“What Are You Laughing At?” Sarah Paulson, in Conversation With Pedro Pascal

Sarah Paulson

Sarah Paulson wears Coat, Belt, and Shoes Alaïa. Custom Neck and Cuff Ruffles Miss Claire Sullivan. Earrings and Rings Patricia Von Musulin. Tights Wolford.

In the early ’90s Sarah Paulson and her crew of young actor friends were bouncing around New York, watching movies, seeing plays, and hoping that one day it would be them up there. Paulson made it—the first one in the group who did—beginning on Broadway, and then as a cornerstone in the Ryan Murphy multiverse. Today, as one of the most respected actors of her generation, she is going hard, especially on Broadway, where she is currently carving up the stage in the scathing family dramedy Appropriate. Someone else from the group who made it was Pedro Pascal, who called up his old buddy to talk about, among other things, how crazy that is.


FRIDAY 2 PM FEB. 16, 2024 NYC

SARAH PAULSON: What’s going on with your hair? Are we growing it? What are we doing?

PEDRO PASCAL: It’s for a job. I just let it grow out.

PAULSON: It looks fucking cool. Do you hear that I’m still sick?

PASCAL: You look pretty beautiful for being sick.

PAULSON: I don’t think so. I’ve got my Atlanta blowout for my play that I have to live with until June.

PASCAL: Let’s talk about how sick we’ve been.

PAULSON: It’s a communication of how old we are. Do you know what I mean? That we get sick, then we don’t get well, and then we get sick again. It’s a testament to our rapid aging.

PASCAL: Our middle-aged demise.

PAULSON: And I feel like, two people who have known each other for this long, we might as well—

PASCAL: Go down together.

PAULSON: Yeah. And memorialize our middle-age-dom. I’m sweating, because I feel like the things we talk about are not really for public consumption.

PASCAL: Exactly. So it triggers your central nervous system and your pits start to sweat.

PAULSON: It’s true.

PASCAL: But you have to go and do the show soon.

PAULSON: In a couple of hours, yeah.

PASCAL: It’s so harrowing to be doing it while you’re not physically up to it. I know you’re laughing at me, but I mean it.

PAULSON: That’s right.

PASCAL: My friend is doing eight fucking shows a week and giving one of the best performances I’ve seen onstage. Don’t start gagging! Don’t. I’m still allowed to care, as full of shit as it may sound.

PAULSON: [Laughs] Are you looking down at the questions that Interview has asked you to ask me because you can’t think of anything yourself?

PASCAL: Listen, my instinct is to not ask you questions, but to quiz you on what you think you know, and to identify all of the versions of your story that are incorrect.

PAULSON: [Laughs] I’m down to clown.

Sarah Paulson

Dress and Shoes Prada. Earrings Alessandra Rich. Necklaces Patricia Von Musulin. Gloves Stylist’s Own. Bag Kieselstein-Cord. Tights Wolford.

PASCAL: What is your memory of us meeting?

PAULSON: I actually don’t remember where we met. [Laughs]

PASCAL: It’s fair because we were in a group.

PAULSON: People will be shocked to know that you didn’t stand out in this particular group at this time.

PASCAL: Not at all. But you know who did? You. You were wearing—do you even recall a period of your life where you wore a backwards baseball cap? 

PAULSON: That is not true. I don’t believe it. There was a time at school where the vibe was to wear a black leotard, Girbaud jeans, and Timberlands. 

PASCAL: You had the Timberlands. 

PAULSON: And a big hoop earring and dark lipstick. 

PASCAL: And you wore a baseball cap backwards. Or maybe you had turned it around in the later hours of the hang. 

PAULSON: Right, when I was drinking Olde English. 

PASCAL: Olde English 40s! 

PAULSON: Or a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. 

PASCAL: Now I’m starting to sweat because if we continue talking about that night, it’s not for public consumption. 

PAULSON: Sometimes when I think about the fact that we’re still alive—some of the shit we did. 

PASCAL: You know that you’re a fiercely protective human being. Do you not find yourself to be that? 

PAULSON: I think I am that. 

