LOS ANGELES, Sept. 16 (UPI) — After portraying real-life figures Marcia Clark, Geraldine Page and Tony Bradlee, Sarah Paulson is tackling a cinematic icon — Mildred Ratched — in the new Netflix series Ratched. Louise Fletcher originally played the nurse in the award-winning film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I do recognize that some people will be looking for Louise Fletcher, but they’re not going to find her,” Paulson said on a recent Television Critics Association panel. “I don’t want them to be disappointed.”
Fletcher won an Oscar for her portrayal of Ratched opposite Jack Nicholson in the 1976 film. Nicholson played a patient in a mental institution run by Nurse Ratched. His rebellious nature threatened her control over the other patients.
The film won four other Oscars for Nicholson, director Milos Forman, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, along with four nominations.
The Netflix series is a prequel to the film and the Ken Kesey novel upon which it’s based. It follows Mildred Ratched (Paulson) when she gets a job at Lucia State Hospital in 1947, and shows how the job creates the cold nurse she becomes in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Paulson said she felt pressure to measure up to Fletcher’s performance. However, playing a younger Ratched gave her freedom to follow her own path to Fletcher’s iconic performance.
“It gave me an opportunity to have a real spine of the character sort of built in,” Paulson said. “But, so much of this story obviously predates that and is an imagined idea of what Mildred’s life might have been before she found her way to that hospital.”
At Lucia State, Ratched learns about lobotomies, of which she is a proponent in the film. She goes to the hospital to visit one of the patients, her long lost brother, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), whom she was separated from when they were orphans.
“She needs to get a job at that hospital,” Paulson said. “Her ultimate end goal is to be reunited with someone that she loves very much.”
Ratched’s new associates
The Netflix series introduces several characters who were not in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tolleson is a serial killer committed to the Lucia State for murdering a monsignor and other clergymen. Wittrock hopes he can make the audience empathize with Tolleson despite his gruesome actions, which are seen in the first episode.
“He wasn’t just a pure psycho serial killer,” Wittrock said. “There’s a lot more going on under his surface once you dig deeper and find out more about his history.”
Tolleson blames the monsignor for raping his mother and fathering him. Wittrock said the show will reveal more traumas of Tolleson’s past. When Wittrock portrays him, Tolleson exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia, such as auditory hallucinations and paranoia.
Wittrock said he studied homeless people in Los Angeles who talked to themselves. He combined research on real-life serial killers like John Wayne Gacy with his observations on who he perceived as possibly schizophrenic.
“I just tried to get under their skin that way,” Wittrock said.
While working at the hospital to get closer to her brother, Ratched gets to know the hospital staff and doctors. She also crosses paths with families of patients. Sharon Stone plays Lenore Osgood, who has a grudge against Lucia’s Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones).
“[Osgood] gets him to treat her son, and then is perhaps not quite as happy with the results as she could have been,” Stone said. “I try to work it out with Nurse Ratched, in our special, special way.”
Another new character in the world of Ratched is Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), aide to the governor (Vincent D’Onofrio), who chose Lucia State to spearhead his mental health initiative. Briggs is a closeted lesbian in an intolerant time, as evidenced by Lucia State treating some gay women as if they suffer from mental illness.
Nixon said she based Briggs on Lorena Hickock, journalist and lover to Eleanor Roosevelt.
“I pulled a lot of inspiration from reading about her life and some of her letters,” Nixon said. “She tried to pass as straight in this very mainstream world, and yet had love affairs on the side and was a queer woman.”
The ‘Ratched’ production is on their own
It was writer Evan Romansky’s idea to explore Nurse Ratched’s past. Ryan Murphy came on as an executive producer and immediately thought of Paulson for the lead role. The two have worked together frequently, as Paulson has been part of Murphy’s American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Feud casts.
Murphy also made Paulson an executive producer for the first time in her career. However, the producers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had to sign off on that, including executive producer Michael Douglas and the Saul Zaentz company.
“They sent them the script, and all the people involved were very interested in signing on right away,” Paulson said.
However, once they gave permission, the filmmakers of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were not involved. Nor have the actors from the film contacted them.
“I did not reach out to any of them,” Paulson said. “I thought about Louise Fletcher every day that we were shooting it.”
Ratched premieres Friday on Netflix.