In Alexander Dinelaris’ new play Still Life, Sarah Paulson stars as Carrie Ann, a famous, closed-off, not-entirely-likeable photographer paralyzed by loss, life and love. But talk to Paulson herself—a vet of series like Cupid, Deadwood and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as well The Glass Menagerie on Broadway—for more than 30 seconds and you quickly learn she and Carrie Ann couldn’t be more different. The actress is open, likeable and willing to talk about just about anything in her life, from her breakup with Tony and Emmy-winning actress Cherry Jones to the family milestone that’s currently sending her into a tailspin. Read on for a candid chat with MCC’s kinetic leading lady.
So what’s up with Still Life?
It’s a heavy show. But God, I am having the most fun working with this cast! We’re in the dressing room cracking crude jokes and putting ridiculous photos of each other on Facebook—Halley Feiffer has a photo album titled “Fun Things I Did This Summer.” She’ll post a photo of me and write “I did Sarah Paulson!” underneath. She also likes to use her eyelash curler on her upper lip, which creates this ridiculous mascara mustache that I take pictures of and put on Facebook in return. It’s juvenile stuff, and therefore very entertaining. We need it to break away from what’s happening onstage.
Let’s talk about what’s happening onstage. What initially interested you in the show?
They asked me to do it! It’s a lovely question to get asked, but I’m not one of those actresses in wild demand. I’m not Julia Roberts, sifting through piles of scripts while eating bon bons. Not that Julia Roberts does that either. My point is there’s an instant appeal when I get an offer to do a project without jumping through endless audition hoops.
How about this character then? She’s got a lot going on.
Carrie Ann is interesting because she’s not really a likeable person. That’s always a challenge, especially when you’ve done television as much as I have. The likeability factor is a big thing in TV, and not having to worry about that with this show was hard work and really fun. I had to force myself to make sure the audience didn’t embrace her too much.
This show is largely about time and life choices. How often do those themes crop up in your personal life?
I am so sorry, but can you ask the question again? My dog is looking at me like she’s going to throw up and I’m not paying attention. [We repeat.] Oh God, I’m glad I paid attention this time, because I think about that stuff all the time. My little sister is due to have a baby in February. That’s my kid sister, having a kid. I myself don’t have a child—I’m not even with someone I could have a child with! It does odd things to have your little sister become a mom before you. This show is about examining what we want and the choices we make, and there’s a reason we avoid thinking about those things in real life. Because thinking about them is enough to make you want to put your head down.
This is an awful segue, but we’re talking love and loss—and you and longtime girlfriend Cherry Jones recently split.
Yes, yes we did.
She was recently quoted as saying it was one of the most amicable breakups ever. How did you pull that off?
Oh God, in truth, I think that particular quote was Cherry’s take on the experience. I just came from her house, by the way—we’re obviously still very close. We’re just in very different places in our lives. I’m 34, so I’m in a, “Holy shit, now what?” kind of place about [the breakup]. Cherry is 52, so I think she’s feeling more relaxed, more, “Oh, I’ve been with a lot of people”—well, not a lot of people, she’s not a slut!—“and I’ve had a long relationship end and now I will experience that.” I’m emotionally way more freaked out than she is. We couldn’t be better friends, and she’s right—that amicable feeling couldn’t be more there between us. But breakups are always complicated!
Add in an emotional play, becoming an aunt and stir, right?
I know! Here I am going, “My baby is having a baby, I’m doing this sad play, my relationship is over and we’re friends, but I’m fucking alone, ahhh!” I’m sure Broadway.com [readers] will really enjoy hearing about all this by the way.
I was going to ask what your biggest fear was, but I feel guilty now.
Ha! Please, I have so many I wouldn’t even know where to begin anyway. Let’s say this interview. My biggest fear is this interview!