PASCAL: You are. That was evident on the first day we met, because while we had 40s in our hands, some people started to talk shit and you were the first one ready to throw down on 10th Street. You didn’t even know me and you were ready to jump into a thing. 

PAULSON: That sounds about right. 

PASCAL: I have another quiz question. Do you remember what your Halloween 1994 costume was? 

PAULSON: Was I dressed as Julia Roberts? 

PASCAL: No. It may have been another year, or in high school. You have to remember that I didn’t go to high school with you guys. 

PAULSON: Right. That’s when I was trying to dress like Julia Roberts a lot. What was my 1994 costume? 

PASCAL: Wednesday Addams with fangs. 

PAULSON: How original. 

PASCAL: But it wasn’t the plastic things that you get at Duane Reade. They were sophisticated.

PAULSON: You think people have folded the magazine up by now? 

PASCAL: Are you kidding me? They’re going to make this the cover. 

PAULSON: You can’t knock Rihanna off the cover. 

PASCAL: Oh, fuck. You sure can’t. 

PAULSON: Nor would I want to. Just glad to be gracing the same issue with the magical queen on the cover. 

PASCAL: How old were you when you moved to New York? 

PAULSON: Five. By myself. 

PASCAL: [Laughs] You packed up your family and said, “We’re going to the city.” Did you start to develop ideas of wanting to be an actor before you got to New York or was it something that started to develop there? 

PAULSON: If you were to hear my mother talk about it, it was something that I came out of the womb wanting to do. 

PASCAL: Do you have a childhood memory of actually moving to New York and starting to feel like you were closer to something that was you? 

PAULSON: That didn’t happen until I was in middle school. I had a teacher who came up to me while I was in the jungle gym and he said, “You should consider acting.” And this is based on just having auditioned for the school play, which I got the lead in. He said, “There’s a high school you could go to that would give you a conservatory-like experience.” And so I auditioned for LaGuardia. When I think about it now, it’s so outrageous because I was 13, and just being in a school with 60 other kids who wanted to act, not to mention the people who wanted to paint and dance and sing and play these musical instruments, was the first time I thought there could be a community where you could not feel like a freak for being interested in those kinds of things. It’s weird to me that you were not part of that, even though somehow in my mind you were there.

PASCAL: Well, I was in the West Coast version of it. It’s not nearly as cool as going to what we call the Fame school, LaGuardia High School. I’m a little overwhelmed by what you’re putting into words, because I’ve known you for such a long time, and to have a conversation like this with you is getting to me a little bit. 

PAULSON: Because it predated our knowing one another. And in that sort of platonic love story way, we ended up finding each other. 

PASCAL: And it started through a group of friends, and you were the first one to start working professionally. And however hard those years may have been to an outsider who knows you, it was like watching a rocket. It was like, “She’s making it happen.” 

PAULSON: Isn’t that funny? My interpretation was that people were like, “What’s special about her?” 

PASCAL: No, no. It was, “Of course she nailed the crying scene in the Law & Order episode, of course she went out to L.A. and got a pilot and it got picked up.” It was, “Of course, of course, of course.” And then you were there as a system of guidance when I started to work professionally on a much smaller scale, which feels like just as big of an achievement as things that are externally perceived as big achievements. 

PAULSON: I remember your episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how exciting that was.

PASCAL: I ran laps around my small apartment in Los Angeles. 

PAULSON: [Laughs] I remember. 

PASCAL: When did you go back to New York to do The Glass Menagerie? God it’s so stupid to ask you questions I already know the answer to. 

PAULSON: [Laughs] In 2005. That is when my career took a turn, because my lifelong acting idol was Jessica Lange. I remember where I was the first time I saw [the 1982 film] Frances on TV in my apartment in Brooklyn, still living at home and running to the video store to get the full movie because I’d come in in the middle being like, “What the fuck am I looking at?” Of course, I knew who Jessica Lange was, but I hadn’t seen that. I went bananas for it. 

PASCAL: Yeah, I totally get it. 

