FYC: Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare in ‘AHS: Hotel’

Denis O'Hare

The bleeding heart of American Horror Story: Hotel lies within the acting power of Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare. Don’t ignore these performances Television Academy!

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that American Horror Story‘s acting company have been showered with nominations. They are, after all, some of the best actors working in film or television today. Out of 7o nominations over four seasons, 19 nominations have gone to its cast, winning four times. The Television Academy’s love for the series – with its graphic gore and sexual content – has always been something of a surprise, and not all nominations have felt completely deserved. Putting all of that aside, the 2016 Emmy Limited Series categories are where AHS will compete against its Ryan Murphy-bred cousin The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story for attention. There simply aren’t enough slots to recognize all of the brilliance on display. Still, Emmy must make room for two AHS: Hotel performances – Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare – as their work is some of the best seen in the anthology series’s entire run.

Sarah Paulson is already tipped to win Best Actress in a Limited Series/TV Movie for her stunning, redefining work as Marcia Clark in People v. O.J. Simpson. That, however, should not preclude the Television Academy from recognizing her tremendous, and tremendously emotional, work as Hypodermic Sally in Hotel. At the onset, Sally is Hotel‘s vengeful and tortured marquee spirit, murdered at the Hotel Cortez by Kathy Bates (and, if you have to go, then that’s a pretty awesome way to go). She’s doomed to relive the pain experienced in life through each day of her death, and nothing save the taking of lives seems to assuage that pain. Tellingly, her face is constantly streaked with mascara spread by her ever-falling tears.

Denis O'Hare

Paulson has been outstanding each and every time she’s had a meaty role in AHS, but she’s literally never been better than this season. Pain is a tricky thing to convey as an actor. Overstepping will push the character into soapy melodrama. Under-committing risks making the character unsympathetic and, ironically, unnecessarily cruel. Yet, Paulson strikes the perfect balances amidst the sumptuously art directed gore of the Hotel Cortez. Hypodermic Sally longs for something to dull the pain. She looks for it in drugs. She looks for it in love and companionship. She looks for it in random acts of violence. Nothing works, and Paulson conveys the death-long bitter disappointments and sorrow with each motion of her body and each drag of a cigarette. Hers is a remarkably physical performance, pain and contempt oozing from every pore like so much toxic sweat. In the season finale, she finally finds solace in ways to express her pain through writing and blogging on the internet, where all miserable people ultimately coalesce.

This is as committed and consistent performance as I’ve ever seen Paulson give, and I thought nothing could top Freak Show‘s Tattler Sisters. For the actress to receive two iconic, career-defining roles in the same year is an astounding feat. Let the Television Academy reward her for both with nominations and wins. God knows she deserves it.

Denis O’Hare’s Hotel performance as Liz Taylor seems gimmicky at first. Little is mentioned of O’Hare’s appearance as a transgendered woman in the first few episodes. Liz Taylor largely stayed on the sidelines, serving up drinks and making witty conversation in that wry, nearly sarcastic voice of hers. It wasn’t until AHS began to explore her background that I realized Hotel has a broken heart, its two halves assembled in the performances of Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare. Liz Taylor’s life as a man ended when a night at the Cortez and an encounter with The Countess (Lady Gaga) resulted in permanent residence. No, Denis O’Hare did not die on property (not yet). Instead, he achieved voluntary permanent residence as Liz Taylor once The Countess helped him embrace his true nature.

After episodes of providing bitchy commentary, we’re eventually treated to the meat of Denis O’Hare’s amazing performance as she reconnects with her son toward the end of the season. Recent transgender controversies only accentuating the performance’s impact, O’Hare dives into the reality of the situation – not an easy task given everything we’ve been presented with up to this point. She’s afraid of opening up to her son, of revealing who she really is. Surrounded by vampires, ghosts, and faceless sex monsters, Liz Taylor’s only real fear is her son’s rejection. That her son acknowledges and accepts her provides the biggest and most heartwarming moments of the season.

Denis O'Hare
Photo courtesy of FX.

It’s a good thing, too, because the rest of Liz Taylor’s stay at the Hotel Cortez is fraught with misery thanks to her tortured love affair with Finn Wittrock’s bisexual model Tristan. Taylor / O’Hare comes alive seems to discover love for the very first time in Tristan. Initially, it’s a seemingly ridiculous relationship – a transgender spin on the traditional May / December conceit. Yet, O’Hare makes the moments sing, and, when The Countess kills Tristan out of jealousy, the pain emanating from O’Hare is, sadly, exquisite. At the end of the season, O’Hare’s Taylor makes a happy, peaceful life for herself in the Hotel Cortez with a grandchild to boot. When a cancer diagnosis causes Taylor to choose death, O’Hare brings forth his finest moment and, probably, the defining moment of the series. He asks the hotel’s ghosts, Sally included, to kill him so that he can live with them forever, “be reborn.”

“You’re my family,” O’Hare emotionally explains. “I want to be with you forever.”

It’s that morbid declaration and the subsequent transitioning (throat slitting) by The Countess that gives American Horror Story: Hotel its tangled, tortured, and morbidly beautiful soul. That Denis O’Hare and Sarah Paulson accentuate it with their delicate and deeply felt performances makes it even sweeter. Emmy voters cannot ignore their immense talents as they are the pillars of the season, supported by the robust and eclectic ensemble cast.

That they’re able to convey such honest, human feelings as pain, fear, and love is a testament to their talents as actors. Television Academy, I submit to you Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare for their roles in American Horror Story: Hotel, roles that echo in my heart months after the season ended.

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