While there's a lot of star power in the miniseries (Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown and John Travolta are also good bets for Emmy nominations), Paulson has gotten a huge wave of accolades. TV critics have called her portrayal of Clark "eerily perfect"; a "standout" performance; and "the most heart-wrenching role of the series." "Her work as Clark is simply the best she's done on television," the New York Post summarized. Even the real-life Clark — who said it's been a nightmare to relive the trial — had praise, as she asked rhetorically, "Has [Paulson] ever been anything less than brilliant?"
For people who have been watching Paulson on FX for years, that's not a surprise at all — she's always stolen the show in Ryan Murphy projects. Murphy, creator of "The People v. O.J. Simpson," first tapped Paulson for a role back in 2011 for the first edition of "American Horror Story: Murder House." She had a small but intriguing part as a psychic named Billie Dean who counseled various characters on ghosts, managing to be spooky but also memorable in a show with many more horrifying characters.
As a result, she was bumped to a major character on the anthology's second season "Asylum," where she played a lesbian journalist who tries to investigate the haunted insane asylum — but winds up committed after the nun in charge learns about her sexuality. AfterEllen.com called Paulson's part "one of the most interesting and important lesbian roles on TV," and Paulson was later nominated for an Emmy.
Soon, Paulson became an "American Horror Story" regular and a fan favorite in the Ryan Murphy repertoire. She was captivating as a headmistress to witches in Season 3 ("Coven") and somehow played two different characters at once as a pair of conjoined twins in Season 4 ("Freak Show"), earning Emmy nominations for both roles. In Season 5 ("Hotel") this past fall, with the departure of series regular Jessica Lange, Paulson basked in the spotlight as a drug dealer ghost, and reprised her role as psychic Billie Dean in the season finale.
In addition to being a Murphy veteran, she's also played real-life figures before Clark. First, there was her character in NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" based on Kristin Chenoweth — also known as creator Aaron Sorkin's ex-girlfriend. Then Paulson nabbed Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for HBO's "Game Change," in which she starred as John McCain's campaign adviser, Nicolle Wallace. Some of her strongest scenes involved Wallace trying to prep Sarah Palin (played by Julianne Moore) during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Wallace called the film "true enough to make me squirm," and described Paulson's scenes with Palin (Julianne Moore) by saying, "I still feel sweaty and stressed when I see scenes from that movie of her yelling at me or me yelling back at her."
Clearly, Paulson isn't a stranger to reenacting the most stressful professional situation of someone's life. Plus, Emmy voters presumably are aware that Paulson has never actually won an Emmy. So it seems fitting that with this latest role as Marcia Clark, she will likely — finally — land the trophy in September for this standout role.