Jessica Phyllis Lange (born April 20, 1949) is an American actress who has worked in film, theater and television. The recipient of several awards, including two Oscars, two Emmys, five Golden Globes, one SAG Award, and three Dorian Awards, Lange is one of the most celebrated actors of the modern era.
Lange was discovered by producer Dino De Laurentiis while modeling part-time for the Wilhelmina modelling agency. She made her professional film debut in his 1976 remake of the 1933 action-adventure classic, King Kong. In 1982, she became the first performer in forty years to receive two Oscar nominations within the same year; she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a soap opera star in Tootsie and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the troubled actress, Frances Farmer, in Frances. Lange received three more nominations, for Country (1984), Sweet Dreams (1985) and Music Box (1989), before being nominated a sixth time and winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as a manic depressive housewife in Blue Sky (1994). She later won her first Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ famed aunt, Big Edie, in HBO’s Grey Gardens (2009) and won her first Screen Actors Guild Award, along with a second Primetime Emmy Award for her performance in the first season of FX’s anthology horror show,American Horror Story.
In addition to acting, Lange is a photographer with two published works. She has also been a foster parent and currently holds a Goodwill Ambassador position for UNICEF, specializing in HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Russia.In 2014, Marc Jacobs chose her to be the premiere model of his new high-end beauty line, Marc Jacobs Beauty.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Lange was born in Cloquet, Minnesota, on April 20, 1949. Her father, Albert John Lange (1913–1989), was a teacher and traveling salesman, and her mother, Dorothy Florence (née Sahlman; 1913–1998), was a housewife. She has two older sisters, Ann and Jane, and a younger brother, George. Her paternal ancestry originates in Germany and the Netherlands, while her maternal ancestry originates in Finland.
Due to the nature of her father’s professions and to his hard-drinking and “extreme personality,” her early home life was chaotic. Her family moved over a dozen times to various towns and cities in Minnesota before settling back down in her hometown, where she graduated from Cloquet High School.
In 1967, she received an art scholarship to study art and photography at the University of Minnesota where she met and began dating Spanish photographer, Paco Grande. After the two married in 1970, Lange left college to pursue a more bohemian lifestyle, opting to travel throughout the United States and Mexico in a pickup truck with Grande. The couple then moved to Paris, France, where they drifted apart. While in Paris, Lange studied mime theatre under famed instructor, Étienne Decroux, and joined the Opéra-Comique as a dancer.
While sharing an apartment with Jerry Hall and Grace Jones, she was discovered by fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and subsequently became a model for the Wilhelmina modelling agency. In 1973, she returned to the United States and began work in New York City as a waitress at the Lion’s Head Tavern in Greenwich Village.
Jessica Lange by Antonio Lopez (1976)
It was while modelling that Lange was discovered by Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was looking to cast his next leading lady, an ingenue for his remake of King Kong (1976).
Lange made her professional film debut in 1976’s King Kong. Despite being a box office success – it became the fifth highest-grossing film of 1976 – the film and her performance were widely panned. However, renowned film critic Pauline Kael praised her, noting, “The movie is sparked by Jessica Lange’s fast yet dreamy comic style. [She] has the high, wide forehead and clear-eyed transparency of Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey, [and] one liners so dumb that the audience laughs and moans at the same time, yet they’re in character, and when Lange says them she holds the eye and you like her, the way people liked Lombard.” Lange went on to win the 1976 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year. She would remain a favorite of Kael’s, who would later comment, “She has a facial structure that the camera yearns for, and she has talent, too.”
King Kong (1976)
At the close of the decade, Bob Fosse cast Lange as the ‘Angel of Death’, a part that he had written specifically for her in his semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz (1979).
Lange began the new decade in the light romp How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), co-starring Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James, but it received mostly negative reviews and quickly disappeared from theaters. A year later, she was contacted by director Bob Rafelson regarding a project he was working on with Jack Nicholson, who had recently auditioned Lange for Goin’ South (1978). After several meetings and auditions, Rafelson offered Lange the lead role opposite Nicholson in his remake of the classic film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice (This remake of the film with Jack Nicholson costarring appeared first on closed cable networks in 1978.) (1981). Although the controversial film received mixed reviews, Lange was widely praised for her performance.
With Jack Nicholson in The postman always rings twice
It was while editing The Postman Always Rings Twice that Graeme Clifford realized he had found the leading lady for his next film – his first as a director; a biographical film of actress, Frances Farmer, whose disillusionment with Hollywood and chaotic family background lead her down a tragic path. Filming Frances (1982), which co-starred Kim Stanley and Sam Shepard, was a grueling experience for Lange, who pored over the screenplay scene by scene, making deep and often taxing connections between her life and Farmer’s in order to tap into the well of emotions the role required. By the end of the shoot, she was physically and mentally spent. It was due to this that she decided to take her co-star Stanley’s advice to star in “something light,” which led her to accept a supporting role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie (1982).
