Since its debut on FX in 2011, American Horror Story has become an epicenter for several career breakouts (such as Evan Peters) and resurgences (such as Oscar-winner Jessica Lange). One of the most notable stars best known as a series regular on Ryan Murphy’s twisted anthology series is Sarah Paulson.
In addition to playing a wrongfully institutionalized journalist, the headmistress for a school of witches, and a two-headed traveling sideshow act to name a few of her American Horror Story roles, Sarah Paulson won an Emmy and Golden Globe for The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story and is set to play Nurse Ratched in a series prequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Those are her only her TV roles, whereas on the big screen she has been a psychiatrist with questionable intentions in Glass, an expert mover of stolen items in Ocean’s 8, and one of the first victims of a deadly natural phenomenon in Bird Box.
Merlyn Temple (American Gothic)
More than a decade before her breakout role, Sarah Paulson's first major TV performance was as the spirit of a young woman named Merlyn Temple in different kind of American horror story, yet one equally scandalous, scary, and addictive. Unfortunately, American Gothic, an acclaimed supernatural soap opera also starring a Gary Cole as a wickedly powerful sheriff, was cancelled by CBS in 1996 after only 22 episodes.
Annie (What Women Want)
In 2000, Sarah Paulson played Annie, the personal assistant to hot shot ad executive Nick Marshall, played by Mel Gibson, in What Women Want, which received a gender-swapped update in 2019. Recently endowed with the ability to hear women's thoughts, Marshall learns the error of his ways and, in a gut bustingly honest scene, what Paulson's under appreciated, Ivy League-educated character really thinks of him in this classic rom-com from director Nancy Myers.
Agatha Ripp (Nip/Tuck)
In her first collaboration with American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy, Sarah Paulson made a guest appearance in Season 2 of his provocative drama Nip/Tuck as a homeless prostitute named Agatha Ripp. She enlists the help of plastic surgeons Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) to cover grisly scars on her wrists that appear to be caused by stigmata, the appearance of wounds in correlation to Jesus Christ's crucifixion, in this intriguing episode that puts its series leads to the ultimate test of faith.
Vikki Hiller (Down With Love)
In this 1960s-style romantic comedy (but with a more honest depiction of the era's sexual politics), Sarah Paulson plays Vikki Hiller, the editor of a romance advice book for women by Barbara Novak (Renée Zellwegger), making herself the target of playboy journalist Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) who sets to prove he can make her fall in love with him. While Zellwegger and McGregor are the central romantic leads of Down with Love, from future Ant-Man director Peyton Reed, a budding romance between Hiller and Block's friend Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce) is a subplot worth rooting for.
Miss Isringhausen (Deadwood)
In the second season of HBO's hit historical crime thriller, Sarah Paulson joined the cast of Deadwood as Miss Isringhausen, hired by Alma Garret (Molly Parker) as a tutor for Sofia Metz (Bree Seanna Wall), but Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) suspects otherwise. She tells him that her true motive is to frame her employer of a murder that Swearengen committed, but then correctly guesses that she actually works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, something the crooked saloon owner despises.
Dr. Caron (Serenity)
While Sarah Paulson had a prominent recurring role on Deadwood, she did not return to reprise her character for the feature-length continuation of the series. She did however experience the reverse of that situation by playing Caron, a medical professional from an outer space search and rescue team, in Serenity, the feature-length continuation of Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi series, Firefly.
Dr. Ellis Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)
Years after her brief medical role on Serenity, Sarah Paulson briefly appeared on the popular medical drama Grey's Anatomy, but not as an original character. The 2010 episode "The Time Warp" takes a look at Seattle circa 1982, at which point Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) mother, Dr. Ellis Grey (Paulson) was treating a patient with AIDS while the disease was still in its infancy.
Dr. Ellen Dolan (The Spirit)
Two years before she played a doctor in that nostalgic Grey's Anatomy episode, Sarah Pauslon portrayed a surgeon living in the days of the femme fatale in her first pre-Glass superhero movie role. In director Frank Miller's adaptation of Will Eisner's noir detective comic The Spirit, shot in the same style as 2005's Sin City, Paulson played the lover of the legally dead title hero (Gabriel Macht), who makes an effort to keep her man healthy, much to the chagrin of her father, Commissioner Eustace Dolan (Dan Lauria).
Lydia Lindquist (Desperate Housewives)
Speaking of programs that are narrated by a spirit, Sarah Paulson appeared in a pair of episodes of the fourth season of the primetime ABC soap opera Desperate Housewives. She played Lydia Lindquist, the youngest sister of Lynette Scavo, played by Felicity Huffman.
Mary Lee (Mud)
Sarah Paulson was a firsthand witness to the McConaissance, having co-starred in one of the films often credited as essential to the revolutionary era in the actor's career. In Jeff Nichols' Southern gothic drama Mud, Paulson plays Mary Lee, the mother of a teenage boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan), who befriends the title character, unaware at first that he is a murderous fugitive.