From American Horror Story to American Crime Story and recent appearances in Bird Box and Ocean’s 8, Sarah Paulson is one of my favorite actresses working today, and I was very excited when it was announced that she would be part of the cast for M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass.
During a recent press day, I had a chance to catch up with Sarah, who told me all about her love of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies and excitement to join the cast, working with James McAvoy, and why she enjoys taking on genre roles:
How did you get involved with Glass? Was this something that M. Night Shyamalan reached out directly to you about? Or is it something where you were a fan and contacted him?
Sarah Paulson: I got a phone call from my agent saying that M. Night Shyamalan was coming to Los Angeles and wanted to sit down with me, and I was like, "What? He wants to sit down with me?" I was very excited because I'm a huge Night fan and have seen all of his movies in the theater like a rabid fan, almost always on opening weekend. So I was very excited, but I was in the middle of shooting American Horror Story and The Post at the same time, and so I literally had not a free moment during the two days he was going to be in town. So, he very kindly came to my trailer on the set of American Horror Story, and he sat with me for about an hour during my lunch break, and we talked mostly not about the movie.
And then he touched on a few things [regarding Glass], but then he said, "Full disclosure, I have not finished writing, and right now I don't know if Dr. Staple is going to be a man or a woman, so I can't promise you anything, but I remain your fan, and I just wanted to meet you.” We exchanged phone numbers and, a week later, he texted me saying, "I still haven't come to any decision. I haven't forgot about you, and sit tight. I'll know what I want to do soon." And then about a week or two weeks after that, I got a text saying, "Would you call me?" And I'm sure I fumbled the phone trying to call as quickly as I possibly could, and he said, "I just wanted to see if you would consider being in my movie," and I burst into tears promptly because that's just sort of what I do. It's embarrassing but true, and I hadn't even read the script, so I didn't even know what I was saying yes to, but I didn't care.
Yeah, I think many people would have done the exact same thing in your shoes. Once you got the script and you started reading more about Dr. Ellie Staple, what were your thoughts about her specialization? With as popular as superhero movies are these days, people thinking that they really are superheroes is probably more common than people would think.
Sarah Paulson: I think we all like to believe that we're capable of something extraordinary. What it really means when you distill it to the bare bones or to the crux of it is everybody just wants to be seen for being the unique human being that they are, and this is a sort of situation where these things are pushed to the extreme. David, from the sorrow of losing his wife; and Elijah, from his isolation and years of being a literal broken person; and Kevin Crumb, with all of his childhood trauma, the way they have figured out [how] to survive these traumas and these horrific experiences may be to find themselves believing something more about themselves than others would like them to—namely, my character.
This is essentially The Avengers of the M. Night Shyamalan universe. Being a fan of his movies all these years, how was it for you to be in the middle of this epic showdown?
Sarah Paulson: There's the scene in the movie where we're in that bubblegum pink room, and I'm sitting in there, and Sam gets wheeled in, and then all of a sudden, all three of them are lined up, and they're all facing me. And that would be a heady day at work for anyone, being across from Sam Jackson, James McAvoy, and Bruce Willis. For me, who had seen Unbreakable and Split, and had loved them both, and looking at all of them in their iconic characters and in their iconic personalities, and all of them with their colors, and Elijah in the purple, and James in the mustard, and Bruce in his green, and me having to, in some sense, have a lot of authority and power in that room… it was a challenging day.
I was intimidated to be sure, and then you top it all off with Night coming over and giving me notes. So it was just really a challenging day to try to keep my wits about me, and still try to do what I was being paid to do, and what I was honored to do, and at the same time having a total panic attack and not being able to believe what I was seeing.
I can imagine that working with James McAvoy had to be challenging because he's playing all of these characters and you have to react to them differently as well. Can you talk about your experience with him?
Sarah Paulson: It’s difficult for him, but he makes it look like a walk in the park. I've never seen anything so mind-bending; to watch an actor just jump from one personality to the next personality, and each one so fully realized. It was like having a front row seat in a master class with the greatest actor of all time. There was something almost Olympian in nature in terms of the athleticism behind it. And so it was difficult only in that it was hard to manage my mind being blown in the back of my head, and trying to, again, keep my cool while I was watching something that I felt, from an acting standpoint, was so special. It's one thing for you to sit in a dark theater and watch it. I was in the room when he was doing it, and it was electrifying.
Being a fan of genre films and having been in American Horror Story, Bird Box, and now Glass, do you find that you naturally gravitate toward genre roles?
Sarah Paulson: I think it was happenstance at first with American Horror Story, but I do sort of think I come alive the most or maybe I'm just sort of an extreme person. I did burst into tears when he told me I got the part, so maybe living in the world of extremes is a good place for me as a performer, and I tend to gravitate towards knowing that I can go places in these genres that maybe in more traditional environments I may not feel as much permission to go to some of those places. And so maybe that's why I gravitate towards it, I guess, or why they gravitate towards me. Night did call me.
Of course, our readers are excited to see you in Glass, but we also want to keep them posted on what’s next. What projects do you have coming up that really excite you?
Sarah Paulson: Well, I'm about to start shooting Ratched for Netflix in about three weeks, which is basically the origin story for Nurse Ratched from [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo's Nest. And, I have a movie I did with Aneesh Chaganty, who did Searching, that was a really wonderful movie with John Cho, and I think that's coming out next year sometime.