Sarah Paulson explores the backstory of 'Ratched' in Netflix suspense series

  • Sarah Paulson plays Mildred Ratched in "Ratched," which began streaming Friday on Netflix.

    Sarah Paulson plays Mildred Ratched in "Ratched," which began streaming Friday on Netflix. Courtesy of Netflix

 
By George Dickie
Gracenote
Posted9/19/2020 7:26 AM

Anyone who saw the 1975 feature film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" undoubtedly remembers Louise Fletcher's Oscar-winning turn as domineering asylum Nurse Ratched. Now Sarah Paulson takes on the iconic character in an origin series on Netflix.

In "Ratched," which began streaming its eight episodes Friday, Paulson reteams with her "American Horror Story" boss, creator Ryan Murphy, to tell the story of the future 1960s mental hospital tyrant made famous in the film and in Ken Kesey's seminal 1962 novel. Here, it's 1947 and stylish Nurse Mildred Ratched arrives at a leading psychiatric hospital in Northern California, where disturbing experiments have begun on the human mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Sarah Paulson plays Mildred Ratched in "Ratched," which began streaming Friday on Netflix.
Sarah Paulson plays Mildred Ratched in "Ratched," which began streaming Friday on Netflix. - Courtesy of Netflix

Though the very image of a dedicated, competent caregiver, Ratched has issues bubbling beneath her calm, cool exterior that portend danger as she begins to infiltrate the mental health care system and those within it.

The high-profile production boasts an impressive cast including Emmy winners/nominees Cynthia Nixon ("Sex and the City"), Sharon Stone ("The Practice"), Judy Davis ("The Starter Wife") and Finn Wittrock ("American Horror Story"). But obviously that wasn't the only draw for Paulson, who jumped at the chance to play such a memorable character, albeit with substantial trepidation.

"In this case, it was obviously heightened because I have such respect and admiration for Louise Fletcher as an actress and her work in that movie was just absolutely phenomenal," she explains. "There is a sense of wanting to get it right for the people who love the movie and who love the book. And at the same time this is really an origin story and so there's a lot of it that was not part of the book and not part of the movie that (is) sort of a world that we are creating. And that was really exciting because then there's a little bit more freedom."

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Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), left, discusses her ideas with Nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) in Netflix's "Ratched."
Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), left, discusses her ideas with Nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) in Netflix's "Ratched." - Courtesy of Netflix

So in creating a young Ratched, Paulson focused on detail, like how Fletcher as Ratched held her keys. She also imagined what a 1940s version of the character's hair might look like.

"I tried to honor her," the actress says, "and also tried to give people an opportunity to maybe get a little bit deeper inside a character that -- you know, because in the movie and in the book, you never learn about her life outside of the hospital.

"So how and why she behaved the way she did, how did she land where she landed, why does she have the belief system she held so tightly about rules and regulations and how did she get that way? And so this story is the Ratched experience to sort of dive into her past and what potentially could have gone on that created the character we see and that we know so well and that we love from the movie."

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