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Made For Her (New York Magazine, Feb. 26-Mar. 10, 2024)

Jessica Lange's haunting role in Mother Play, like so much of her work, is one only she could perform. - MATT ZOLLER SEITZ

Sitting in a chair next to a window in a break room at the Hayes Theater, where she’s rehearsing Mother Play, the new work by Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), Jessica Lange has a regal presence and a storybook narrator’s voice. There’s a subdued gravitas to the way she tells her own tale: She was a hippie intellectual from rural Minnesota who went off to Paris and New York to study mime and dance and figure herself out. Despite having no money, no industry connections, and almost no formal training as an actress, she landed the lead role of Dwan in the 1976 King Kong, played her as a daffy sexpot, made the cover of Time, and got pilloried by critics. She’s still brutal on herself and her work, delivering the sorts of scathing assessments you would expect to hear from the many fearsome women she has played over the past half-century. She also keeps challenging herself, even though, at 74, she has nothing to prove.

MZH: Were you apprehensive about being on Broadway for the first time in 1992, when you did A Streetcar Named Desire with Alec Baldwin as Stanley?

JL: Oh, I should have been. I should have thought about this a lot instead of saying "yes" to Blanche DuBois. I mean, I really opened myself up to being crucified. I know I should never say this, but I didn't have the kind of director I needed for my first time onstage in a big Broadway theater in something like that. I needed a lot of help, even in terms of understanding what it means to project beyond the footlights.

MZH: What do you get from stage acting that you can't get from movies?

JL: The main thing for me is that moment when you step onstage and it's like you've boarded a train and it's going to go, no matter what. There are no stops. And that is thrilling. I just wish I had been better prepared for the experience of playing Blanche. I knew I could play her, but when I signed up, there was a lot I didn't understand about theater at the time. I pretty much drove myself mad because there was no separation. Blanche was there all the time.

MZH: "There," meaning inside your head?

JL: Yeah, through the whole thing, long after the run ended.

MZH: Tell me about Mother Play, which is built around a series of five evictions.

JL: Part of the reason I immediately agreed to do this play, besides being knocked out by it, was the idea of doing a new play. Nobody had ever presented me with that possibility before-to actually create the character. That whole process is fascinating because we're still making adjustments, which of course you don't do with Eugene O'Neill! It's a moveable feast. Also, the idea of playing a character who ages from her 30s to 80 was incredibly interesting because it's not the same as doing something on film where they put on makeup. When I did the older version of Edith Beale in HBO's Grey Gardens in 2009, I spent four hours in the morning with people pasting on all these prosthetics to make me look like I was 78 years old or something. How do you bring a character from 30 to 80 onstage? With the spirit or the energy level? And externally, with the voice, the body language? How do you play somebody in their 30s? Talk faster? I think there would be a completely different energy to it, and maybe you'd even [she raises the pitch of her voice to make it girlish] move it into a head voice, rather than [throatily, scratchily] drop it way down from years of sorrow.

Are they going to do anything with lighting or sound to convey the passage of time?

Without giving too much away, yeah, there will be cinematic properties to it.


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by Anonymousreply 23April 1, 2024 2:33 PM

MZH: In your career, would you say you have been selective in what you chose to act in?

JL: I wish I'd been more selective. The only regrets I have are having said "yes" to things when I should have known better. But you talk yourself into it because you haven't worked in two years or something. Or you think, I can do something with this. I can make something of this part. And then down the line, you think, I shouldn't have bothered; it was a waste of time. When I look back, I've done, what, maybe 35 films? There are probably only a third of those that I feel really great about.

MZH: Which films are in the other two-thirds?

JL: Oh, I don't want to get into them.

MZH: Were some periods more creatively fulfilling than others?

JL: Without a doubt. I mean, the first third I would say was thrilling. And then I hit a really dry patch for the middle third. If I think of my work, my so-called career, it's three acts. The second act was almost across the-board disappointing. And it wasn't just the people I worked with that were disappointing. It was also me. I was distracted. I had children growing up, a family at home, a lot of... I can't blame anybody but me, really. A great deal of my distraction was the regret that I'd be sitting in a trailer somewhere in Bumfuck, America, rather than being with my children. And that tortured me. It made me incredibly unhappy. I think that was reflected a lot in my work. I'd be on a set and all I could think about was, I wish I were home. It felt to me like I'd come to the end of something. I was too disheartened. The work and the roles and the films were not interesting to me anymore. I was disenchanted with all of it except for occasionally doing a stage play.

MZH: I've really enjoyed this recent phase of your career, in which you jump between playing very respectable roles and ones that aren't respectable at all.

