Nationality: American. Born: Cloquet, Minnesota, 20 April 1949. Education: Attended Cloquet High School, Minnesota; University of Minnesota, St. Paul. Family: Married the photographer Paco Grande, 1970 (divorced 1982); one daughter with the dancer Mikhail Baryshinikov: Alexandra; two children with the actor/writer Sam Shepard: Hannah Jane and Samuel Walker. Career: 1971–73—lived in Paris, where she studied mime with Etienne DeCroux, and danced at the Opera Comique; then worked as a model for the Wilhelmina agency in New York; 1976—film debut in King Kong , and given contract with the producer Dino De Laurentiis (broken, 1979); 1980—professional stage debut in Angel on My Shoulder ; 1982—nominated for Academy Award as both Best Actress (in Frances ) and Best Supporting Actress (in Tootsie ) in same year; founder, Far West productions. Awards: Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, and Best Supporting Actress, New York Film Critics, for Tootsie , 1982; Best Actress Academy Award, for Blue Sky , 1994; Golden Globe Award, for A Streetcar Named Desire , 1995. Agent: Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
King Kong (Guillermin) (as Dwan)
All That Jazz (Fosse) (as Angelique)
How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (Scheerer) (as Louise)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (Rafelson) (as Cora Papadakis); The Best Little Girl in the World (O'Steen—for TV)
Tootsie (Pollack) (as Julie); Frances (Clifford) (as Frances Farmer)
Country (Pearce) (as Jewel Ivy, + co-pr); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Hofsiss—for TV) (as Maggie)
Sweet Dreams (Reisz) (as Patsy Cline)
Crimes of the Heart (Beresford) (as Meg Magrath)
Everybody's All-American ( When I Fall in Love ) (Hackford) (as Babs Rogers Grey); Far North (Shepard) (as Kate)
Music Box (Costa-Gavras) (as Ann Talbot)
Men Don't Leave (Brickman) (as Beth Macauley)
Cape Fear (Scorsese) (as Leigh Bowden)
Night and the City (Irwin Winkler) (as Helen Nasseros); O Pioneers! (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Alexandra Bergson)
Blue Sky (Richardson—produced in 1990) (as Carly Marshall)
Rob Roy (Caton-Jones) (as Mary); Losing Isaiah (Gyllenhaal) (as Margaret Lewin); A Streetcar Named Desire (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Blanche Dubois)
A Thousand Acres (Moorhouse) (as Ginny Cook Smith)
Hush (Darby) (as Martha Baring); Cousin Bette (McAnuff) (as Bette Fisher)
Titus (Taymor) (as Tamora)
By LANGE: articles—
"Jessica Lange: From Kong to Cain," interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1981.
Interview with B. Frank and B. Krohn, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1982.
"Dialogue on Film: Jessica Lange," in American Film (New York), June 1987 and August 1990.
"American Independent," interview with Linda Bird Francke and Brigitte LaCombe, in Interview (New York), December 1989.
Interview in American Film , August 1990.
"Fantom v muzikalna kutija," interview with Vladimir Trifonov, in Kino (Sophia), vol. 5, 1991.
On LANGE: book—
Jeffries, J. T., Jessica Lange: A Biography , New York, 1986.
On LANGE: articles—
Drew, Bernard, "Gorilla Power," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1976-January 1977.
Drew, Bernard, "Life as a Long Rehearsal," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1979.
Thompson, David, "Raising Cain," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1981.
McGilligan, Patrick, "The Postman Rings Again," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1981.
Current Biography 1983 , New York, 1983.
Cameron, Julia, "Jessica Lange," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January-February 1983.
Russo, Vito, "Jessica Lange: The Girl Who Went Away in a Limousine and Never Came Back," in Moviegoer , February 1983.
Patterson, Richard, "Cinematography for Frances ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1983.
Stivers, Cyndi, "Jessica Lange: From Frog to Movie Princess," in Life (New York), March 1983.
Rosenthal, David, "Jessica Lange," in Rolling Stone (New York), 17 March 1983.
Hibbin, S., "Jessica Lange," in Films and Filming (London), February 1985.
Schruers, Fred, "Lange-froid," in Premiere (New York), January 1990.
Elia, M., "Jessica Lange ou l'ironie des choix," in Séquences (Montreal), June 1990.
Monroe, Valerie, "Jessica," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), January 1991.
Sessums, Kevin, "Lange on Life," in Vanity Fair (New York), March 1995.
Corliss, R., "Jess Like a Woman," in Time , 10 April 1995.
Premier (Boulder), April 1995.
