Sarah Paulson Is Glad She Didn’t Succeed When She Was Young

October 3, 2016

Sarah Paulson’s celebrated portrayal of Prosecutor Marcia Clark in FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson just earned her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. The 41-year-old star is also known for her assorted creepy roles on American Horror Story as well as playing Mary Epps in 12 Years a Slave.

Now reveling in her career success, she expresses gratitude for the all the challenges and detours she experienced along her acting journey. Things certainly took longer than what she had originally hoped when just starting out. But in a recent GQ interview, Paulson discusses the advantages of succeeding later in life. After all, her first aspirations were to become some version of Julia Roberts, and she equated a successful career as achieving that Pretty Woman kind of mega stardom. But now she reflects:

“If my career had turned out like the fantasy I had of what it was going to be, it would never have made me happy. But I couldn’t have known that until it didn’t happen. I found a success that is so much bigger and deeper and better, and it’s because it happened later. If any of what I’m having happen now–the successes–would have happened to me when I was younger, I would have been ruined. Because when you’re young, and things come super easily to you, and you have success right out of the gate, you’re liable to think that’s how it actually works. You start to think you don’t need to be fully prepared or committed to have these things meet you.”

Rather than roles coming easy to her, Paulson insists, “I muscled a lot of what I’ve achieved by sheer force of will and relentless determination.” Like so many other actors, she experienced the frustration and uncertainty of going without work for extended periods between roles. She watched a promising role dissolve into nothing at all, and witnessed an actor win an Oscar for a part she came close to landing–along with other similar disappointments.

But equipped with her gritty spirit, she kept moving forward until she landed a role–albeit the contemptible wife of a slave owner, Mary Epps–that some of her actor friends had passed on. “To me, I ‘made it’ when I got the part in ’12 Years a Slave’ and played a really hideous woman in an unapologetic way,” Paulson says of the milestone.

But Mary Epps was not exactly the fun-loving Julia Roberts kind of role she would have hoped for in her younger days. Now Paulson asserts, “I was so busy wanting to be Julia Roberts that it never occurred to me that my career could be something else. And that it could be equally rich, and–the most important thing–it would be mine, whatever it was.”

Sarah has certainly continued making her career her own. In particular, the opportunity to play Marcia Clark proved to be a pivotal moment in Paulson’s life. Not only did she receive accolades for her performance, but she formed a strong bond and appreciation for the real Marcia Clark. They are very close now.

You never know where your career detours will lead you. But wherever they do, enjoy making them your own!