American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange on Sister Jude’s Descent Into Madness and Her Role in Season 3
In case you haven’t been watching the current season of American Horror Story, you’re not just missing a brutally haunting story of mental patients, depraved and devilish nuns, fetishistic serial killers, alien abductions, mutant humans, and Nazi doctors — you’re also missing a bravura performance by Jessica Lange, two-time Oscar winner, who already took home an Emmy for her involvement in the show’s first season.
Jessica talked with a group of reporters recently and revealed her insights into the show’s creative process; the psyche of her character, Sister Jude; the remainder of Season 2; and the already announced Season 3.
Though she’s known for her iconic roles in films like Blue Sky, Tootsie, Frances, and Big Fish, she seems to love the format of television. “I’ve never worked this way before where it’s so fluid between the creators, the writers, and me. Usually you get a script and it’s there and it’s start to finish, and this kind of evolves and morphs as we go along.”
American Horror Story is a thrill for Jessica, especially because she loves working with the same actors season in and out. “It’s 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 there’s something kind of great about that, watching these actors come in and create a different character.”
And Jessica thinks this season is even more horrifying than the last. “[It] became darker than anybody anticipated, just because of the subject areas that they laid out in the beginning. Yes, the warehousing of human beings in these institutions, madness, I mean, yes, there’s a lot of subjects that they’re covering — the Catholic Church — that lend themselves to great horror stories.”
She also seems to think Sister Jude is more of a challenge to play than her Season 1 character, Constance — though she states that she never thinks of either character as creepy. “I thought Constance was a wonderful character. 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. She’s destroyed her life. She’s an addict. She’s an alcoholic. She’s had bad luck with men... And she’s come to the end of the road with the hopes that this church is going to save her. She’s left absolutely alone... and couple that with madness, and it’s a really potent combination to play.”
Jessica admitted to not knowing much about what’s to come, but that’s how she likes it, in a way. “[The show] is like a river, it moves one direction and then it continues that way and then it shifts direction. It’s 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 don’t plan things ahead of time.”
So what can she tell us about the rest of Asylum? “Everything gets put in motion now as far as Briarcliff and the demise of that institution and everybody’s departure from it, except mine. Yes, she actually does now try to right the wrongs that she has done, but of course she’s totally trapped within her own making, in a way.”
Jessica pointed out that, though she has signed on for a third season, she and Ryan haven’t talked specifics. But she has complete faith in his abilities. “The thing that always amazes me is nothing that we do in this show really is not somehow founded in some reality somewhere. [...] There’s nothing that has not happened somewhere in the world at some point. So I think unless we really sink the ship, I can’t imagine that there would be something that Ryan came up with that I would not want to be involved with.”
And in a way, the ballsiness of the show is liberating for her. “I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I don’t 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,” she says, adding, “Now the only thing that I care about is, is it thrilling?”
Take it from us, Jessica: If nothing else, AHS is thrilling.