Sarah Paulson is one of the greatest living actors, and nowhere does she show off her range better than on Ryan Murphy’s hit horror anthology series American Horror Story. From absolutely campy performances to those that are more grounded in reality, we get to see her truly stretch her acting chops in these many roles. And the wigs... the wigs.
Here we take a look back at her tenure on the series, and take a peek into the characters in their various complexities. The result: a comprehensive ranking of all of the star's roles for all of us to argue over.
This season did not work for me, or for a lot of fans, and Hypodermic Sally’s frizzy perm was one reason why, of many. Of course Paulson’s performance was good, but the season was all over the place and didn’t give her much to work with, and when it did, she still didn’t shine as brightly as she usually does.
Ms. Venable was a chic force to be reckoned with but her red hair, high collars, and stern leadership of Outpost 3 weren’t enough to make her stand out in Paulson’s storied AHS career — to be fair that says more about how strong the other contenders were as opposed to some supposed weakness here. She may be "HR, bitch," as she so succinctly phrased it, but she’s also number seven on our countdown.
This psychic was Paulson’s first appearance on the longrunning back in season one's Murder House, but she’s made repeat appearances throughout in the Hotel and Apocalypse seasons. She’s a great character, and steals a lot of the scenes she’s in, but doesn’t have the screentime to lift her up above other, more fleshed out roles.
Ally was all of us on election night 2016, and during the rest of her season the season she was cold and creepy as a cult member not afraid to kill anyone, including her own wife or a candidate for US Senate. Ambitious, smart, and ruthless, she was a character for the ages, a real Nasty Woman to the end.
Paulson is an absolute DELIGHT as English actress Audrey Tindall and in her performance-within-a-performance as haunted housewife Shelby Miller in reanactments on fictional reality show My Roanoke Nightmare. Whether you want her as a yoga instructor who can’t catch a break or as an aging British actress who bit off more than she can chew, Paulson brings tons of camp and talent to both roles.
Sarah Paulson dueting with Sarah Paulson on Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” is one of the most bonkers scenes in American Horror Story history, and one of my all-time favorites. The season wasn't exactly good, but Paulson as two conjoined twins looking for stardom in a Florida Circus definitely was. It’s one of her weirder performances, but that’s what makes it so great.
Lana Banana is of course, our number one. This lesbian journalist who went into a mental asylum to get her story isn’t just Paulson’s best character in AHS, she’s one of the best TV characters of the last two decades. Whether you’re a journalist, a lesbian, someone who’s spent time in a mental hospital, or all three (like me), Lana Winters gives you someone to root for.