Sarah Paulson: Balancing the Personal and Private, and Staying True to Yourself

To be an actor is to also accept the intrusive glare of the public spotlight. Sarah Paulson so deftly manages the demands of her successful career, and her private but intriguing personal life, she could teach a masterclass.

The first lesson Sarah Paulson learned was to find her purpose as an actress. With the talent and the attraction to be a leading lady, she realized her authentic self and followed her intuition by making the realization that to preserve in her crowded field, how her talents would best be served. The young actress who idolized leading lady Julia Roberts quickly realized the right path for her was to be a character actor. The New York Times explained, “She quickly discovered that she was a character actress, able to metamorphose into people who are off-centre, off-putting, damaged or cruel.” Legendary television producer Aaron Sorkin thinks that she is singular and one of a kind. “She’s effortlessly tough. She’s always honest, there’s never a false note. She’s warm, sexy, incredibly funny and very, very smart. There’s no such thing as ‘a Sarah Paulson type.’”

A stage actress, she graduated from a performing arts high school, and soon booked her first role on Law and Order. She transitioned from smaller television roles, to her breakout part in American Gothic, and now holds down roles in Emmy award winning miniseries, and in the anthology American Horror Story, along with supporting roles in movies from 12 Years a Slave to the period drama Carol, to the independent cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. One of her biggest roles was that of beleaguered prosecutor Marcia Clark in American Crime Story, the People v. O.J. Simpson.

Sarah Paulson approached the role of Marcia Clark with empathy, and a sense of personal responsibility. Marcia Clark was a single mom, battling a bitter divorce, and child custody dispute, when she was thrust into the trial of the century. At the time she was picked apart mercilessly for her hair, and her clothes, and how she conducted herself in the courtroom. Paulson gives her a complex, well considered, and kind portrayal. She won an Emmy for her work and said in her acceptance speech, “The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one. You want to get it right not for you but for them. I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial in my judgment, and I’m glad that I’m able to stand here in front of everyone today and say, I’m sorry.”

Sarah Paulson is a disciplined, generous and hardworking actress, but in today’s world that isn’t the end to her career duties. She has said that screen legend Kathleen Turner taught her the lesson to, “be aware of people around you, to keep whatever’s going on with you privately private, and show up and do your work.” With a higher profile comes increased interest in Paulson’s life, and she is protective of her privacy while also having fun and staying true to herself.

Of considerable interest is Sarah Paulson’s girlfriend Holland Taylor, who is over 30 years her senior. Their social media is lit up with candid personal photos and narratives of their dating life, and they are a favorite couple in celebrity gossip.  While she can see the allure of her nonconventional dating life, she refuses to put a label on her sexuality. “If my life choices had to be predicated based on what was expected of me from a community on either side, that’s going to make me feel really straitjacketed, and I don’t want to feel that.” Paulson also believes her status as a character actor allows her more freedom. She told Between the Lines News, “But it just seems if you’re sort of known for being a sex kitten and that’s how you come on the scene, and then you end up being a total femme fatale actress, and then all of a sudden you make a statement about your sexuality, it becomes news. Whereas I’m a character actress; I can do a lot of things. My personal life… I’m not gonna hide it from you, but I also don’t want you to think about that before you think about the character I’m playing.”

Sarah Paulson manages to strike the perfect balance between the personal and the professional. By making the choice to become a character actress she has a built a body of work of individual and diverse characters, and has even re-imagined and given a new life to the way the culture perceives OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark. Her work doesn’t pigeon hole her personally or professionally. She won’t be constrained, or put any label on herself that could restrict her personal freedom. Her career and her private life exist in harmony, and she didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other, while staying true to her authentic self.

Author Bio: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun