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."