The Queer Review had a very special Zoom conversation, along with some other members of the press, ahead of today’s launch of season one of Ratched on Netflix. The virtual press conference was attended by lead actor and executive producer Sarah Paulson, along with some of her co-stars including Cynthia Nixon and Sharon Stone. Created by Evan Romansky and developed by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, Ratched was inspired by both Ken Kesey’s novel and the Oscar-winning film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It explores the origin story of the iconic character, nurse Mildred Ratched, portrayed by Sarah Paulson in this noirish 1940s set series. In James Kleinmann’s ★★★★ review of the series he writes, “Just what the doctor ordered: a pulpy, twisty, hugely entertaining thrill-ride with layered, complex characters matched by some nuanced, phenomenal performances. It’s lavishly stylish yet emotionally potent.”
To begin with Sarah Paulson and Sharon Stone shared their experiences of working with Ryan Murphy on the series.
Sarah Paulson: “This was a different one for me because he was very interested in empowering me in this way that I had never experienced before, even in the traditional structure of working with him. I’d never played a titular character before and I had never owned a piece of a show before. I’d never been executive producer of a show before. And this is all because of him, and it was very important to him. It was part of the reason why I was so terrified to do it. I thought, I don’t have a ton of experience sort of stepping into, what he would say to me over and over again, “step into your power, step into your power”. It literally makes me want to take a hot shower and run screaming into the street to think about stepping into my power because I don’t really know what that means! But he does. And he would like me to do more of it. So it was an interesting thing to confront my hesitation and to deal with all of those moments of what does that look like for me and am I capable? Am I my ready? Do I want it? What does it mean if I do? Is that ambition? I mean, it was just like a whole kind of myriad of things to contend with. But you know, he always has been my greatest champion, and it’s not without its complications, because any real relationship will be that and, you know, he gave me a lot of power, but not all of it, which was also a healthy and good. He could have been like, ‘Do what you want’, and then that wouldn’t have been good for anybody! But he wanted my input and he would send me cuts and say to me, ‘What do you think?’ And I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ And I would write pages and emails and then he finally called me and said, ‘Okay, listen, here’s the deal: you get to watch them before I get my first look at them, because then I start thinking about having to break all this shit down that I’ve already decided.’ Then I started getting the edits first, and then by the time he got them at least some of my notes had been made. It was an interesting experience to think beyond my own narrow view of just my own performance and think about the show as a whole and what the story was. I’d never had that experience. And once again, he’s responsible for giving me the thing I had yet to experience in a work environment.”
Sharon Stone: “Well, first of all, Ryan took me out to lunch and offered me this part and said that he’d written the part for me. Then I didn’t say anything. And he was like, ‘Well, aren’t you excited?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know yet.’ And I mean, of course I was excited that Ryan Murphy wanted me to work with him and do it. But you never know how big the cliff is that you’re going to have to jump off of when he says he’s writing you a part, because I’ve seen all the other Ryan Murphy shows. So I’m still in here going ‘Hmmmm’. And of course, I’m not really used to working in television. I go to work and I normally have a script and a director and plan, and I’m kind of good at that. And I go to work now and I don’t have scripts because one day you’re on episode six, and the next day are on episode one, and the next day on episode three, and you have three different directors and you haven’t gotten to read all of these episodes. So by about day five I was in the hair chair like, ‘Agh!’ And Sarah says, ‘What’s going on?’ And I was like, ‘Agh! I don’t know!’ That’s when I really understood what a spectacular producer Sarah is and I have such…I don’t even know how to say it…I mean, I have pride for you. You know, in my generation I wasn’t afforded this possibility to, what did you say he wanted you do?
Sarah Paulson: “Step into my power.”
