Interview with Jessica Lange of "American Horror Story: Asylum" on FX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Jessica Lange

Interview with Jessica Lange on "American Horror Story: Asylum" on FX 12/7/12

It's not often that I get to speak to a huge star like this. She was very fun and gracious, and she loved to talk. What a great lady! And she still looks so beautiful, too.

Final Transcript
FX NETWORK: American Horror Story: Asylum
December 7, 2012/10:00 a.m. PST

Matthew Mitchell Ė 20th Century Fox Television
Jessica Lange Ė American Horror Story: Asylum

Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the American Horror Story: Asylum call. At this time, all phone participants are in a listen-only mode. In a moment there will be an opportunity for your questions. As a reminder, this call is being recorded. Iíd now like to turn the conference over to Matthew Mitchell. Please go ahead.

M. Mitchell Thank you. Hello, everyone and thank you for joining the call this morning with Ms. Lange. Due to the large number of participants for this call we do ask that you stick to one question, and if you wish for a follow up you can re-enter the queue.  And at this time weíll turn it over and get started.

Moderator (Instructions given.) Weíll go to the line of Dave Itzkoff with the New York Times.

D. Itzkoff Hi, Ms. Lange. Congratulations on your Emmy victory for the show and the excellent work that you continue to do on the series.

J. Lange Thank you.

D. Itzkoff One of the reasons I think youíve been so successful on the show and in the series it seems is that youíre just so willing and so game to take on really anything that gets thrown at you in the course of these two shows. I wonder, is there ever a time when something is sent your way in the course of these shows that itís just too much for you, or are you the one thatís egging Ryan Murphy and company along? Do you want more challenges in your American Horror Story tenure?

J. Lange Well, there are times when Iíve said, ďI think this is too much,Ē but thatís not been too often because they tend to write for me less action and I donít know, maybe more kind of psychological. But thatís been better. I wouldnít really know how to do a lot of the really intense action scenes, so I have a few of those but not many. I think there was a leap of faith on my part just thinking, well, if Iím going to do this Iím going to do this. And I think as an actor you have to have trust, you have to believe that somebody is taking care of you or watching your back, because with a part like this especially and where weíre going with it, I canít pull any punches, I canít do it halfway, especially when youíre dealing with madness and this descent into madness, and I really felt like, okay, Iím going to embrace this 100% and hopefully somebody will look out for me and not let me completely humiliate myself. Yes, itís combined.

And sometimes I ask them specifically for stuff, like I want to sing or I want to dance or I want to do this, something frivolous, and sure enough it shows up in the next script, or I want to play a lounge singer from the í40s, so somehow itís a give and take situation and then I end up doing things like Ö scenes where I say, okay, Iíve done two, I will not do any more. This is enough. I donít enjoy this. This is not my character. So thatís how we work really. Iíve never worked this way before where itís so fluid between the creators, the writers, and me. Usually you get a script and itís there and itís start to finish, and this kind of evolves and morphs as we go along. I do have more input, but then there are of course limitations within the structure of the whole story and the trajectory of where itís going. But itís been interesting. Itís been an interesting challenge.

D. Itzkoff Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate it.

J. Lange Thank you.

Moderator Weíll go to Natalie Abrams with

N. Abrams Hi, Jessica.

J. Lange Hi.

N. Abrams How much has Ryan Murphy told you about Season 3, and what about that attracted you to stick with the show for another year?

J. Lange Well, we havenít really talked about it too much, and all that stuff is still under discussion. I think I will try it again, depending on what the story is and who the character is and all of that, so weíll see what happens.

N. Abrams All right, thank you.

Moderator Weíll go to Neal Justin with the Minneapolis Star.

N. Justin Hi, Jessica. I know that you still spend some time in Minnesota, and I was wondering if you could clarify a little bit about how much time you spend in Minnesota and why thatís still important for you and your family to have that connection.

J. Lange I spend as much as I possibly can. I have a cabin thatís been the family home for the last 30-some years. Itís everyoneís favorite place to be and itís home. That means the world to me, home and family, and thatís why weíre there. And itís exquisitely beautiful, kind of a magical place way up north, but yes, thatís where Iím from, thatís my most primal identity, I think, is from that part of the world.

