Smallscreen is where the roles are
Jessica Lange is a two-time Oscar winner frequently cast by such notable helmers as Sydney Pollack. But, until she slipped on a habit to play a nun on “American Horror Story” last season, you’d have to rent a Blu-ray to see her work.
After decades of starring in a broad range of projects from the comedy classic “Tootsie” to the dark biopic “Frances” and counting likes of Tommy Lee Jones and Jack Nicholson as her co-stars, Lange’s phone had mostly stopped ringing.
Then a certain show creator remembered her and he promised her a role replete with complication and, yes, even song.
“I’d reached a point where — for a woman my age — the work had just dried up,” Lange says. “But Ryan (Murphy) tempted me with this part and he even teased me with the promise of a range of a emotions for the character and musical numbers, and she’s really been a dream come true because there’s so much to play.”
As Sister Jude Martin and Constance Langdon on the different incarnations of “American Horror Story,” Lange — who won the 2009 lead miniseries-movie Emmy for “Grey Gardens” before picking up supporting honors last year — has earned raves.
She also finds herself in some excellent company in the TV landscape. Holly Hunter, Glenn Close and Kyra Sedgwick have also come to television to find quality roles when work in film was different than what they wanted or just wasn’t there.
Lange, who worked steadily from the mid-1970s before finding solid roles for women in their 40s and beyond were evaporating, didn’t expect this kind of break in her career.
“The film business has changed,” says Lange, who will return for “American Horror Story: Coven,” the third edition of the series. “They used to make these wonderful, mid-budget films that were full of the kinds of character roles that are great for women of all ages to play, but I think television is where that work is happening now.”
And that’s where Lange is happy to be. Still thankful for the time in her career that earned her five Oscar noms and two wins, the actress admits that when you’re no longer asked to do the thing you love to do, it can be heartbreakingly difficult. So Murphy’s invitation meant far more than a second act for this established actress.
“It reminded me why acting was such an important part of my life and why I want to continue to act,” says Lange, after a pause. “And there’s nothing more fun to play than madness.”