This precocious thespian made her professional debut at age 12 in an off-Broadway show, but Paulson would have to wait two decades before landing her breakout role on Aaron Sorkin's flawed dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Not that the versatile actress ever lacked for work. After studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the eager twentysomething appeared on stage and in TV guest spots, and in 1995 she snagged her first small-screen lead — a dead woman trying to protect her brother from beyond the grave on the cult fantasy series American Gothic. Unfortunately, the show was short-lived, just like many of her future small-screen projects (Leap of Faith, The D.A.). She achieved some success with the relationship dramedy Jack & Jill, which lasted three seasons. In between screen jobs, Paulson continued to appear on the stage, making a splash in the off-Broadway blood bath Killer Joe, written by her then-boyfriend Tracy Letts. In 1999, she made her feature-film debut as a lesbian in the insipid drama The Other Sister, and the role proved prophetic: While filming the indie Swimmers (2005), she fell in love with costar Cherry Jones. Although they didn't speak publicly about their relationship at first, they were quite affectionate in public and even attended the 2005 Tony Awards together. When Jones won the award for her work in the play Doubt, she said, "Laura Winfield, I share this with you," a reference to the character Paulson was playing in the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. After a stint on Deadwood, Paulson signed on to Studio 60 as a sketch-comedy star who also happens to be a devout Christian, a character reportedly inspired by series creator Aaron Sorkin's ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth. Paulson was able to showcase her talent of doing impressions in the role, and she proved to be extremely sympathetic in the difficult and potentially off-putting part. Come awards season, she was the only member of the starry cast (which included Matthew Perry, Steven Weber and Amanda Peet) to be recognized for her work with a Golden Globe nomination. She returned to series work with 2009's romantic-themed Cupid, but that show ended after only a few episodes aired, and her real-life romance with Jones ended that year as well. Never one to sit idle, Paulson returned to her roots in theater, as she often does: Late in 2009, she starred in Off-Broadway's Still Life, and in 2010 she starred in Broadway's Collected Stories. She's explained that the secret of achieving success in Hollywood is to "not take any of it too seriously."

Fast Facts

  • Made her professional debut at 12 in an Off-Broadway play.
  • Appeared on the small screen for the first time shortly after she graduated high school in a 1994 episode of Law & Order; in 2010, she guest starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • Jessica Lange was her favorite actress while growing up, and she appeared with Lange in a revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie in 2005.
  • In 2010 she starred in Collected Stories on Broadway. 
  • Portrayed a young Ellis Grey, Meredith Grey's mother, in flashback scenes of a 2010 episode of Grey's Anatomy.
  • While on the The Late Show with David Letterman, she admitted that she's a hypochondriac and gets anxious while flying.
  • Does impressions, including those of Holly Hunter, Kathleen Turner and a dolphin.


  • 2016, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Supporting Actress in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series: Nominee
  • 2007, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television: Nominee
  • 2013, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Nominee
  • 2014, Independent Spirit Awards — Robert Altman Award: Winner
  • 2013, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television: Nominee
  • 2012, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Nominee
  • 2014, Emmy — Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Nominee
  • 2013, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 2015, Critics' Choice Television Awards — Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Limited Series: Winner
  • 2015, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series Or A Movie: Nominee


  • Holland Taylor — Significant Other
  • Cherry Jones — Ex-significant Other


  • American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, New York, United States

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  • Birth Place: Tampa, Florida, United States
  • Birthday: December 17, 1974, Sagittarius
  • Profession: Actor

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