N. Justin Thank you very much.
Moderator Weíll go to Pya Sinha-Roy with Reuters.

P. Sinha-Roy Hi, Ms. Lange. Itís a pleasure speaking to you today. I was just interested really in the difference between your character from Season 1, Constance very much seemed to be the puppet master, but in Season 2 Jude is fast becoming our very complex hero as the season develops. How different are Judeís intentions to Constanceís, and what did you really want to bring to Jude that you may not have been able to do with Constance?

J. Lange I think ďpuppet masterĒ is a very good description of Constance. The thing that I found, kind of the spine of the character of Constance, was that this was a woman who had basically lost everything and had nothing left to lose and also was extremely, what can I say, unafraid, so she just manipulated her way and put herself in situations that probably other people would not have. With Jude she has a lot to lose because sheís holding on to something that she feels has saved her life and redeemed her, and then when it all becomes clear that everything was false, from the idea that she did not run over and kill this child, which is what sent her on this whole path, trying to find some kind of life, some redemption, some spiritual life, that when she discovers everything is false from the beginning, thereís a descent into madness that is completely different and for me much more interesting to play.

I thought Constance was a wonderful character, she was kind of a throwback to the í40s, kind of tough dame, sweet talking but with a real edge, she did not suffer fools, nothing went past her, she had a way of moving through everything and getting what she wanted. This woman is much more vulnerable and I think in some way tragic. Sheís destroyed her life. Sheís an addict. Sheís an alcoholic. Sheís had bad luck with men, a lot of bad men in her life. And sheís come to the end of the road with the hopes that this church, that this man, the Monsignor, is going to save her, that sheíll become something else, that sheíll make her life worth living. And of course that all comes down, crashing, and sheís left absolutely alone, completely and totally alone, and those are two things I love playing because you also find them in Williamsí characters, the thing of aloneness, the idea of being completely alone in the world and couple that with madness, and itís a really potent combination to play.

I know Iím rattling on. Itís hard to talk about these characters succinctly, but that would probably be the difference. I donít know if that answered your question.
P. Sinha-Roy Thank you so much.

Moderator Weíll go to the line of Emily Gagne with TV Guide Canada.

E. Gagne Jessica, itís great to talk to you. Iím a big fan of the show and obviously your performance, as everyone is, but I just wanted to know, going into Season 3, what would be something different that you would want to play, what would make it so that you would want to sign on and continue to work with American Horror Story as far as character Ö?

J. Lange I donít know yet. I havenít really thought it through. When we started talking about Season 2 I had very clear ideas of what I wanted to play. I had never played an alcoholic before. I wanted to play a great drunk scene. I remember I asked Ryan for that. I wanted to play somebody who was really down and out, and also the whole area of madness. So those were things that I specifically had in mind when we talked about the character of Sister Jude. For next year, you know, Iím just exhausted from this whole experience. And this season, it seems like itís gone on forever and I really donít have a thought about next season yet. Thereís a lot of stuff that will come up, but as of now I hate to say I havenít given it any thought whatsoever.
E. Gagne Okay, well thank you so much, Jessica.

Moderator Weíll go to Amy Amatangelo with Paste Magazine.

A. Amatangelo Hi, thank you so much for talking to us today.

J. Lange Thanks.

A. Amatangelo I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how much of the arc you knew ahead of time for this season. Were you aware, because it really has struck me that Jude started off as the villain, so to speak, in a way and has now kind of become the hero of the story and the one that Ö to prevail. Did you know that this was the arc she would take?

