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Sarah Paulson’s Busy Schedule

On Screen and Off Broadway: The actress discusses her many roles, and the story behind her surprising tattoo

Sarah Paulson is on the run. Well, sort of. She is multi-tasking in between performances of Langford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Talley’s Folly: eating lunch, changing wardrobe and excitedly talking about her titular role as lovelorn Sally Talley, opposite Danny Burstein as Matt Friedman, in the Off Broadway production (pictured left, in action). “It sounds crazy,” she told DuJour, “Why would anybody want to play someone who is holding on to so much sadness and sorrow and pain, and do it eight times a week in the middle of winter in New York, [but] I was drawn to the very part of her that makes her hard to play.”

Fresh off her run as Lana Winters in the second season of FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum (pictured at right), and having received for both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for HBO’s Game Change, it’s hard to imagine wanting to take on such a demanding role (with no intermission, both characters are onstage for 97 minutes straight, eight times a week).

The play is quite grueling, how did you prepare?
This is the first time I’ve done a play where I’m not aware that I’m doing a play, like somehow the story takes over. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there isn’t an intermission so there isn’t a moment for me to mentally check out of playing Sally. It’s an impossible thing to prepare for but I know that once I go out there I can let the play carry me. It’s almost like the play is a giant mosh pit and I can just be carried along by all the people in the pit.

How would you describe Sally’s relationship with Matt?
They meet for a week a year before the play starts and fall in love. Matt has come back to ask Sally to marry him but she has a big secret that she feels makes her not marriage material. I think initially they’re attracted to each other’s brains. They’re both very forward-thinking individuals for that time period and it wasn’t commonplace, especially where Sally lives out in the country, for people to have these somewhat socialist ideas about things. It’s that mental stimulation that Sally doesn’t get at home and has never met in another man before.

How does it feel to be part of such a unique show like American Horror Story where every season you get to play a new character?
To me it’s the most ideal thing you can possibly ever hope for because on a TV show there’s a blessing and a curse of playing a character that people connect with. As an actress you want to be able to tell different stories and it’s hard if people think you are only the character they’ve seen you play for five or six years. It’s almost like we’re a theater repertory company, but on television. I feel incredibly grateful because it also means every year you’re having a new opportunity to play something different and for people to see what you’re capable of doing; it’s incredible really.

Will you miss Lana Winters?
Oh my God! Playing Lana was one of the great events of my life. I know that sounds hokey but acting is really the great joy of my life, that and my friendships. They gave me a really wonderful, multi-layered, complicated woman to play last year, who ended up being the last person standing at the end of the season. There is something so neat, and I mean that in a literal sense of neat and tidy, about having a story from beginning to end and to have had that arch. It’s incredible to work with Jessica Lange, Zach Quito and Evan Peters, and I feel very proud to have been a part of it.

Season three will begin filming this summer; can you give us a sneak peek?
I wish I could! I don’t know a damn thing, and that’s the God’s honest truth. I think they’re writing it right now, but I don’t think there is anything that they know concretely enough to share with the actors at this point. The beautiful thing about the show is that it can really go in any direction. There’s no formula that they have to follow so it’s pretty exciting.

I’ve read that you have a tattoo of Thumper (the Disney rabbit), is that true?
It’s true and very, very embarrassing. I was breaking up with my fiancé and he always used to say, “I love that you’re not a girl with 95 tattoos.” And so we broke up and I was like “Oh yeah?” (in a taunting voice). A friend of mine has a little, tiny tattoo of Kermit the Frog, but because my eyes are bigger than my stomach I made it double the size of hers and put it on my back. It’s hard to remove because of the light blue color so I’m stuck with it.

Talley’s Folly is currently playing at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets visit roundabouttheatre.org.

Photos: Piyal Hosain/Fotos International/Getty Images; Joan Marcus; Michael Yarish/FX