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About Jessica Lange
Jessica Phyllis Lange (born April 20, 1949) is an American actress who has worked in film, theatre and television. The recipient of multiple awards, Lange is regarded as one of the première female actors of her generation.
Lange was discovered by producer Dino De Laurentiis and made her professional film debut in 1976 with King Kong. In 1982, Lange became the first film actor in forty years to receive two Oscar nominations within the same year; she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of former Hollywood actress Frances Farmer in Frances and received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a soap opera star in the comedy Tootsie. Lange later won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Blue Sky (1994).
Lange has received six Academy Award nominations, winning two, and twelve Golden Globe nominations, winning five. Her work has also earned her one Emmy award, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Satellite Award, two National Society of Film Critics awards, one New York Film Critics Circle award, and one Los Angeles Film Critics Association award. She has also been awarded the Donostia Award from the San Sebastián International Film Festival, a Gala Tribute from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a Theater World Award, and a Crystal Award, amongst several other awards, nominations and tributes.
In addition to acting, Lange is a photographer with two published works, and is a humanitarian, holding a position as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, specializing in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Congo and Russia.
Lange was born in Cloquet, Minnesota on April 20, 1949. The third of four children, she is the daughter of Dorothy Florence (née Sahlman; 1913–98) and Albert John Lange (1913–89), a teacher and traveling salesman. Her maternal grandparents were of Finnish descent, while her paternal grandparents were German and Dutch. Due to the nature of her father's professions, Lange and her family moved often throughout her childhood, though they eventually returned to and settled in Minnesota.
Lange studied art and photography at the University of Minnesota where she formed a relationship with photographer Francisco "Paco" Grande. The two married, and Lange dropped out of university in favor of travelling with Grande throughout the United States, both of them living the "bohemian life" out of a "beat-up van" throughout the late 1960s. She then relocated to Paris, France, where their relationship would eventually end. Lange, however, remained in Paris and studied mime with the renowned Étienne Decroux. In 1973, Lange returned to New York to "witness Nixon get impeached". Supporting herself as a waitress at the Lion's Head Tavern while sharing an apartment with Jerry Hall and Grace Jones in Manhattan, she was discovered by fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and was briefly a fashion model for the Wilhelmina Models agency before being discovered by Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis.
Lange made her professional film debut in 1976's King Kong. Despite being a box office hit, the film and her performance were panned by most film critics and Hollywood. However, Pauline Kael praised Lange for her performance, comparing her to Carole Lombard and calling the film "campy fun". Lange won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year and the film became the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1976. Lange wouldn't work for nearly three years, however. Still, she was determined to pursue her dream of becoming a professional actress and returned to work as a waitress at the Lion's Head Tavern while attending classes at the Actors Studio in Greenwich Village.
In 1979, Lange was cast as the 'Angel of Death' in Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. The two were romantically linked until Lange met and became involved with Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, with whom she would have her first child. It is reported that Fosse wrote the part with Lange in mind. Soon thereafter, she was contacted by Bob Rafelson regarding a project he and Jack Nicholson were working on. Coincidentally, Nicholson had auditioned Lange for a part in his directorial debut, 1978's Goin' South. Though Lange lost the role to Mary Steenburgen, Nicholson was impressed and remained extremely interested in working with her, telling the actress that they would soon share the screen together. After several meetings and auditions, Rafelson would offer Lange the lead role, originated by Lana Turner, opposite Nicholson in 1981's The Postman Always Rings Twice, a remake of the classic film noir. Reportedly, after their first meeting, Rafelson wrote Lange's name on a slip of paper and placed it in a sealed envelope, knowing he had found his "first choice". Upon offering Lange the role, he handed her the envelope as a vote of confidence in her abilities. During filming, Nicholson became quite enamored with the actress for both her beauty and strength. He was quoted as referring to Lange as "a cross between a delicate fawn and a Buick." Although the controversial film received mixed reviews, critics took special notice of Lange, who was unanimously praised for her performance, some citing it as her "true film debut". Major critical and financial success soon followed.
In 1982, Lange became the first performer in 40 years to receive two Academy Award nominations in the same year for her performance in Frances, co-starring Kim Stanley, and for her supporting role in Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman. Lange also received two Golden Globe nominations that year for these performances. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie, which became the second highest-grossing film of 1982 (following Steven Spielberg's E.T.). Her performance also earned her a second Golden Globe in the supporting category, 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.
Lange first became aware of 1930s actress Frances Farmer while living in New York City in the 1970s, and spoke of fatefully being told by acting teacher Warren Robertson, "You know, if they ever make a film about Frances Farmer, you should play Frances." Film editor for The Postman Always Rings Twice, Graeme Clifford, who was preparing a biopic on Farmer's life, had noticed Lange's range as an actress and the uncanny resemblance she bore to Farmer and suggested her as his first choice to producer Mel Brooks, who had favored Tuesday Weld for the role. Brooks would later speak of agreeing with Clifford after his first meeting with Lange.
Filming Frances was a grueling and emotionally taxing experience for Lange, who has spoken of "going over the edge" during the shoot. However, it was during this time that she met and fell in love with co-star Sam Shepard. The two would soon move in together and have their first child the following year.