In 1982, Lange became the first performer in 40 years to receive two Academy Award nominations in the same year, scoring a nomination for her work in Frances and eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Tootsie, which not only became the second highest-grossing film of 1982, following Steven Spielberg’s E.T., but which also scored an additional nine Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Her performance in the film also earned her a Golden Globe, along with awards from the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. Lange also won Best Actress at the Moscow International Film Festival for her performance in Frances.
Jessica Lange as Julie in Tootsie and Frances Farmer in Frances.
Lange next produced and starred, again opposite Shepard, in 1984’s Country, a topical film depicting a family during the farm crisis. Her performance earned her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress. That same year she made her television debut as Maggie the Cat, starring opposite Tommy Lee Jones in a CBS Playhouse production of Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The following year she testified before the United States Congress on behalf of the Democratic House Task Force on Agriculture, alongside Jane Fonda and Sissy Spacek, whom she later neighbored and befriended.
At the close of 1985, she would portray legendary country singer Patsy Cline in Karel Reisz’s biopic, Sweet Dreams, opposite Ed Harris, Ann Wedgeworth and John Goodman. She was nominated a fourth time for an Oscar and came in second place for both the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress. In several interviews, Meryl Streep has stated that she “begged” Reisz, who directed her in 1981’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for the role of Cline but that his first choice had always been Lange. Streep has also been quite vocal and adamant in her praise for Lange’s performance, calling her “beyond wonderful” in the film and stating, “I couldn’t imagine doing it as well or even coming close to what Jessica did because she was so amazing in it.”
Lange’s films throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, which included Crimes of the Heart (1986), Far North (1988), and Everybody’s All-American (1989), were mostly low profile and underperformed at the box office, though she was often singled out and praised for her work. In 1989, she starred in Costa-Gavras’ Music Box, written by Joe Eszterhas. Lange played a Hungarian lawyer defending her father of Nazi war crimes. Her performance earned her a fifth Academy Award nomination and sixth Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Lange continued making films throughout the 1990s, periodically taking time off to raise her children and also choosing theater- and television-based projects. She began the decade in Paul Brickman’s warmly received Men Don’t Leave (1990), for which she earned positive reviews and came in third place for the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress. She was then approached by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who had both auditioned her for the role of Jake LaMotta’s wife in Raging Bull (1981), to star in a remake of Cape Fear (1991). The film became the twelfth highest-grossing film of the year. In 1992, Lange starred in a television adaptation of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, receiving her seventh Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. Her Broadway debut, which was met by mixed reviews, also occurred that same year when she portrayed Blanche DuBois in a production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Alec Baldwin.
In 1994, Lange was lauded for her performance as a manic depressive army wife in the 1960s in Tony Richardson’s final film, Blue Sky. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the Golden Globe, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and Sant Jordi de Cine Award for Best Actress. She would follow her victory with further critically lauded performances in 1995’s Losing Isaiah, opposite Halle Berry, and Rob Roy, with Liam Neeson. That same year, Lange would reprise her role as Blanche DuBois in a CBS television adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane, and John Goodman. She received glowing reviews for her performance, which earned her a fourth Golden Globe and her first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
Blue Sky (1994)
In 1996, Lange made her London stage debut in another performance as Blanche DuBois, which received rave reviews. The following year she starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in a film adaptation of Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Thousand Acres. Lange was nominated a ninth time for a Golden Globe and won the Venice Film Festival’s Schermi d’Amore award for her performance in the film. In 1998, she starred opposite Elisabeth Shue in a film adaptation of Balzac’s Cousin Bette, for which she would receive strong reviews. That same year Lange also starred opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the semi cult classic, Hush, which generally received negative reviews. Roger Ebert, however, praised Lange’s performance, commenting, “The film’s most intriguing element is the performance by Jessica Lange, who by not going over the top provides Martha with a little pathos to leaven the psychopathology.”
Lange received strong reviews for her performance in Titus, Julie Taymor’s 1999 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, co-starring Anthony Hopkins and Alan Cumming. Film critic for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, included Lange in a “for your consideration” article directed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She commented, “Jessica Lange already has two Oscars and six nominations to her credit, so her appearance near the words Academy Awards should never be a surprise. But everything about her daring performance in Titus as Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, is an astonishment. Donning breastplates, vowing vengeance, tearing into Shakespeare for the first time as if nothing could be more fun, Lange steals the show — and when the star of the show is Anthony Hopkins, that’s grand theft.
