I was actually surprised The Puffy Chair didn’t get more attention than it got.
It did great. Not theatrically or anything like that, but millions of people saw it on Netflix. So, for me, once I did Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives at Home, I started to discover that, okay, I’ll get to make movies the way I want to make them here [within the studio system], but I’m going to have to scream and kick and become kind of an asshole. In the studio system, quite frankly, if you’re not yelling, they don’t think you have vision. It wasn’t until I lost my temper on Cyrus one day that they let me do what I wanted to do. So I was like, “Great. So this system is gonna support me being a fucking asshole, and I’m gonna burn out by the time I’m 35.”
And then something else happened. I started making these indies, because I know how to make them cheaply, with my friends, and we would take them to Sundance, and I was like, “I’m making more money with these movies than I am with the studio movies, and then I can share it with all of my friends, because I own these movies.” I’ve been obsessed with Roger Corman for years. And I was like, I might be Roger Corman, but not with, like, octopuses and boobs, but with, like, feelings and faces. And that’s what I’ve really been doing for the past five years.
Togetherness was the last bastion of me being in a studio thing, and I got fired. So I’m like, fuck that, man. I’m gonna go make Blue Jay with Sarah and do our thing. I’m lucky. She’s on a show that makes her a really good salary, so she can come and do this little movie with me, and it just takes a week to do it. So we can try and make a piece of art, and if it fails, so be it. I’m just happier here.
Sarah, your parents were very young when you were born. I know you and Alex and Mark all shared personal stories that contributed to the plot of Blue Jay while it was being developed. Did you think about your parents during that time, and whether they were maybe going through something similar to what Amanda and Jim were when they were young, only they came down on the side of getting married?
Paulson: I didn’t, but only because I know enough about their story to know there wasn’t—and I can say this without any worry about breaking any confidences—there wasn’t a big romance. There wasn’t that kind of, starry-eyed, obsessed-with-one-another kind of thing.
Did you draw on anything from your personal history?
Paulson: Not so much. It just sort of felt natural. I didn’t really have to create some imaginary life for Amanda to feel like I could go there with Mark and play with him and lose myself with him in that way.
It seems like you got chosen for that role in part because the people involved saw a kind of charm and humor and even a little goofiness in you that they wanted in the character—
But you haven’t been able to show those qualities on the screen much.
Do you want to do more comedy?
Paulson: Well, I was just saying earlier how grateful I am to Mark for saying, “Wait a second! You can do this!” It’s true: I can’t think of a time that I was ever asked to participate in the way that I do in this movie. They’re usually wanting to slap a wig on me, give me an accent, give me an extra head, you know? Which has been a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful part of my acting life, to be sure. But yeah, this is really fun and scary and exciting.
Duplass: I genuinely want the world to see Sarah in this movie and see the side of her that I know and see the side of her that’s just like silly, goofy, and electric in that way, that specific way. [To Paulson] You could be that rom-com girl. You should really go make some shitty rom-coms, Sarah. [Laughs]
Paulson: 52 First Dates!
So, American Gothic, American Horror Story, American Crime Story. What’s next? American…?
Paulson: American Pancake House. [Laughs]
You’ve said—and I’m sure it’s true for almost all actors—that you can’t really choose your roles most of the time, that you just have to take what comes along.
Paulson: Right. If I were the architect of my own career, I wouldn’t have done half the things that I got to do. So I sort of feel like responding based on material alone or on working with somebody that I would like to work with has only just started to happen.
After the Marcia Clark role [in OJ: American Crime Story] and American Horror Story and the Emmy, it seems like you are starting to get attention now of a sort that you didn’t before.
Paulson: There has definitely been a shift in that way that’s allowed for more opportunity.
You’ve even said you weren’t going to dye your hair anymore just to look sexy for a part. Is that because you’re feeling a new kind of power?
Paulson: It’s not really power. It’s just, if I’m going to work with someone who feels that the way to make me more appealing or attractive is to give me eight-feet-long mermaid hair, I can actually now say, “I think you should find another girl.” Whereas in the past, it was too connected to the moment when I was still so very desperate just to work at all. Now I would have a little bit more confidence to say, “If you want me to come to the party, you’ve got to take me as is.”
I’m not saying that I won’t wear a wig if I’m playing a real person that has this look, or if they want a particular kind of thing, or if I personally want to look a particular way to play a part. I’m just saying, the two times I’ve been a romantic leading woman in a TV series, I’ve auditioned as a brunette and I’ve been asked to go blond.
Duplass: Sarah has a picture of herself holding the Emmy and shooting the bird with the other hand that she sends out to people when they want her to wear a wig. [Laughs]
But seriously, what is it now that makes you feel like you can say no to that kind of thing?
Paulson: Well, it’s a combination of what’s transpired in the last year or two in my career, mixed with what it has made me feel internally, having played the parts that I’ve played and having a little bit more sense of, no one’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say [whispering]: “We didn’t mean to let you in.” You know? That voice that’s always been in my head.
Mark said he was kind of born as a sad, melancholy person. I was always that hypercritical doubting Thomas about my own abilities. It’s not something I’ve been able to shake very easily. But with the incoming validation, there’s been a wonderful dovetailing of my own confidence meeting the work opportunity because of the work that preceded it. So now I feel a little bit more capable of saying, “No. I’m not going to give you your idealized version of beauty or sex appeal.”
On a totally different note, you love online shopping. Have you bought anything good online recently?
Duplass: Excellent question.
Paulson: I want you to know that I just bought my first home. I feel like I should have done this a long time ago. One of my dearest friends, Carla Gallo, who I’ve been friends with since I was 11 years old—wonderful actress—bought her first house at, like, 13. I mean, not really. But the first time she made even the tiniest bit of money and she couldn’t even really afford to buy the house, she bought a house, fixed it up, and sold it for a profit. And she told me: “I don’t know what you’re doing.” I was like, “But look at my purse that I got on Net-a-Porter!” [Laughs]
Duplass: Guilt group!
Paulson: But now that I’ve actually grown up a bit and purchased my first house, which I think is another moment of confidence, I’ve curtailed the online shopping. So much so that I now have emails that come in to let me know there are things happening on certain sites that I used to go to, and I just delete them without even opening them.
But hey, you have to decorate the house. Isn’t that an excuse to shop?
Paulson: I have to decorate, but I’m doing so many things to the house I’m probably going to have to wait 10 years to make some more money before I can furnish it. I’ll have some cardboard boxes in there. From Net-a-Porter.