Very few actresses working today would have the gravitas and respect to take on the iconic role of Nurse Mildred Ratched. Originally immortalized in the 1975 Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched emerged from 1970s cinema as an instantly iconic character, becoming synonymous with oppression and the establishment. A terrifying presence, Nurse Ratched demands authority and order, and she holds a special treatment for those who threaten that control.
But how did she become that person?
It’s a question that intrigued Ryan Murphy enough to create a Netflix prequel series dedicated to exploring the origins of Nurse Ratched. But who could embody that character and stand toe to toe with the iconic Fletcher performance? Murphy called on Emmy-winner Sarah Paulson (The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) to fill those squeaky nurses shoes.
Paulson’s ensuing performance in Netflix’s Ratched is a delicate construction. She manages to make Nurse Ratched her own presence, making subtle nods to the original Oscar-winning Louise Fletcher performance without ever once replicating it. Paulson’s Louise Ratched holds different goals, different beliefs, and hasn’t quite crossed over into Cuckoo’s Nest territory. As usual, Paulson delivers a compelling figure, rising above the often sensationalistic elements of the material to ground the series. Her turn remains a fantastic portrayal of a haunted woman driven to serve but unafraid to bend rules to achieve her goals.
Here, Sarah Paulson talks to AwardsDaily’s Clarence Moye about figuring out who Nurse Mildred Ratched was as a character outside of the Fletcher performance. She talks about her working relationship with Murphy and with her fellow cast members, including co-star Finn Wittrock with whom she shares a complicated on-screen partnership. Finally, she talks about the ways Ratched is a complete departure for her, one that initially frightened even the great Sarah Paulson.