J. Lange Really, no, because this thing kind of has a life of its own. Itís like a river, it moves one direction and then it continues that way and then it shifts direction. I think Ryan has these things roughly plotted out of where things are going to go, but I donít always know ahead of time. I have to say I kind of understood that we would be dealing with this kind of descent into hell, but I did not know really that Jude would rise to the top of this in a way, so no.
And in a way thatís what makes it interesting to play, because usually you get a script and you have all the story, all the acts are there for a play, you know what happens in the first, second, and third act, and you know how it starts, you know where you go and where it finishes, and with this itís a whole new experience. I donít know where itís going. Itís kind of like life, you donít know whatís going to happen next. And itís been an interesting way to work. Itís made me work in a much more fluid, I think in a braver way in a way, of just taking every chance that comes along. I donít plan things ahead of time. I donít map out the character. I donít do anything. Itís been for me a great, powerful exercise in working just in the moment, from this moment to the next moment. And I actually think that itís made me a better actor, in a way, because of not being able to go into something pre-determined.

A. Amatangelo Thank you so much.

J. Lange Thanks.

Moderator Weíll go to Jaimie Etkin with The Huffington Post.

J. Etkin Hi, Jessica. Thank you so much for taking the time. I just wanted to ask specifically about next weekís episode. In the previews we see that Sister Jude is tied down in a bed and is now a patient at Briarcliff, and this also kind of sets up the opportunity for her to create an alliance with Lana and Kit. What can you tell us about next weekís episode?

J. Lange I donít know what Iím allowed to say about whatís coming up or not. Iím always a little timid about talking about the plot line. Yes, everything gets put in motion now as far as Briarcliff and the demise of that institution and everybodyís departure from it, except mine. Yes, she actually does now try to right the wrongs that she has done, but of course sheís totally trapped within her own making, in a way. Yes, I donít know, beyond that Iím not sure I should say where itís going.

J. Etkin Okay. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Moderator Weíll go to Lesley Goldberg with Hollywood Reporter.

L. Goldberg Hi, Jessica. Getting back to Season 3, I hate to continue to pepper you with these questions, but are there any circumstances in which you wouldnít return for next year once you heard what the concept is?
J. Lange Well, not that I can imagine at this point, because Ryan is very collaborative. So I donít think he would suddenly pull something out of his hat that I would say I absolutely donít want to be involved with this story. Sometimes on episode to episode I think, oh my God, what the hell are we doing? We shouldnít be doing this. And yet, the thing that always amazes me is nothing that we do in this show really is not somehow founded in some reality somewhere. Like this whole thing with the character of Bloody Face, I was reading about Ed Gein not too long ago, how he actually wore his victimís skin, so itís like whatever is imagined in this show, thereís nothing that has not happened somewhere in the world at some point. So I think unless we really sink the ship, I canít imagine that there would be something that Ryan came up with that I would not want to be involved with.

L. Goldberg Great. Thank you so much.

Moderator And weíll go to Jerry Nun with Windy City Times.

J. Nun Hi, Ms. Lange. When Ė

J. Lange Windy City Times, is that Chicago?
J. Nun It is Chicago, yes. Weíre a gay and lesbian newspaper. And I wanted you to talk about your following, you have tons of gay fans, and the show has all kinds of LGBT prop lines, and I was wondering whatís your opinion of it, do you have a family member thatís gay, something like that, because youíre really involved in AIDS work and all kinds of things so I was wondering where it comes from.

J. Lange Letís see, I canít remember all those different questions. No, I donít have a family member thatís gay. Yes, my dearest friends in the world for a long, long time are gay men. Iíve worked a lot, especially in the beginning, with different AIDS organizations. And I forget, what are your other questions? Iím sorry.

J. Nun From the show, the LGBT factors must be interesting to Ö work with Ryan and all that.

J. Lange Well, yes, I think he deals with all of that in I think a very interesting way. Thereís always a character or two characters that enter in, and itís also interesting that he places them in specific times, like this idea that in the world of psychiatry back in the í60s homosexuality was dealt with as a mental condition, a mental illness that could be cured. He approaches things, I think, with great, I donít know, relevance, and I do appreciate that a lot.

J. Nun Well, great. Come to Chicago and come visit us sometime Ö .

J. Lange Okay.

J. Nun Thanks.

Moderator Weíll go to April MacIntyre with Monsters & Critics.

A. MacIntyre Hi, Ms. Lange. Thanks for your time. I actually have a copy of your book, 50 Photographs, and Iím a big fan of your Ö .

