Nightmarish Conjurings recently attended the press junket for the upcoming anticipated suspenseful-drama series, RATCHED, which seeks to tell the origin story behind one of the top 5 American Film Institute cinematic villains of all time, Mildred Ratched. While attending the junket we learned how the character of Mildred Ratched was approached, the idea of claiming one’s power, how the series challenges our perception of mental illness, and more! Attending the press junket was Sarah Paulson, Jon Jon Briones, Finn Wittrock, Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, and Sophie Okonedo.
When it was first revealed that Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan had joined together to expand upon our perception of one of the most notable female villains in cinematic history, I was one of many who wondered if the series was necessary. Did the audience really need to know why this woman was the way she was? And, in humanizing the character, would that take away from the longstanding legacy the character had left behind in cinema? Was the duo going to muck up the cold, scary nurse’s legacy? My questions, as I would discover, would slowly start to disappear when I realized that Sarah Paulson had been tapped to play the legendary character. While I had faith that she would handle the character amazingly, I did wonder what the approach was. From the writing to the acting, there were too many variables to be concerned about.
During the press junket, Sarah Paulson was asked whether or not part of the reason she was drawn to the role of Mildred Ratched was, in part, due to how there seemed to be value placed on the complicated, anti-heroine nature of Ratched’s actions and how she interacted in the world rather than the character being vilified. Paulson explained what originally interested her in taking on the role and how rewatching the original One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest film brought up questions that she was curious to explore in RATCHED.
“I think it wouldn’t have been interesting to me to explore the parts of Mildred Ratched that aren’t porous and, in [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest], she is so…she’s calcified. There’s a hardness. Nothing eeks out. And I remember when I first saw the movie thinking years ago that she was absolutely a villain and evil and all of this stuff,” Paulson reflected. “And then when I rewatched it before we started, I thought, you know, this is a woman who is sort of a victim of a patriarchal infrastructure in this hospital that it’s quite possible, quite possible and could it be considered that she didn’t have any choice about whether or not she could access her heart in her work. What about considering that idea?”
With the consideration of the idea that, perhaps, Mildred Ratched had no other choice but to close herself off, it left Paulson with plenty of things to consider. Especially given what typically happens in a bureaucratic environment like a hospital. If you don’t stay in line and keep your mouth shut, you learn to internalize and harden yourself against what is actually taking place with the patients and staff. This lends to a coldness of the heart and, at the end of the day, an inevitable perpetuation of the abuses that take place in such a system.
However, what intrigued Sarah Paulson the most about the character of Mildred Ratched was what was Mildred Ratched like behind closed doors. The woman she became as soon as she steps into the safe confines of her own home without anyone looking at it. Knowing that the audience hadn’t had that particular question answered in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, she admitted that there was a lot of freedom in being able to play around with the character: “It would be impossible to undertake [the role] without thinking we’ve got to show something here that has yet to be seen and it’s entirely up to us. We can invent it because there is no backstory. And so, that’s an enormous freedom and we can give context and depth to things that maybe weren’t there.”
The biggest step though, as Paulson admitted to us, was that she did have that preconceived image of the character going into RATCHED. “It was just interesting to confront my own sort of prejudice against the character from the outset and what I had thought she was,” she shared. “Of course, I was looking for a way that I could, how I could get in there without being like she is so crazy.” With so many familiar with Louise Fletcher’s interpretation of the titular character, it’s no surprise that her performance would have left such a significant impact on any who approached the role.
The legacy Louise Fletcher left behind in her performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has made waves over the decades. However, Sarah Paulson’s Mildred Ratched is one that explores the complicated nature of the character and opens up the audience’s minds as to how the character’s journey ultimately led her to where we find her in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the series after it’s released, no one will be able to deny that Sarah Paulson has truly left her mark on an already legendary character with her performance in RATCHED.