me a different wig. [source]