J. Lange Thank you.

A. MacIntyre This show has such a stunning visual, it differentiates itself from other TV series in that itís very visually, almost photographic to me in the snapshots and the music, and the way that they fade in and out. You mentioned earlier the collaborative nature of you with Mr. Murphy, and I was wondering if you would ever collaborate with the DP or ask questions or have an opinion about the visual layout of the show, since youíre such an accomplished photographer?

J. Lange Well, Iím very curious about the way it looks, yes. I always watch cinematographers on the set because in some way I think having spent 30 years making movies, maybe itís 35 now, I think Iíve been informed in my photography by filmmakers, by the cinematographer, so that Iím drawn always, when I take a photograph what prompts me to lift my camera and click the shutter usually has a great deal to do with setting, with lighting, with the choreography, the grouping.

So I think that, in fact Iím just looking now at the wall, Iíve got all these little 8x10s of Day of the Dead, I was there in Oaxaca just a month ago, and yes, it has a very cinematic feel to it. And I think because Iíve been doing movies as long as I have, that one lends itself to the other. I understand, and Iím very curious, about how you light specifically for dramatic emphasis. And I think Michael Goy in this series that weíre doing is a master at that. He really does an amazing job lighting this show. Yes, itís amazing to watch him do it and to create the emotions. And through the ambience, through the lighting, right away you have an instantaneous emotional reaction before the scene even plays out.
Moderator Weíll go to Stacy Harrison with Tribune Media Service.

S. Harrison Hi, Ms. Lange. I just was wondering if you could talk about the fact that youíve really become a fan favorite and this show seems to have, throughout two seasons, opened up a whole new audience for you, a whole new energy to what youíre doing. Whatís the reaction been like, and what do you make of it?

J. Lange Well, I donít follow that side of it too much. I understand that thereís a demographic that otherwise probably wouldnít know my work. Iím always surprised when young people donít know certain actors or are not familiar with certain films, even people who are working in Hollywood, which is really alarming, are not aware of certain filmmakers if itís more than 20 years ago or 25 years ago, or maybe even 15 years ago.

So I understand that this has given me a whole new exposure that probably I wouldnít have had otherwise, because the kind of films that I do, I donít do big studio films that gross $100 million or whatever, Iíve mostly done small, independent movies, and that has a very limited audience. So this is a greater audience probably than Iíve had for a long, long time, and itís also the demographic is much younger, so thatís all good, I guess. I donít know ultimately what that means, but yes, Iím glad people are looking at the work. Iím very grateful for that.

S. Harrison Okay, thank you very much.

Moderator Weíll go to Bill Harris with Sun Media.

B. Harris Ms. Lange, I was just curious, at what point in your acting career did you sort of come to the realization that I can play creepy really, really well, when was that aha moment. And do you have to tap into a different part of your acting brain to achieve it so well?

J. Lange I donít think of any of my characters as creepy. They might be misguided and they might be crazy, but definitely not creepy. Like I said earlier in this interview today, thereís nothing that appeals to me more than playing madness, and that I do know how to dip into. But thatís quite different than creepy. Iím sorry, I didnít find anything creepy about these characters.

B. Harris Okay, thanks. I guess youíll have to go back and watch them again, because I donít know.
Moderator And weíll go to Neal Justin with Minneapolis Star.

N. Justin Jessica, Ö some of the interesting phases of your career, you were an ingťnue, youíve been a leading lady, and so many actresses they reach a certain age and they either go away or they kind of reinvent themselves. How would you describe this stage in your career? It seems to me that you are doing more character acting, is that fair to say? Are there roles or are there things that you can do now that you couldnít do 30 years ago?

