(KGET) — The career of Sarah Paulson is filled with her playing fictional characters as in the “American Horror Story” franchise or roles based on real people as in “American Crime Story.” Her latest work is different from both of those as Paulson takes on a character that was originated by another actor decades ago.
“Ratched,” a new eight-episode series from the streaming service Netflix slated to start Sept. 18, tells the backstory of Nurse Mildred Ratched, a character introduced in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The character was brought to the big screen through the Oscar-winning performance of Louise Fletcher in the 1975 feature film of the same name.
If you are not familiar with Nurse Ratched, she is a caregiver from Hell. The head nurse at a Claifornia asylum uses intimidation rather than compassion and fear instead of comfort. Paulson’s work will now give more insight into what made Ratched so wretched.
The story starts in 1947 when Ratched travels to Northern California to seek employment at a leading psychiatric hospital where new and unsettling experiments have begun on the human mind. Ratched presents herself as the perfect image of what a dedicated nurse should be but there is a lot more going on behind that façade. She begins to infiltrate the mental health care system and those within it.
Paulson found that taking on a role originated by another came with pluses and minuses.
“The enormous plus is that I had the great good fortune of watching one of, I think, the most masterful performances in cinematic history. Louise Fletcher’s performance is really remarkable, no pressure or anything, not something one really likes to think about following,” Paulson says with a laugh. “However, it gave me an opportunity to have a real spine of the character sort of built in, at least in terms of knowing where I was going with it.
“But so much of this story obviously predates that and is an imagined idea of what Mildred’s life might have been before she found her way to that hospital. So it’s both a blessing and a curse because I do recognize that some people will be looking for Louise Fletcher, but they’re not going to find her and I don’t want them to be disappointed.”
The script was sent to Paulson by Ryan Murphy, the man behind “American Horror Story.” She found the idea of playing the earlier years of the character to be “incredibly interesting” and “incredibly intimidating.”
What finally convinced Paulson she could fill Fletcher’s shoes was that this was going to be a prequel. That meant she would be telling the origin story for the character and Paulson found that to be liberating enough she would tackle the project.
Paulson did not reach out to Fletcher before filming started but admits that she thought about Fletcher everyday she was playing the role. Should there be more tales of Ratched, Paulson would be happy if Fletcher were involved.
Getting to take on the character took more than just finding the right look, mannerisms and attitude. It started with having to get the rights to use the character from the family estate.
“Essentially the real take-away from it was how quickly it happened. Michael Douglas is a producer on this show. He had to get all the rights from the film and the character itself,” Paulson, who is an executive producer on the project, says. “I think he was quite concerned that once the script had come in and they were starting to develop it, he thought, I don’t know if this is ever going to get made. It might get tied up so quickly and all the red tape that can sometimes happen when you’re trying to get the rights to something.
“But, in fact, apparently, they sent them the script and all the people involved were very interested in signing on right away.”
The cast of “Ratched” also includes: Cynthia Nixon as Gwendolyn Briggs; Judy Davis as Nurse Betsy Bucket; Sharon Stone as Lenore Osgood; Jon Jon Briones as Dr. Richard Hanover; Finn Wittrock as Edmund Tolleson; and Vincent D’Onofrio as Gov. George Wilburn.