It turns out that even six-time Emmy nominees can have a hard time convincing a director of their worthiness on the big screen. But something tells us that The Goldfinch director John Crowley also never had an in-depth conversation with Ryan Murphy.
If he had, he may have had an easier time casting Sarah Paulson in the role of Xandra for his buzzworthy flick about human tragedy, screening at TIFF before it hits theatres on September 13. The film, which also stars Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson, Ansel Elgort and Oakes Fegley, is based on the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt. The moving story—of a young boy in New York whose mother is killed in a museum bombing—makes its debut Sunday at the fest.
During a TIFF press conference Paulson revealed she had to campaign for the role, one she’d fallen in love with after reading the novel. In fact, of all the actors she was the only one who had been familiar with Tartt’s story before Oscar-nominee Peter Straughan developed it into the screenplay.
“It was an extraordinary, very moving story and meditation on grief that brilliantly used a child who ostensibly would not have experienced anything like this in their young life,” Paulson said. “It put an acute, fine point on the power of it and how it can absolutely change your life. I found the book to be incredibly moving and incredibly cinematic, too. Reading it evoked so many powerful images in my mind. I loved all her books, I’ve read all of them.”
A wig, a spray tan and a pack of cigarettes
That’s why, when Paulson got wind of the fact that Crowley couldn’t quite wrap his head around casting her, she went all out. For her, that meant putting on a wig, getting a spray tan and walking into the audition room with a pack of smokes. She also screamed for an hour in her car to achieve a raspier voice, like the one Tartt describes in the book.
“I don’t think John originally maybe thought I was the right fit … I think maybe he watched Marcia Clark,” she said, referencing her star turn as the real-life attorney in The People v. O.J. Simpson. “Maybe he couldn’t quite see the two, which I do understand, but I had loved the books so much I just make a big, fat, greedy play for it.”
It’s a story Crowley doesn’t deny—in fact he straight-up corroborated Paulson’s retelling, describing the casting choice as “odd.” But when the actor walked into the audition the way she did, he was sold on her playing the woman who would become a stepmother figure to the young boy at the centre of the story.
“I’m her biggest fan,” said Crowley. “She did exactly what she described and it was mind-blowing. She is a great, transformative actor and so for me, a role that could have been a little bit of a turn in the film, in Sarah’s hands you feel that woman’s tragedy. She’s able to play the complications of this woman not liking this boy rocking up in her life. She thought she was going to have her shot at happiness with Larry,” played by Luke Wilson in the movie.
Sarah Paulson stans, unite!
“With my man. My MAAAAAN,” Paulson added with a laugh as Crawley turned to her.
“I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m very glad to be wrong,” he added.
He wasn’t the only one impressed with Paulson’s performance, mind you. Her onscreen babe was quick to add to the praise for the former American Crime Story actress, who gave us Marcia Clark in a whole new light.
“It really was incredible to work with Sarah. That was one of the most important things for me was working with her and seeing how she moved and transformed herself,” he said. “I’d seen so much that she was in and it’s one of those things where other people help you, draw you into the story. Not just as a viewer but when you’re working with them. We definitely are going to be doing something together again.”
“We’re taking it on the road for sure,” Paulson added.
Just point us in the direction for tickets, please.
The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5-15, 2019.