Last night, veteran actor Sarah Paulson took home her first Emmy, a nod to her performance in the much-loved and much-watched The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. But, in a way, she made the night and the award less about her than about the woman she portrayed, Marcia Clark.
It began early in the evening when Paulson hit the red carpet who brought former Clark as her date instead of her girlfriend, actor Holland Taylor. It led to a little on-stage negging by host Jimmy Kimmel—the ongoing lowlight of the night—but notice the applause in the background before he lays into the former prosecutor.
Of course, making fun of Marcia Clark has been a preoccupation of the media over 20 years now. It’s all part in parcel of an unfair, often sexist public response that saw the powerful, professionally accomplished woman as arrogant, angry, and, ultimately, inept.
When Paulson took the stage to accept her much-deserved award, she launched into a quite unexpected apology to her date, one that should stick to any actor and any viewer. “The responsibility of playing a real person is an enormous one,” Paulson said. “You want to get it right not for you but for them.” Soon after the debut of The People v. O.J. Simpson,
Clark and those who know her had criticized aspects of Paulson’s performance which, though riveting, tended to portray the lawyer more desperate and cold than perhaps she was in real life. Paulson has since grown closer to her subject and, clearly, has taken these thoughts to heart.
Paulson continued, addressing Clark directly. “I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial in my judgment, and I’m glad that I’m able to stand here in front of everyone today and say, I’m sorry.” It was an amazing and rare moment. As far as we know, no actor has ever apologized for their performance to their subject in front of a live televised audience. The audience, again, applauded both women.
But, truly, the best moment of the night was what happened backstage. Scooting behind the scenes to have her name etched into her statuette, Paulson took the Clark with her to witness the process and—here’s the truly amazing thing—have her name carved into the award as well! It was a wonderful, unforgettable gesture from one woman to another and a once-in-a-lifetime moment for both.