Sarah Paulson: guilty of an Emmy-worthy performance

The 'American Crime Story' actress delivers a standout performance, turning Marcia Clark into a feminist hero. 

By: China Magno, Larry King Now 

If you're fortunate to have access to television, social media, or the Internet— which I’m 60% sure you do if you're reading this blog— then there’s no way you haven’t heard about the hit drama series American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson. More importantly, there's no way you haven't heard about the sensational performance by Sarah Paulson, who plays the lead prosecutor Marcia Clark.

If it were up to me, I would steal all of the trophies of every past Emmy, Golden Globe, and, hell, even Oscar winners, and bring them all to Sarah Paulson’s doorstep. But I digress...

Contrary to common belief, Sarah Paulson is no overnight success. Paulson launched her acting career straight out of high school, with a debut on Broadway followed by roles in television shows like Jack & Jill and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Her high profile has risen in recent years thanks to her work in celebrated films like HBO’s Game Change, 12 Years a Slave and Carol

Paulson is also a household name in the Ryan Murphy universe (Murphy is the co-creator of American Horror Story and the executive producer and director of American Crime Story) – she's one of the select few to return for every season of American Horror Story, where each season Murphy demands  Paulson morph into a completely new and divergent character. From playing a heroin-addicted ghost to a pair of conjoined twins, Paulson’s work in AHS cannot make her versatility any more evident. "She just has a real faculty for being somebody else,” Murphy told the New York Times. "If I said, ‘Sarah, next year you’re going to play Pope Francis,’ she’d say, 'O.K.!'”

In the meantime, I will be waiting patiently for Paulson's portrayal of Pope Francis. 

If there’s anything her performance in American Crime Story has shown us, it’s that Paulson has earned a very deserving spot among today’s leading actresses.

With a handful of strong performances under her belt, Paulson’s embodiment of Marcia Clark in The People v O.J. Simpson has finally afforded Paulson the acclaim she rightfully deserves.People v O.J. re-visits the trial of the century but presents it through the eyes of the courtroom players, transforming them into rich, three-dimensional people. No one benefits more from this than Marcia Clark. 

Clark became the only other person involved in the trial to be discussed and disparaged as much as O.J. himself. As a civil servant doing her job, she was unexpectedly placed under the nation’s microscope, facing unrelenting criticism from all sides. Her ongoing divorce, her capacity as a mother, her former spouse, her haircut, her outfits, her general demeanor — nothing was off limits to the public. The show's creators did a phenomenal job of presenting Clark in a way that surpasses the one-dimensional image news outlets broadcasted at the time. They could not have chosen a more capable actress to vindicate Clark, a victim of such gendered scrutiny and objectification.

Paulson’s work on the show is exemplary, her nuanced and layered performance eerily perfect in its portrayal of Clark's inner feelings. I could watch all 10 episodes on mute and Paulson’s performance would still make me curl up in the fetal position and cry for Marcia Clark. If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s what the real Marcia Clark had to say when she recently stopped by for a talk with Larry.

“It’s very difficult to watch someone be you, especially in the context of this trial, so I know she is getting it right and I know she is really doing it,” said Clark. “But because she does it so well, I am re-experiencing all of the pain. I’m watching her experience what I experienced and she shows you what I was feeling on the inside, and that’s something that I always wanted to remain hidden.”

Point made, case closed.

During a separate interview with Larry, Sarah Paulson explained what she hoped to achieve with her depiction of Clark. “I think it’s a big responsibility when you’re playing a person who continues to walk the planet and a person that people have a lot of personal feelings about,” said the actress. “But mostly I wanted to get it right for Marcia herself. I feel like she was so vilified and never really taken seriously or given the respect that I think she so completely deserves, so it was very important to me to sort of reveal what I had learned about her, so it was a scary thing to do.”

Paulson tactfully finds the balance between Clark’s ferocity and grit –  needed to put a man she believed was responsible for the murder of two innocent individuals behind bars – and sympathetic moments that provide the audience with some perspective on the torment Clark endured as a victim of rampant sexism. With her sublime  performance — one that distinguishes her from the show’s star-heavy ensemble — a verdict has been reached: Paulson has successfully vindicated Marcia Clark and turned her into a feminist hero – 21 years later.

If the show’s creators hoped to offer a new perspective on Marcia Clark - one more sympathetic than when the trial originally unfolded - I think it’s safe to congratulate them for their groundbreaking achievement (with Emmys).
(And Golden Globes.)
(And Oscars.) 

Check out the full interview below and don't miss the show's finale. It airs tonight at 10 p.m. on FX! 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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