JL: I agree. It feels like a great time. In this third act, it's all very interesting to me again.

MZH: Especially in American Horror Story: Murder House, the anthology's first season, where you go full Bette Davis. There's even an episode that opens with you carrying a ham into a dining room and exclaiming, "Ladies and gentlemen: the ham!"

JL: The first couple seasons were fun because they were so out there and the characters were so baroque, and they'd say to me, "What should we do?," and I'd say, "I don't know. Write me some monologues." And they would write these wonderful monologues, as outrageous as could be. Those characters were overwritten and fun to play. And each one's so different. The great thing about this premise was every season was a different story. I don't know how, if you were in a long-running series, you would keep one of those characters going for seven or ten seasons.

MZH: It was brilliant how they didn't tell anyone it was an anthology at first. I got to the end of season one and they'd killed everybody off and I was thinking, How can they possibly renew this?

JL: Right! How's this going to work? I knew they were miniseries from the beginning because otherwise I don't think I would've signed up!

by Anonymousreply 1February 26, 2024 10:50 PM

MZH: In run time, American Horror Story is equivalent to doing six feature films a year. How did you justify it to yourself?

JL: It was a brand-new project, and Ryan Murphy is incredibly persuasive. When he called me out of the blue in early 2011 to ask me if I would do this, I was at my farmhouse in upstate New York, bored out of my mind, and it sounded like a great idea. But it was only for that first year that I agreed to do it. Then they came back to me and said, "Would you do another couple years?" The thing that's seductive about doing something like that is they're writing specifically for you. They know your voice, in a way, and they know what you like to play. And that first season, I enjoyed it. I was in Los Angeles, and I wasn't working that much because it was a supporting character. So I thought, Well, why not do a couple more seasons? I ended up doing four altogether. Then at some point after the fourth season, I thought, I'm done. My contract was over, and I didn't want to do it anymore.

MZH: From an actor's point of view, how would you describe a bad directing experience, as opposed to a good one?

JL: I don't want to be told what to do. I want to be given the opportunity for discovery. But you also want some guidance. Bob Rafelson could move things in a direction that he wanted without saying, "Do this, do that." Sometimes, they'd just say one or two things, and it was as if a light went on and you understood what they were looking for. I remember Karel Reisz talking to me about playing Patsy Cline. He said, "It's like a Champagne bottle exploding: the cork blowing off, Champagne spraying." I thought, Oh, okay. I understand that.

MZH: What era would you have really loved to live in?

JL: Obviously, the '20s. In Paris. What could have been more exciting than that? Everything was blowing wide open. The art. Just people living a different way. They're coming out of that Edwardian era and then suddenly it just explodes.

MZH: The modern era is defined by social media, where you're consistently praised.

JL: Well, that's nice to hear. You know, I have no access to social media, which is probably for the best. Everybody seems to comment on everything. That's a rabbit hole I have avoided at all costs. I've always had a hard time seeing myself in the public eye. After King Kong was released and I was flying home to Minnesota, somebody on the airplane had Time magazine and that was the cover: me in the hydraulic hand. And I was so, so horribly embarrassed-I don't even know what the word is, but I almost started to cry. I thought, Oh no. Is this what it's going to be? Some kind of something happening that you have no control over? In some way, it's always been that way for me. Does that make any sense?

MZH: It does. What has it been like to have relationships not only scrutinized by strangers but commented upon negatively: "She never should have gotten involved with Mikhail Baryshnikov or Sam Shepard"?

JL: Well, here's the good thing: During those years, in those relationships and when my children were young and growing up, there wasn't the kind of scrutiny there is now. Every once in a while, you'd be hounded by paparazzi, but it's nothing compared to now. I don't know how people maneuver through this today, where everything is suddenly public. But also, I don't understand why people choose to make their personal lives public. Why are you posting about that? It's private, it's family-it's whatever it is. I guess that's just old-fashioned. But privacy has always been incredibly important to me.

MZH: What sustains you, drives you forward?

JL: Coffee. Sometimes that's the only thing that gets me up. And family, I guess, more than anything. That has always been the case. Motherhood's big. That's why this play is fascinating.


by Anonymousreply 2February 26, 2024 10:53 PM

MZH: I wrote down one of your character's lines from a draft of Mother Play: "You are twice the man your father was. You, my son, have my blood. You have my balls. Fear nothing. Crush the invaders. Kill, kill, kill." I thought, Yeah, this is a Jessica Lange part.

