Sarah Paulson on understanding “Martha Marcy May Marlene” [Video]

Sarah Paulson recently sat down with Gold Derby to talk about her role in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a tense psychological thriller co-starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes and Hugh Dancy.

Sarah plays Lucy, the sister of the title character Martha played by relative newcomer Olsen. On working with Olsen, Sarah was full of praise for her co-star, with whom she shares a nomination at the Gotham Independent Film Awards for Best Ensemble Performance. “I sort of feel like that I want to be Lizzy Olsen when I grow up,” admits Sarah. She praises her young co-star for her acclaimed breakout performance as a damaged woman who has escaped an oppressive cult-like commune in the Catskills.

Sarah has also received her fair share of attention. Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) noted, “Paulson is particularly good as Martha’s guilt-ridden older sister, trying to make up for trading their troubled family life for college and leaving Martha behind. The ways in which the sisters skirmish … are exceptional for their understatement.” Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) raved, “Paulson shines as a woman who can’t figure out who her sister really is” while Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline) thought, “Paulson and Olsen capture the uneasy electricity of siblings who just can’t get along but who nonetheless remain connected. Paulson plays Lucy as uptight but not unwatchably severe.”

On her most pivotal scene towards the end of the film, Sarah recalls, “the audible gasp from the audience” watching the movie for the first time at Sundance. “I felt very vindicated … I’m glad that people have cared enough or connected enough to Lucy and what she is dealing with.” Sarah also sees Lucy as in some ways representing the audience that is watching the film, as she too spends much of the film trying to understand what has happened to Martha.

One of the most talked about aspects of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is how much of what is going on is left unsaid. “There’s a lot of stuff that was on the page that is not in the movie,” says Sarah about writer/director Sean Durkin, who effectively held back on revealing too much about the film’s characters so as to enhance the anticipation, foreboding, ambiguity and dread felt throughout the film.

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“We would start rehearsing scenes and Sean would just take chunks of dialogue out because he thought it was just giving too much information,” says Sarah, joking that “I remember thinking from a narcissistic acting standpoint, where’s my scene where I get to explain to the audience why I am like this?!”

During her chat with senior editors Chris Beachum and Rob Licuria, Sarah also fondly talks about her experience as a Golden Globe nominee as Supporting TV Actress for her role on the acclaimed but short lived “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” as well as her highlights from working with Oscar and Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin on that show and with Emmy-winning writer and producer David Milch for her recurring role as Miss Isringhausen on “Deadwood.”


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