Sharon Stone: “If I wanted to do something like I would get a real talking to if I had any thoughts or ideas I could get called to the studio and get a real discussion about, ‘What was my problem?’ And, ‘I might want to shut it down.’ When I started working it was me and 300 men, even my dresser was a man, so to to come to work and have women cameramen and sound people, and in every department, and to work with all these actresses where I can do really strong work. I’ve worked with all these really big actors and I didn’t have this opportunity to work with these fine, subtle, intimate, layered, tender work of women and to be in the company of women. So, at first it was almost awkward, because I didn’t even know what that would be like and then to go to work where women are being empowered and offered opportunities, even the opportunities of the types of roles that were written for every single one of us, and the way that the men’s roles are even respected at a whole different…the layers of emotional intelligence, it’s just a different thing. I’m just so grateful for it. I was so worn out from the other thing, that I could accomplish you know, I could do a triple salchow and skate backwards into the judges and get like a three! So just to be able to be encouraged in a feminine group and see women around me being lifted up, to watch you Sarah have this, it’s so touching to me. It’s so meaningful to me. And that this man is doing this for women. That’s what Ryan Murphy says to me.”
Ratched co-stars Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon gave us some insight into how they approached their characters in the series.
Sarah Paulson: “I think it’s safe to say that many people are at least familiar with, if not well versed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the movie and Louise Fletcher’s performance and the sort of iconography that was etched and sketched by everybody in that in that movie. I think she’s in the top five AFI villains of all time in cinematic history. So you know, it’s no pressure and it’s just an opportunity for me humiliated. It’s not an issue. It’s totally fine! But, I think it wouldn’t have been interesting to me to explore the parts of Mildred Ratched that aren’t porous. In the movie she’s calcified, there’s a hardness, nothing ekes out and I remember when I first saw the movie years ago thinking that she was absolutely a villain and evil and all this stuff. Then when I rewatched it before we started I thought, you know, this is a woman who’s sort of a victim of a patriarchal infrastructure in this hospital and that it’s quite possible, and could it be considered, that she didn’t have any choice about whether or not she could access her heart in her work? If she could bring her femininity and her womanhood to the job? You know, what about considering that idea, and that she’s not a villain but she’s a person who didn’t have any recourse, there was nothing to do. Some people might access that and then get fired and other people think I better toe the line and that’s what I’m going to do, and the ramifications and the consequences obviously were devastating to many of the men that were under her care. But I had to believe if I was going to play it that she did it because she thought she was adhering to some kind of rule that she believed was most right. She maybe limited in her thinking because of the era in terms of what she was willing to investigate, where she might have found power outside of the confines of that hospital, and who knows what her life was like. So I was interested in this idea of who is Mildred Ratched when she takes that key and turns it and goes into her house? Who is that woman? It would be impossible to undertake it without thinking that we’ve got to show something here that has yet to be seen. It’s entirely up to us, we can invent it because there is no backstory, so that’s an enormous freedom. And we can give context and depth to things that that maybe weren’t there. But it was interesting to confront my own sort of prejudice against the character from the outset and what I had thought she was. Yeah, of course, I was looking for a way that I could get in there without being like, ‘She is so crazy!'”
Cynthia Nixon: “She’s a really interesting character and very different than the usual kind of things I’m asked to play. I would say particularly, as I’ve gotten older, like in the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve been asked to play a lot of what would politely be called “complicated” people. sometimes bordering on malevolent. So, the thing about Gwendolyn is that she’s so wholehearted and she’s so pure and she’s so confident and she’s up against so many odds. I mean, she’s a queer woman in 1947. She’s trying to make a life for herself in politics. She has all of these seemingly impossible tasks that she sets for herself, but she moves ahead sort of seemingly without fear, and so for me to be basically I think only the only person really to wholeheartedly be advocating: ‘walk in the light, there is a there is a path of light that I’m taking and that you Mildred could take’, was just very different for me and also a real challenge to not have so many little cul de sacs to go down of a “complicated character”, but just someone who was so wholehearted. I hoped that it would be interesting enough. It was a delightful challenge. Almost every other character has has many different parts of themselves that they’re trying to kill or stamp out or suppress, and Gwendolyn is really the opposite. She knows she’s got at least four or five pieces of her personality, but meeting Mildred is kind of the key that unlocks the door and she realizes she actually has to integrate all these parts of her personality, and thanks to her for the first time it could be possible.”
Season one of Ratched launched globally on Netflix today, Friday September 18th 2020.