Sarah Paulson on why Nurse Ratched is not 'straight-up evil'
Netflix's new thriller Ratched tells the origin story of the iconic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest character.
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Ratched certainly looks scary, but as Sarah Paulson sees it, her character, Mildred Ratched, is not as evil as you would think. EW recently chatted with the actress about participating in that horrific lobotomy scene, working in Lucia State Hospital, and whether she and Ryan Murphy will be forever collaborators.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did executive producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan describe Nurse Ratched to you? Is she straight-up evil?
SARAH PAULSON: I don't believe she is straight-up evil, and I don't think anybody involved with the production sees it that way, or saw it that way. I don't think I would have been very interested in playing the part if that had been the case. I've never really been drawn to things that are one-dimensional in any aspect of my work or my life. That never would have appealed to me at all.
At the start of the series, she watches a lobotomy with rapt attention while others are obviously vomiting. Is she wrapped up in the uniqueness of it, or is there a part of her that's totally loving the gore?
Everything is an opportunity for her to learn so that she has an opportunity to right an age-old wrong that she carries, which is basically governing her internal story. It's behind every choice she makes. By the time you get to episode 6 of our show, you learn about her childhood and what she has had to endure and how harrowing it was, not to mention the time she spent in the war. A needle, an ice pick, and an implement put into the frontal lobe would not be something to make her pass out.
Mildred tries to seduce Corey Stoll's character, but she crashes and burns. Is she a virgin, or just someone who's very inexperienced with intimacy?
I believe she is a person who is very inexperienced with intimacy. The only intimacy she had ever experienced fully was at the hands of people who are supposed to take care of her as a young girl.
What did you think of the production design when you first saw it? Between the costumes and the set, just seeing all that color?
That color was really important to Ryan. I mean, the number of swatches we through to determine the exact color green for my nurse uniform. I certainly knew that color was going to be important from a thematic standpoint, integral in terms of representing Mildred's interior life. Walking onto the set… you know, sometimes you have to do a lot more work than others to immerse yourself into a world. But I had to do very little here because I was transported instantly. I mean, they did such magical things inside that hospital. They made the floor uneven so when you're walking on it, I never felt like I was walking on a set. I felt like I was walking inside the building that was built many, many years ago. Oftentimes old buildings have a natural patina and a natural texture, and all of that was added to help make the hospital look so real.
The scene where you and Judy Davis argue over the peach…
That was one of my favorite things to read, I must say. You can't tell. Like, where is Mildred going with this? Why does she need that peach back? It was really fun to play. And I have to state for the record to as many people as people listen, one of the greatest days in my professional life was the day when Ryan told me, "Judy said she'll read the script." I sent it to her. And I said to Ryan, "Do me a favor? Do not tell me again anything about it until you have something to say [that she's joining the project]. But then maybe don't tell me, 'cause I'm not sure I'll ever come out of my trailer. I'm going to be so panicked and overjoyed at the prospect of working with her." And then he called me a couple of weeks later to say she's in. I could barely contain myself.
Did you do this after filming Mrs. America?
I finished Ratched in July of last year on a Saturday morning and flew on that Monday morning to Toronto to begin Mrs. America. It was a very schizophrenic, I have to say. It was right from the '40s to the mid-'70s.
So is Ratched a horror show?
I would describe it more as a psychological thriller with horror elements. People may feel differently. It's always complicated to talk about to some degree. From an outsider's perspective, I could understand if they were like, "This here is a horror show." I just don't fully see it that way. There's too much of a character study going on to be a pure horror.
You've probably been asked this a million times before by reporters, but do you have job security for life now with Ryan Murphy?
Here's hoping! I certainly think there is something kind of unique and very special about our collaboration in terms of his trust in me and maybe my ability to interpret the things he's after. He's given me a trip. I don't know where we go from here. But I sure hope there's more to come.
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