Lange began the new millennium with a London stage production of Eugene O’Neill’s, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, playing the part of the heroin-addicted Mary Tyrone, for which she received rave reviews and an Olivier Award nomination.
She appeared mostly in supporting roles after, most notably opposite Christina Ricci in the 2001 adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s best-selling memoir on depression, Prozac Nation. In 2003, Lange starred opposite Tom Wilkinson in HBO’s Normal, a film about a man who reveals to his wife his decision to have a sex change. She followed this with performances in the Bob Dylan vehicle, Masked and Anonymous(2003), Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003), Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005) and Wim Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking (2005), before starring opposite Christian Slater and Sarah Paulson in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie for which she received generally mixed reviews. She later starred with Tammy Blanchard in a remake of Sybil in 2007.
In 2009, Lange co-starred as Big Edie, opposite Drew Barrymore, in HBO’s Grey Gardens, directed by Michael Sucsy and based on the 1975 documentary of the same name. The film was a huge success, garnering seventeen Primetime Emmy Award nominations and winning five. Lange won her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie after two previous nominations in the same category. She also received her eleventh Golden Globe Award nomination and second Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her performance, losing both awards to Barrymore.
Jessica as Big Edie in Grey Gardens.
In 2011, Lange joined the cast of FX’s horror anthology series American Horror Story. Series co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk originally wrote the part of Constance Langdon as a supporting character, but after Lange acquired the role they expanded it considerably. Murphy, a long-time admirer of Lange, stated that he chose her because he wanted to expose her work to a new generation of viewers. He also singled out her performance as Blanche DuBois on Broadway in 1992, which he saw twice, as his favorite performance, citing it as another motivating factor in hiring Lange. The show was a huge success not only for the network and creators, but also for Lange, who experienced a resurgence in her popularity, receiving rave reviews and several awards for her controversial role.
She was chosen by TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and MTV for giving one of the “best performances of 2011”. In addition, she won a second Primetime Emmy Award, a fifth Golden Globe Award, and her first Screen Actors Guild Award, after two previous nominations. She was also awarded a Special Achievement Satellite Award for Outstanding Performance in a Television Series by the International Press Academy and the Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year by the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA). She was further nominated for the TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama, Critics’ Choice Television Award, and Saturn Award.
2012 proved to be another successful year for Lange, who not only had a supporting role in her Grey Gardens director, Michael Suscy’s box-office hit The Vow, opposite Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, but also returned to star as the lead in the second installment of American Horror Story, titled American Horror Story: Asylum. With ratings up from the series’ freshman year, the second season was a bigger hit for the network and creators, and just as rewarding for Lange, who was once again praised by critics and nominated for several awards for her portrayal of Sister Jude Martin.
Once again, she was chosen by TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly for giving one of the “best performances of 2012”. She won a second Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year by the GALECA, her thirteenth nomination for the Golden Globe Award, a fourth nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award, a second nomination for the Saturn Award, a second Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination, and fifth nomination for the Emmy.
In 2013, Lange earned a third Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year in a row for her work in American Horror Story: Coven, the anthology series’ third series. She also received her fourteenth Golden Globe nomination, her fifth Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, her third Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination, and her fifth Satellite Award nomination for her performance on the series. In addition, Lange replaced Glenn Close in a film adaptation of Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, directed by Charlie Stratton and titled In Secret, co-starring Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac and Matt Lucas.
Jessica Lange as Constance in AHS first season; Sister Jude in AHS: Asylum and Fiona Goode in AHS: Coven.
Lange joined the remake of The Gambler, in which Lange will play the rich and ostentatious mother of Mark Wahlberg’s in-debt character. It is scheduled to come out in 2015. She also will star opposite Shirley MacLaine and Alan Arkin in the road-trip comedy “Wild Oats,” in which MacLaine portrays a widow and retired history teacher who receives a life insurance check accidentally made out for $5 million instead of the expected $50,000. Her best friend, portrayed by Lange, urges her to deposit the money and escape their small town life to the Canary Islands.
On February 26, 2014, it was announced that Marc Jacobs had chosen Lange to be the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty. In addition, it was announced that Lange would be featured in the brand’s summer and fall print ad campaign photographed by David Sims, and would also star in a short campaign film directed by Jacobs, which will start streaming online May 5, 2014. Previously, Jacobs dressed and interviewed Lange for Love Magazine’s fifth anniversary issue, and had her provide a spoken-word version of Happy Days Are Here Again as the soundtrack for his autumn/winter 2014 show.