SARAH PAULSON explains her Golden Globe nomination this way: People like to discover things for themselves.
Though a working professional for more than a decade, the 32-year-old actress stood out among the starry cast of the TV series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" as the "not famous" one. Maybe no longer, though. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. certainly took note of her performance as Harriet Hayes, a Christian comedian on a fictional, late-night sketch-comedy show.
"Everybody knows everyone else on the show, and they've all been wonderful on TV and in the movies, but then it's like, wait a minute, 'Who's that girl? We've never seen her before,' " said Paulson during an interview from her publicist's West Hollywood offices.
The nomination -- for supporting actress in a TV role -- marks a milestone for someone who has endured the kind of rejection, failed pilots and overlooked series ("Leap of Faith" in 2002, "The D.A." in 2004) that only Hollywood can dish out to its aspirants. She shares the nomination with Toni Collette ("Tsunami, The Aftermath"), Katherine Heigl ("Grey's Anatomy"), Emily Blunt ("Gideon's Daughter") and Elizabeth Perkins ("Weeds").
"It does make me feel a certain sense of affirmation," she said. "Like 'you're doing all right, kid. Maybe you're in the right profession after all.' "
"But when I look at that category," she continued. "I'll be clapping for someone else. And that's really, truly and utterly fine with me. I'm sure if I'd been nominated for 20 other awards in my life, then I'd be like, 'OK, it's time to pony up, it's time to win.' "
While "Studio 60" has been critically acclaimed by some, the Aaron Sorkin show has also been a target for barbs and scorn -- something not lost on Paulson or the show's cast and crew.
But Paulson rejects the common "Studio 60" criticisms that it's too inside-baseball and lacks a consequential subject matter, like, say, "The West Wing."
"It's not the easiest thing to deal with because it's kind of your baby," said Paulson. "You feel like, 'Hey, don't pick on my kid because you don't like his shirt or you think he's not talented.' We're trying to do something here. We're trying to show the dynamics of the workplace. We're trying to show the perspective of these people who are just trying to navigate what's important to them -- and they give it a lot of importance because it's their life, for God's sake."
Oddly enough in a town greased by the publicity machine, Paulson believes "Studio 60" would be faring better without such an early and heavy dose of it. She concedes any Sorkin project, or one with Matthew Perry coming off "Friends," could not avoid the spotlight, but she says the show's star quality has put too much pressure on it and on viewers.
"The engine was running so long on this baby before it ran out of the gate, I think it just overpowered people," she said. "It was like the audience was being held at gunpoint and the message was, 'You better watch the best damn show on television or else.' That's liable to turn anybody off."
While the show attracts an affluent audience, its numbers have been disappointing. Undaunted, NBC has stood behind the show and has committed to a full season.
"Hopefully we can hang on," said Paulson. "And people will be able to discover the show on their own."