PAULSON: So I got that part, and it was the most extraordinary thing in the world to not only be doing a play on Broadway, but to be working with my absolute idol who then became a very dear friend. And it’s because of Jessica that I reconnected with Ryan Murphy, who I had done one episode of Nip/Tuck with years prior. I went for dinner with Jessica in L.A., and Ryan was there, and she was like “Can you find something for Sarah to do?” And Ryan was like, “Yeah.” And then I came on as the medium in season one of American Horror Story, and the rest is history. 

Sarah Paulson

Dress Miu Miu. Sunglasses Alaïa. Earrings Schiaparelli. Necklace and Bag Kieselstein-Cord. Gloves Stylist’s Own. Watch and Rings Cartier. Shoes Givenchy.

PASCAL: I remember where I was when you called me to tell me that you got The Glass Menagerie. It was like somebody landing on the fucking moon. 

PAULSON: That’s what it felt like. I was 29 years old, and I’m now 49 years old. 

PASCAL: Alright, whatever. 

PAULSON: I’m happy to say it. 

PASCAL: Really? I’m not. 

PAULSON: [Laughs] Well, since I don’t shoot anything into my face at this particular juncture, I imagine everyone knows I’m 49. 

PASCAL: Well, if there’s anything that’s going to keep you young, it’s going back to the theater, honey. 

PAULSON: Oh my god. If there’s anything that’s going to age me rapidly, it’s going back to the theater. Sometimes I’m backstage doing this play, Appropriate, and I’m thinking, “Wow, I’m making these facial expressions multiple times a day all day for months on end. I’ve never had those lines in between my eyebrows.” Well, I expect when I’m done with this play, they’ll be there permanently. 

PASCAL: I want to circle back to the idea of working with Jessica Lange, and I get it. She was my dad’s favorite, so I saw all of her movies as a kid. I can’t wrap my head around something like that happening to me at 29, and then developing a real relationship that leads to an incredibly collaborative relationship between you and Ryan. She is somebody who saw you and then introduced you to somebody who saw you; it’s like mutual recognition. Talk about that a little bit. 

PAULSON: Well, what Ryan gave me unequivocally was a career. My work with him gave me currency as a performer, and he kept asking me to do things that were challenging and operatic, and connected me to a thing I didn’t know I was capable of, which was big swings. I wasn’t aware that I was capable of doing something broad or something brave. 

PASCAL: But what was being asked of you is not something that can be asked of just anyone.

PAULSON: But the thing that has become very clear to me, that is almost more important than the opportunities he gave me, is that he’s my friend before anything else. He is completely interwoven in my development of self, because through his gaze, I sort of discovered my own tastes, my own sensibilities—what spoke to me, what didn’t. 

PASCAL: His gaze as a person, his gaze as an artist, his gaze as a producer, and quite literally his gaze through the lens of a fucking camera. 

PAULSON: That’s correct. 

PASCAL: How did Appropriate come around? 

PAULSON: Well, I got an email from my agent in September of 2021 saying they wanted to put it together, and Lila [Neugebauer] was going to direct it, somebody I always wanted to work with. I said yes right away. And then it went through this sort of COVID, post-2020, Broadway thing of being real slow to get back on its feet. On Broadway, plays are always a challenge compared to musicals, which is sad but true, so it was really hard to get its feet under it. There were moments where it seemed it was never going to happen, but I couldn’t let it go and continued to prioritize it so that when other things were coming to me, I would say, “Well, if this gets in front of the play or the possibility of the play, I’m going to say no.” 

PASCAL: You’ve been talking about it for years. 

PAULSON: There was something about it that I couldn’t shake, the awareness that it was something I hadn’t read in any other medium. I just thought, I want to do this at all costs. I’m sure you can relate, because now you’re the most famous person on the planet and everybody wants you to do everything, but I feel like I’m finally settling into a point in my life where how I spend my time is more important to me than the potential outcome. 

PASCAL: [Laughs] 

PAULSON: What are you laughing at? 

PASCAL: That I can’t say anything until you finish talking. Back to how you spend your time.

PAULSON: Well there were times in my working life where I’ve been like, “I don’t care what I’m missing: whose wedding, whose birthday, what life events.” 