J. Lange Yes, I think obviously your days as leading lady are limited. You have that one little window of time from mid-20s to maybe mid-40s. Iím trying to think of the last leading lady I played, it might have been like what, Blue Sky or something. And then I was, how old was I then, I must have been early 40s, so yes, where you played the romantic lead, that comes to an end at a certain point. And yes, I suppose then you could define the parts that come your way as characters, you become a character actor. But I always felt that way from the beginning, because I was never doing, except maybe for Tootsie, which was actually so well written that it didnít fall into that category, I mean, I was never playing just the girlfriend or the wife. So they were all, to my mind, I was always a character actress, even though I suppose combined with that was the element of being a leading lady, whatever that means now, that feels like a throwback to another era of filmmaking.

I just did a film this spring, I guess that will come out a year from now or something, based on Emile Zolaís novel, ThťrŤse Raquin, which is what, this is an interesting circle, which is what James M. Cain based Postman Always Rings Twice on, in 19-whatever that was, 1980 I played the character of Cora in Postman. And in this, in 2012, I played the mother of the son that is murdered by the young couple. So it was a full circle, because itís the same story basically, James Cain based his story on the Zola novel, so you see it does come back around. Yes, I suppose in some way, yes, weíve all become character actors at a certain point. Weíre no longer Ė

N. Justin Are there things you can do now, though, as an actress that you can get away with that wouldnít have worked 20 years ago just because youíre Jessica Lange and youíre of a certain age and you can be a little bit more dramatic?

J. Lange Sometimes when Iím doing this, because of this characterís descent and where sheís going with this madness and everything, it harkens back to when I played Frances, so in some odd way Iím still doing the same things that I was doing all those many years ago, but of course under completely different auspices.

Okay, I know Iím being very vague and rambling, hereís what I think is the difference is now I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I donít mind putting myself out there in the most raw, naked, exposed ways. I also am able to do that because I really feel that Ryan would protect me somehow. But yes, I feel at this point now I can take any chance I want, I can go as far as I want, because judgment doesnít matter to me anymore. I think in the beginning it does, the slings and arrows and you suddenly, oh my God, they said that, really? Is that how they Ö . You know none of that matters to me anymore. Now the only thing that I care about is, is it thrilling? Am I doing something I havenít done before? Am I true? I think thatís the main thing is have I found some vein of truth? And then Iíll follow that as far as I can go with it. So itís a different way of working, I guess, and I donít know if it has as much to do with age as it has to do with how long Iíve been doing it.

N. Justin Thank you.

Moderator Weíll go to Pya Sinha-Roy with Reuters.

P. Sinha-Roy Hi, Ms. Lange. I have one more question. I think in the first season the scares were certainly slightly more supernatural and this one itís more real, serial killers, and far more bloody. What effect do you think that has on the audience for American Horror Story? How are the scares different this time around?

J. Lange I think itís darker. I think the whole story is darker this time. It deals, I think, on a much darker psychological level. Youíve got human experiments. I think in some way last season was a ghost story, and this season it really is the darker parts of the human psyche that Ryan is exploring. I think the affect is that itís hard to watch, I hear that from people a lot. ďI canít watch it, itís too horrifying,Ē or whatever. I donít know, I think you have to strike a balance. I think this season became darker than anybody anticipated, just because of the subject areas that they laid out in the beginning, I mean, the thing with the ex-Nazi SS doctor and human experiments, and the serial killer based on this character Ed Gein. Yes, the warehousing of human beings in these institutions, madness, I mean, yes, thereís a lot of subjects that theyíre covering, the Catholic Church, that lend themselves to great horror stories.
P. Sinha-Roy Thank you.

Moderator Weíll go to Kevin Downey with TV First Look.

K. Downey Hi, Ms. Lange. Thank you so much for speaking with me. I was wondering if you could talk about the process you go through as an actress. You switched from such memorable characters as Big Edie to Constance to Sister Jude, whatís the process you go through?

J. Lange It depends. I work differently on all of them, but recently, like I said earlier, Iíve been trying to work in a very immediate fashion so that Iím relying much more now on just pure imagination that comes up in a moment and I just follow that through rather than trying to plan anything or design anything. And I think thatís the biggest difference.