JL: I hope I can deliver that properly! I don't know. But it's a wonderful play. I think it's going to be a great challenge. And it's heartbreaking.

MZH: In what way?

JL: That idea that there can be a decisiona wrong decision that comes out of some kind of emotion or misinformation, some misalignment of the stars-and suddenly your life takes a turn and it's never the same and it's never right.

MZH: Story of my life.

JL: Probably most people's. And then, in this play, there's the loss and the haunting and the regret.

MZH: You've talked very frankly and openly about depression. How have you been able to channel that into your work in a productive way, rather than letting it paralyze you?

JL: As an actor, you're always drawing on personal emotion in the Actors Studio sense: memory or emotional recall. And a lot of the characters I've played have a dark side. That sadness that you have in life, that sorrow, that anger whatever it is you're carrying with you that's part of the instrument. That's what you're drawing from. I wish I were a happier person. I wish I didn't have bouts of depression, but I do.

MZH: Is that why you love Blanche DuBois so much?

JL: Yes. That sense of her tremendous vulnerability and the madness that's right below the surface. Obviously, Blanche was close to Tennessee Williams. I think she's probably the best character he ever wrote. You think about her young husband, who killed himself because of what she said to him. How do you live with that? How do you live with that kind of remorse or guilt or loss? Even the last line, where she takes the doctor's arm and talks about the kindness of strangers: There's just something so lyrical and poetic about that character. It seems to me that she's one of the most beautifully written characters in American theater along with Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night. They're both dealing with remorse and loss and sorrow. There's that surviving, that desire to make things-Oh God, I don't even know if I can explain it! To find the reason to keep going.


by Anonymousreply 3February 26, 2024 10:53 PM


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by Anonymousreply 4February 28, 2024 5:56 PM

Please. This old ham is gonna play it like she plays everything. Breathy whisper, hand clutching at throat. Her 600th variation on Blanche Dubois.

by Anonymousreply 5February 28, 2024 5:59 PM

I hope it's a big hit, she deserves great work. Kinda harsh about not liking those she worked with those but gotta love her honesty!

by Anonymousreply 6February 29, 2024 10:16 PM

Sounds like you haven't seen much of her work, R5.

by Anonymousreply 7March 1, 2024 2:37 AM

She's drawing over her natural lip line. That's always a sign that the end is near.

by Anonymousreply 8March 1, 2024 2:46 AM

[quote] Sounds like you haven't seen much of her work, [R5].

I've been watching her since 1976. I know all her trick.

by Anonymousreply 9March 1, 2024 3:50 AM

Lange was a successful commercial model in those days and a muse to the fashion illustrator, Antonio Lopez, died too soon of AIDS.

Lange is a contemporary of Geena Davis, another model turned actress.

by Anonymousreply 10March 1, 2024 4:54 AM

King Kong is truly awful. Unwatchable. Bad special effects. But Lange stands out as watchable.

by Anonymousreply 11March 1, 2024 5:12 AM

People magazine article on "Mother Play."

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by Anonymousreply 12March 7, 2024 11:40 PM

Love her

by Anonymousreply 13March 8, 2024 12:05 AM

Mother Play's queer family dynamics.

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by Anonymousreply 14March 29, 2024 11:28 AM


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by Anonymousreply 15April 1, 2024 6:32 AM

Why are they using Moon River as background music?

by Anonymousreply 16April 1, 2024 6:42 AM

Where is her pussy? Need to see her pussy.

by Anonymousreply 17April 1, 2024 8:17 AM

She's aging beautifully, she's recognizable and undamaged. What beautiful bone structure, good skin, maybe she's had the tiniest eye job? She is flawless. Brava!

by Anonymousreply 18April 1, 2024 11:11 AM

Would be very happy if she finds a third or fourth wave of success in her career

by Anonymousreply 19April 1, 2024 11:21 AM

Yes. A fourth wave of success would keep up with the number of faces she's had.

by Anonymousreply 20April 1, 2024 11:55 AM

Her Blanche was just plain awful and she was inaudible. But you have to admire her for keep returning to the theatre and working through a so so performance in Menagerie to her triumph in Long Days Journey. Weaker people would have run back to the safety of Hollywood after Streetcar but Jessica just kept going. Love her.

by Anonymousreply 21April 1, 2024 12:21 PM

She would have been great in Nomadland. A former beauty going back to nature. Could have connected with her depressed yet hopeful state of mind and love for nature.

by Anonymousreply 22April 1, 2024 2:24 PM

Poor Jessica. Still blaming directors for her failures instead of her bad performances.

by Anonymousreply 23April 1, 2024 2:33 PM
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