PASCAL: Absolutely. And listen, that’s not even an issue of ambition. It’s an issue of identity. It’s like, this is how my brain knew how to survive circumstances through childhood, through hardship. The things that served us before may not be the things that serve us now. 

PAULSON: That’s right. And health and well-being, which is never anything I thought about. There was a time where I didn’t want to own a home; I was happy to live out of a suitcase. I just wanted to go where the opportunity took me. I wanted to be available to the opportunity that was in front of me because it trumped everything else. Well, now I have things in my life that trump every work opportunity. 

PASCAL: Like me. And spending more time with me. 

PAULSON: Like you. Listen, I’m lucky I’m getting this little hour-long visit with you. 

PASCAL: Oh, don’t even try and change the narrative! If you want me to expose the truth—

PAULSON: Expose the truth of you wanting me more than I want you. Is that what you’re afraid of ? 

PASCAL: [Laughs] Yes. 

PAULSON: It’s not true. Not true. 

PASCAL: I have screenshots of all the blue texts— 

PAULSON: To me with no response. 

PASCAL: Yeah. 

PAULSON: Listen, I never know what time zone you’re in these days. At some point we’re going to have to work in order to spend time together. 

PASCAL: Yes! Exactly. Who would you like to work with in the future, other than me?

PAULSON: Well, I want to work with you desperately. Let’s not forget, I’ve known what you’re capable of for a very long time, before the rest of the world knew it. What I fear is that I wouldn’t be able to get through it without laughing or crying or something. 

PASCAL: Yeah, yeah. 

PAULSON: However, if it ain’t you, I would like it to be Emma Thompson, if that’s okay. Or Olivia Colman

PASCAL: Everyone knows we’re friends and we’ve been guided by so many of the same legends. They’ve always been there for you as they’ve been there for me. It can come across as so earnest, but fuck it. They are our legends, our teachers, our heroes. They’re the reason that our careers are what they are, Emma Thompson being a really perfect example. I remember seeing her in Dead Again. 

PAULSON: That’s right, or seeing Julianne Moore in Safe, and now I can text her and go for coffee. She interviewed me once for Interview, and I remember being so nervous to ask her to do it, but she believed in me. Sandra Bullock, too. I remember seeing her at the SAG Awards and I couldn’t believe she knew who I was. She was the reason I got Ocean’s 8. There are people whose work I have admired my whole life who I’ve now worked with, who I consider friends of mine. It’s so wild. 

PASCAL: It is kind of wild. To be very pedestrian, what are you able to watch or read while you’re doing this play, other than dog rescue accounts on Instagram? 

PAULSON: Two things only. The Real Housewives franchise and The Kardashians

PASCAL: What about The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

PAULSON: We finished it. Heather Gay came to the play, do you understand that? 

PASCAL: I heard about this. She was too shy to come backstage. 

PAULSON: But she sent me a bunch of t-shirts and now I get to bring them to the theater. I’ve never been able to do a play and read or watch anything of any real substance. I’m not trying to make lesser the lives of these women being documented—I can’t dive into a world. I have to watch something where I’m just watching other human beings behave. It’s all I can take in right now. That’s both a blessing and a curse because this play, as funny as it is, is deeper waters than one wants to inhabit. At the same time, I feel wildly fortified by it in a way that also sounds earnest and goofy and actressy, but I don’t give a fuck because it’s the truth. 

PASCAL: Abso-fucking-lutely. 

PAULSON: So when will I get to see you? 

PASCAL: I’ll see you in New York. Where the fuck else am I going to see you?

Sarah Paulson

Dress Ronald van der Kemp. Earrings, Necklaces, and Ring by Patricia Von Musulin.


Hair: Bob Recine at The Wall Group.

Makeup: James Kaliardos using Kjaer Weis at The Wall Group.

Nails: Mamie Onishi using OPI at See Management.

Photography Assistant: Sara Messinger.

Fashion Assistant: Ashley Weiler.

Tailor: Sharon Clarke.

Hair Assistant: Shinya Iwamoto.

Makeup Assistant: Hiroto Yamauchi.

Location: Le B.