With fictional characters it really is you rise and fall on the strength of your imagination, I think. With somebody like Big Edie, of course, I had a wealth of resource material to draw from. But the thing that Iíve been working on more and more lately is finding the character through the voice, and sometimes I would work on finding it through the emotional core, which is still the main element I work in, but the external instead of finding it through movement or body or whatever, now I try to find it through voice. And itís been very interesting, because with Big Edie every day Iíd come to the set I would listen to her voice, I would put on the DVD of Grey Gardens and not look at the image but just hear the voice, and as soon as I found that voice I could drop into the character.

Now, with Sister Jude this year Iíve also found a voice that as soon as itís there and present I feel like I think into the character. And Iíve done something with the voice as itís gone along that itís been changing as we go down this rabbit hole. So thatís the process, I donít know if that makes any sense to you, but thatís kind of how I find that Iím working now, I mean, strictly through the imagination and then looking for the character, trying to find the character mostly through the voice.

Moderator And weíll go to the line of Geoff Berkshire with Zap2It.

J. Berkshire Hi, Ms. Lange. One of the things that Ryan does for you on this show is surround you with really great actors, Ö, Sarah Paulson, Ian McShane, and James Cromwell, and Iím just wondering if you can talk a little bit about that, about getting to work with so many actors throughout the course of this series, and if you can talk specifically about a scene where maybe it felt really great to be working with somebody.

J. Lange Yes, I think the acting has been really amazing this year. A lot of the actors came back from last year, and itís wonderful, I think what Ryan had in mind is this kind of Mercury Theatre, this idea of having a repertory company and moving them from one project to another, and thereís something kind of great about that, watching these actors come in and create a different character.

But, yes, I mean, one of my favorite actors that I worked with in these episodes last year and this year is Frances Conroy. Thereís just something in her, I donít know thereís something, when weíre on screen together something happens. I think one of my favorite scenes that Iíve played this year is the scene from, I guess it was Episode 7 in the diner when sheís come for me as the Angel of Death, and I donít know, thereís almost a connection that you canít really describe. But certain actors I think just find something when theyíre working together, and thatís how I felt in these scenes with Frannie. But every actor that Iíve worked with on this, I mean, James, Sarah, and Lily and Ian, itís just a pleasure to work with them. And even actors who come in for just a dayís work have been amazing and have really brought something and make your work better.

J. Berkshire Did you ask specifically for Frances Conroy to come back? Did you say, ďRyan, we really need to have her back?Ē

J. Lange No, I think Ryan always knew he wanted her back.

J. Berkshire Okay.

J. Lange Yes.

Moderator And our final question will come from Ernie Estrella with

E. Estrella Hello, Ms. Lange. I wanted you to maybe go further about that scene with Frances, because it seemed like that, to me, was the pivotal scene for Sister Jude because she finally bares her soul and she really feels like sheís come to, I guess, at odds with what sheís had in her life. So could you maybe talk about prepping for that scene and maybe building up to that scene through the season and then finally being able to work on it?
J. Lange Well, first I thought it was really well written, so thatís the first thing. If youíve got it on the page, then you can find a way. The worst thing in the world is to try to play a poorly written scene, so that right away I give credit to the writers and to Ryan. But whatís been kind of interesting about this process is that it keeps unfolding and unfolding and you come back each episode with the experience of what youíve already played, and I just felt that that scene is the turning point for my character, because after this she becomes entrapped, and itís such an honest and vulnerable moment that it shifts the playing field, in a way, from who she was up until that point and who sheís going to become.

But, I donít know, every once in a while, and I donít really know how to describe it, something just happens within a scene and it feels right. It feels honest. It feels pure. And it feels like itís elevated the character to something else. So, yes, itís a mystery to me why some things work and other things donít. But, yes, I really felt that that scene was kind of the crux of the character.

E. Estrella It was such a nice call back to the Season 1, with your scenes with Frances there too, so such a beautiful scene and just such a pleasure watching you this season.
Moderator And Mr. Mitchell, Iíll turn the call back to you for any closing comments.

M. Mitchell Thank you. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for joining the call today. At this time weíll end the call. Thank you so much for your time, everybody.

J. Lange Thank you, everyone.

Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Executive TeleConference Service. You may now disconnect.

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