Here’s every character Sarah Paulson has played throughout American Horror Story‘s eight stories. The actress has appeared in every season of the horror anthology created by Ryan Murphy. American Horror Story season 9, titled 1984, premieres this September and a tenth season is currently in development, although Paulson will have a smaller part to play.
Paulson has been a mainstay for the AHS franchise since the series first aired in 2011. The actress served as a lead character for a majority of the installments and at times, has portrayed more than one character in the same season. It’s no question why Murphy continued to ask Paulson to return considering her American Horror Story performances have garnered a slew of award nominations and wins. Paulson first worked with Murphy on his series, Nip/Tuck, but since AHS, she appeared in a number of his other series including American Crime Story and Feud, and the pair have a few more collaborations in the works.
Paulson remains as one of the faces of American Horror Story but she might not have a major presence in AHS: 1984. It was first rumored that Paulson would be absent from season 9, along with Evan Peters. It has since been clarified that Paulson will appear in the upcoming season in a smaller role. As the new season draws near, let’s take a look at all of the characters that Paulson has played thus far.
When Paulson made her AHS debut, she played the minor role as the medium, Billie Dean Howard. Constance Langdon introduced Billie Dean to Violet Harmon to provide insight into Tate’s current state. Billie Dean also explained the afterlife to Violet after realizing that the young girl was a ghost herself. Before she left the house, Billie Dean warned that when a spirit has a child with a human, it would produce the Antichrist, hinting at the drama to come in American Horror Story season 8.
Paulson was promoted to a lead character in American Horror Story season 2. The actress portrayed the ambitious journalist, Lana Winters. In the 1960s, Lana traveled to Briarcliff Manor to interview Kit Walker, the man she thought was the infamous serial killer, “Bloody Face.” While at the asylum, she had a few foul run-ins with Sister Jude and was later committed to Briarcliff under false pretenses. She faced torture and aversion therapy before she was taken hostage by the real Bloody Face, Dr. Thredson. He raped her before she found her way back to the asylum. With the help of Kit, Lana outed Dr. Thredson and was freed. Lana eventually wrote a book about her experiences and assisted with Briarcliff shutting its doors for good. At the age of 84, her son found her and wanted revenge for abandoning him. Lana then killed him with his own gun.
Paulson remained as one of the main characters in the third season of AHS, this time in a role she would later reprise down the line. She played Cordelia Foxx, the disappointing daughter of Fiona Goode, the current Supreme. Fiona was the headmistress of Miss Robichaux’s Academy but Cordelia served as a mentor to many of the young witches. After Cordelia was blinded, she was gifted with Second Sight, giving her more clarity in life. As her mother weakened, Cordelia continued to get stronger with her powers. This gave her the confidence to move the coven in the right direction. Cordelia eventually took over as the Supreme after passing the Seven Wonders test.
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Paulson did double-duty in American Horror Story season 4, portraying conjoined twins who worked for Elsa’s freak show. Bette and Dot Tattler were known as The Siamese Sisters, twins who shared a torso, arms, and legs but they had two distinct heads. They were found after Bette murdered their mother for sheltering them their entire lives. Despite the murder, Bette was the friendlier twin whereas Dot was cynical towards everything. The twins contemplated getting surgery so they could be separated by they decide against the idea. In the end, both twins married Jimmy Darling and it was revealed they eventually had a child.
Sally McKenna, also known as Hypodermic Sally, was a drug addict who was killed at the Hotel Cortez in 1994 when Iris pushed her out of a window. Her spirit was stuck on the property ever since, which she used as an opportunity to haunt guests. Sally usually targeted drug addicts using The Addiction Demon. She then got involved with John, the new Ten Commandments Killer. When he left the hotel, Sally felt like her life no longer had a purpose so Iris gave her an iPhone. This allowed Sally to become a social media star.
Paulson also reprised her role as Billie Dean Howard for season 5. Since her first appearance, Billie Dean acquired a show on Lifetime. She was invited to the Hotel Cortez by Iris but all of the voices and unsettled spirits convinced her to film her show elsewhere. In 2022, Billie Dean returned to the hotel to talk to John’s ghost on Devil’s Night. She was met by Mr. March and an array of serial killers who threatened her off of the premises.
The cast list for American Horror Story season 6 might be a little confusing since it was a show within a show. Paulson portrayed Shelby Miller in the first half of the season. It was then revealed that her role as Shelby was just a reenactment for the production of a series called My Roanoke Nightmare. The real Shelby was played by Lily Rabe and Paulson was portraying an actress named Audrey Tindall. They came together along with the real-life figures and their on-screen counterparts for another reality series, Return to Roanoke: 3 Days in Hell. The group quickly realized that the mysterious happenings and deadly threats were real as they started getting picked off one by one. In the end, confusion with the police caused Audrey to get shot and killed.
Paulson also reprised her role as Lana Winters for a short cameo in Roanoke. The character came out of retirement in 2016 to interview Lee Harris for her show, The Lana Winters Special. Lee was one of the real-life people who lived through the Roanoke house and the murders she took part in. During the interview, the women are attacked by Lot Polk, a man who claimed Lee for his family’s deaths.
When Ally Mayfair-Richards was introduced in AHS season 7, she was a weak-willed woman crippled by a number of phobias. Her anxiety and fears worsened after the 2016 Presidential Election which, in turn, affected her relationship with her wife Ivy and son, Ozzy. After hiring a young woman named Winter to look over Ozzy, Ally started to get attacked by clowns. She later learned that the clowns were members of a cult run by Winter’s brother, Kai. To make matters worse, her own wife Ivy was in the cult which explained why Ally was targeted. Ally got her life back together and successfully took down the whole cult and killed many of the members including Ivy and Kai before successfully running for Senator.
In episode 10 of American Horror Story: Cult, Kai started to have visions of Charles Manson. He used the Sharon Tate murders as a lesson to his followers. The infamous murders played out during the episode and featured other cast members as the Manson “family.” Paulson portrayed Susan Atkins, one of the women who carried out the murders.
Paulson truly upped her game for American Horror Story season 9, playing a total of three characters. In the early episodes of the season, Paulson portrayed Wilhemina Venable, the leader of Outpost 3. She thought she was working for the Cooperative, a group overseeing the survivors of the apocalypse. When Michael Langdon arrived at the Outpost, she tried to kill the other residents to convince Langdon into taking her to the new fallout shelter. Wilhemina was then killed at the request of Langdon.
Paulson’s second character of the season was Cordelia, who was then going by her maiden name, Goode. The Supreme, along with Madison Montgomery, and Myrtle Snow arrived at Outpost 3 to revive their fellow witches, Mallory, Coco, and Dinah. It turned out that Cordelia envisioned the apocalypse so she infiltrated the Outpost with some of her coven witches. The flashbacks explained what the coven uncovered about Langdon and his identity as the Antichrist. Since Mallory was emerging as a powerful witch, Cordelia sacrificed herself so that the young woman could reach her full abilities. Mallory went back in time and stopped Langdon from carrying out the apocalypse and reset the timeline.
And, once again, Paulson reprised her American Horror Story season 1 role as Billie Dean Howard. The medium encountered Madison and Behold Chablis when the duo was investigating the Murder House. Billie Dean claimed that she was now a medium to the stars. She refused to reveal anything about Michael Langdon but Constance’s ghost later arrived and told the truth about the boy.
Next: American Horror Story Timeline: When Each Season Takes Place