* * *
Jessica Lange exudes a European quality, call it passion perfumed by mystery, that has not dampened her leading lady allure. What the sensual Lange brings to all her roles is an intense conviction that bowls over audiences and sometimes sends her directors screaming into the night. Locking horns, for example, with Paul Brickman over his own conception, Men Don't Leave , she remolds his sunnier personality-driven seriocomedy into a melodrama worthy of Stanwyck or Dunne. The light touch necessary for a star-vehicle comedy may forever elude her, but as a dramatic actress she burns through directors' shortcuts and limitations in material to the heart of the matter.
In her dramas, when Lange approaches a man, it is almost a challenge to put up or shut up (Nicholson in The Postman Always Rings Twice , Powers Boothe in Blue Sky , Ed Harris in Sweet Dreams ); she is just as direct in other circumstances. The only occasions when the resilient Lange crumbles are when her antagonists are dishonest ( Music Box , Losing Isaiah , Frances )—a lying heart is an affront to the driven women she plays.
That solar-powered honesty was there from the beginning. Isn't it time to reevaluate that notorious remake of King Kong —to stop disparaging it for failing to top the thrills of the original classic and to view it as a lyrical romance between a cover girl and the world's tallest leading man. An incredibly sexy fairy tale, the excoriated King Kong , which critics used as a wedge to drive Lange's career into bimbo oblivion, actually contains the first evidence of that pulverizing sincerity audiences now accept. You could tell she really felt sorry for that big ape, a compassion which she more selectively meted out to future co-stars.
Recovering from a critical drubbing that would have sent lesser souls to a permanent room at the Betty Ford Clinic, Lange slowly proved she was more than just the plaything of a gigantic rubber monkey. Anger over her mistreatment seems to fester in subsequent performances which carry the subtext of I-Told-You-Jerks-I-Could Act. Shouting out what Lana Turner could only whisper in the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice , a movie whose obviousness was no match for the original's film noir glamour, Lange wipes everyone else off the screen. Although she won a consolation prize Oscar for her supporting work in Tootsie , she should have beaten the Queen of Accents, Meryl Streep, to the best actress prize for Frances. As Dunaway accomplished with her Mommie Dearest , Frances is a tribute from one kindred-spirit actress to another, in this case a celebration of a misfit actress who religiously fought the studio system. This tour de force as Frances Farmer is a brave, audience-distancing performance in which Lange remains true to Farmer's neurotic distaste for dissembling; as she journeys into this lost soul's emotional inferno, one feels one is witnessing acting attuned to the dark vision of Ingmar Bergman which has somehow been misplaced in a conventional Hollywood biopic.
Despite a predilection for folksy reverence that makes Country , Far North , and O, Pioneers , tediously noble, Lange purred tantalizingly in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , soulfully embodied country-and-western legend Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams , and saved Everybody's All-American from meretriciousness with another scalding portrayal, this time as a beauty queen whose will of iron lets her rise above being taken for granted. Going mad once more in Blue Sky , Lange won a best actress Oscar for this bittersweet fable abandoned by Orion Pictures after bankruptcy proceedings. Then, despite the sensitivity of her portrayals, she seemed stuck in a message movie cul-de-sac with The Music Box and Losing Isaiah , glorified TV movies masquerading as big screen events.
Still strikingly beautiful, Lange has railed against the downtime awaiting actresses of a certain age. Having recently rebounded with her stunning appearance in Titus , a bold interpretation of Shakespeare in Hate, she has survived her share of artistic misfortunes. Only one of these can be laid squarely on her doorstep: her hesitant, unfocused Blanche Dubois, a daunting role, whose essence she came closer to capturing in Blue Sky. If she failed to nail that showy trap for actresses, she can hardly be second guessed for a failed commercial detour into the scream queen territory of Hush. If the camp excesses of fright flicks eluded her, she was extraordinarily perceptive in the under-appreciated A Thousand Acres. Similarly impassioned women's films like The Deep End of the Ocean are cavalierly dismissed by the critical establishment as if melodrama were something to be disposed of with tweezers. As a daughter coming to grips with a legacy of incest, Lange captured all the reflections in her character's broken-mirrored agony.
Why should actresses over forty be pigeonholed as a sounding board for bankable male stars as Lange was in the bogus historical epic Rob Roy ? Should she swallow her two Oscars like bitter pills and subjugate herself to Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro in indefensible remakes that don't cater to her strengths? What Lange has chosen to do is to remain a working actress rather than an unemployed movie star. She had the misfortune to be spectacularly good in a boorishly directed version of Balzac's Cousin Bette. As the petty tyrant of a poor relative, she's icily brilliant and only falls short by failing to persuade us of her character's plainness. Of course, Lange has often been given short shrift by critics, as far back as her debut in King Kong. Defiantly jutting her chin forward, she continues to extend her range with a magnetic turn as the monstrous mother in Titus. One hopes, that just as Katharine Hepburn managed to jump start her stalled stardom in the 1950s, Lange may be warming up for the most productive years of her career in the millennium.