Sarah Paulson started with a simple question: Who broke Nurse Ratched?
Screenwriter Ryan Murphy’s longtime favorite actress was getting ready to take on fiction’s most infamous nurse, but first had to figure out how she got there.
Paulson and Murphy are collaborating once again in Netflix’s “Ratched,” a prequel series about Mildred Ratched, the unbending villain of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” set in 1947 — more than 15 years before the book and subsequent movie.
“God knows, Louise Fletcher couldn’t have been more brilliant in that movie,” Paulson told the Daily News of the actress who won an Oscar and Golden Globe for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched.
“It felt like the respectful and proper thing to do was to keep her performance as close to my heart and in my mind as often as possible, so I did, but it was also a great opportunity to reverse engineer this story.”
The Netflix series, which premieres Friday, starts with Ratched’s hiring at Lucia State Hospital, where she insists she belongs, regardless of the opinions of Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) or head nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis).
Ratched’s motivation becomes clearer as the cast is revealed: prisoner Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), accused of killing priests; Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), the press secretary to the California governor; the mysterious relationship between a neighbor (Corey Stoll) and a billionaire down the coast (Sharon Stone). Everything Ratched does appears to be with singular purpose.
“She’s driven by a very, very strong motivation to rectify a years-old wrong, and so therefore she is going to do anything she needs to do to do right by the most important person in her life and, subsequently, she may kill a person,” Paulson told The News. “Maybe. I don’t know. She may not. She might be a murderer, she might not be. It depends on your interpretation of murder.”
“Ratched” feels reminiscent of “Asylum,” Murphy’s previous “American Horror Story” season about a psychiatric hospital in which Paulson played a gay journalist committed to Briarcliff against her will. But where “Asylum” focused on the church’s influence on the mental health industry, “Ratched” is purely about, well, Ratched.
“It’s not to say I didn’t see the correlation, but I needed not to play it,” Paulson told The News. “At least, for me, ‘Asylum’ was solely about Lana’s homosexuality being used against her or criminalized in a way. This story is different to me. The mental health concern we have, for me, anyway, is Ratched’s state of mind and being inside of that.”
“Ratched” was announced with a two-season order at Netflix, but Paulson said Murphy has talked about a four-season plan that gets them to the timeline of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But first they have to film “American Crime Story: Impeachment,” in which Paulson plays Linda Tripp alongside Clive Owen’s Bill Clinton and Beanie Feldstein’s Monica Lewinsky. Production was about a week away from starting when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Hollywood.
For now, the mysteries of “Ratched” revolve around the woman herself. Paulson doesn’t have many answers.
“Is it possible that we have to come up against our own expectations of what we want from a woman in a position of power? We still want her to be soft and we still want her to be cuddly and we still want her to be gentle and we want her to be maternal,” Paulson told The News.
“The fact that she wasn’t any of those things, we then, collectively as an audience, decided she was cruel when in fact she may have been a person who was adhering to a patriarchal structure within that hospital that she didn’t want to contest. Bringing your humanity into it was considered unprofessional, so maybe she was doing the best she could with the tools she had and was maybe just not a natural activist in terms of rejecting what she had been taught.
“Or maybe she had been so traumatized as a child, as we suggest in our show, that what in the world could you expect?”
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