It’s been 45 years since Louise Fletcher portrayed Nurse Ratched—and gave her costar Jack Nicholson’s character a lobotomy—in the film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The role won Fletcher a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and one of the film’s five Academy Awards, not to mention a reputation for creating one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history.
None of that seems to have intimidated Ryan Murphy. On Wednesday, Netflix offered a first look at Ratched, his imagining of what came to pass in the decade and a half before the film’s events. Together with Evan Romansky and Ian Brennan, Murphy begins in 1947, just before the nurse starts work at a psychiatric hospital in northern California. The series, Murphy told Vanity Fair, is “an imagining of how this monster was created.” (And its exploration of institutional abuse of power and the flaws of America’s healthcare system arguably couldn’t be more timely.)
Once again, Murphy tapped his muse Sarah Paulson as the series’s star. As Mildred Ratched, the actress (and executive producer) embarks on a “clandestine mission” to infiltrate the mental health care system and experiment with its patients, all under the guise of a dedicated, well-meaning, and notably stylish nurse.
The role, Murphy says he warned Paulson, would require the actress to do “some real Walter White type shit.” But it sounds like Paulson’s portrayal will be more sympathetic to Ratched than you might expect. The series will will explore the nurse’s (deeply buried) humanity, by delving into her childhood, relationships, and sexuality.
As for who’ll be joining Paulson at the hospital, Murphy cast Finn Wittrock as a mass murderer and Sharon Stone as an heiress, who apparently owns a very chic pet monkey. Their characters seem to be close; one still features Stone wearing an enormous fur coat and grinning as she feeds Wittrock, who’s wearing a napkin like a bib.
Sophie Okonedo, Corey Still, Jon Jon Briones, Judy Davis, and Vincent D’Onofrio round out the rest of the cast. While details on their roles are still scarce, Murphy seems to have fittingly cast Cynthia Nixon as a governor’s campaign manager.