The now "established actress" quickly became a highly sought-after star and was offered roles in box-office hits such as 1984's Romancing the Stone, Places In The Heart, The River and 1988's Gorillas in the Mist. The power and prestige she had earned with her sudden success afforded her the opportunity to both star in and act as executive producer of her next film, 1984's Country, inspired by an article in a Midwest newspaper about a family facing farm foreclosure, and co-starring Shepard. Lange was a staunch supporter of farmers' rights, admitting that her own "Midwestern upbringing" made her especially empathetic to their plight. Her performance earned her a third Academy Award nomination and fourth Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. In 1985, 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, with whom she formed a close frienship. 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, for which she was nominated for her fourth Academy Award. 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 of 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 and late 1980s were mostly low profile and underperformed at the box office. In 1989, she starred in Costa-Gavras' Music Box, written by Joe Eszterhas and loosely based on the screenwriter's own experiences with his father. 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's film work during the 1990s became somewhat sporadic due to her taking time off to raise her children and to her increasing interest in stage work. In 1989 she starred in Paul Brickman's Men Don't Leave, which introduced Chris O'Donnell and co-starred Joan Cusack and Kathy Bates. In 1991, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro, who had both auditioned Lange for 1981's Raging Bull, approached her to star in a remake of the 1962 film noir classic, Cape Fear, starring DeNiro along with Nick Nolte and Juliette Lewis. The film and cast received tremendous critical praise and it became the eighth highest-grossing film of 1991. 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 also occurred that same year as she portrayed Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire opposite Alec Baldwin. Critics panned Lange's performance as being "too cinematic" and criticized her for her lack of stage technique and experience. A few critics, however, lauded her performance, citing it as one of the best and most realistic interpretations of Williams' seminal character on Broadway.
Tony Richardson's Blue Sky, which was completed in 1991, was shelved after Orion Pictures declared bankruptcy that same year. In 1994, after sitting in a bank vault in New York City for three years, Lynn Arost persisted in pushing for the film's release. Lange was lauded for her performance as a manic depressive army wife in the 1960s. She won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the Golden Globe Award, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award and the Sant Jordi de Cine award for Best Actress. During her acceptance speech for the Oscar, Lange dedicated her award to her children and to the memory and brilliance of director Tony Richardson, who had recently died from AIDS-related complications. Backstage asked by the press, when looking for roles how she "managed to challenge age", Lange jokingly replied, "Well, they need some old girls, sometimes." Her victory placed her in an elite group of thespians who have won Oscars in both the supporting and lead categories. (see Academy Award for Best Actress and Academy Award for Best Actor). 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 "A Streetcar Named Desire", opposite Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane, and John Goodman. This time, she received rave reviews for her performance, winning her a fourth Golden Globe and her first Emmy nomination for Best Actress.
In 1996, Lange made her London stage debut, starring again as Blanche DuBois. The following year she starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in a film adaptation of Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Thousand Acres. The film also starred Jason Robards and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and received generally mixed reviews. Lange was nominated for her ninth Golden Globe and won the Venice Film Festival's Schermi d'Amore award. In 1998, she starred opposite Elizabeth 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. Her performance was panned as "over the top" by many critics, though Roger Ebert disagreed, writing:
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 rave reviews for her performance in Titus, Julie Taymor's 1999 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, opposite Anthony Hopkins and Alan Cumming. During promotional interviews for the film, Hopkins revealed his admiration for Lange, stating that her performance in Frances was his favorite by an actress. Entertainment Weekly film critic, Lisa Schwarzbaum, included Lange in a "for your consideration" article directed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:
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 positive 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 highly-acclaimed Normal, a film about a man who reveals to his wife his decision to have a sex change. She followed this with notable 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.
Lange would see a resurgence in her popularity in 2009 with her performance as Big Edie, opposite Drew Barrymore, in HBO's Grey Gardens, based on the 1975 documentary of the same name. The two women would form a tight "mother-daughter" bond during filming, spending the entire shoot together "in each other's hotel rooms". She won her first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Movie after two previous nominations in the same category. During her acceptance speech, Lange thanked Barrymore, dedicating half of the award to her and Barrymore's taped reaction saw her mouthing the response, "I love you mother darling." Lange also received her eleventh Golden Globe nomination and second Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her performance, losing both awards to Barrymore.
In 2011, Lange joined the cast of the FX horror series American Horror Story. Series co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk originally wrote the role of Constance, a nosy next-door neighbor, as a supporting character, but after Lange acquired the role, they expanded it considerably. Murphy also stated that he had repeatedly seen Lange as Blanche DuBois on Broadway in 1992 after which he grew "obsessed" with her, citing her and her performance as his ultimate favorites. American Horror Story debuted as FX's highest-rated premiere, quickly becoming one of the network's highest-rated shows ever. Once again, Lange has seen a resurgence in her popularity and has received rave reviews for her controversial role. The International Press Academy awarded Lange a Special Achievement Satellite Award for Outstanding Performance in a Television Series. Lange also received her first Screen Actors Guild Award, after two previous nominations, this being her first in the category of Best Actress in a Drama Series, and won her fifth Golden Globe Award, her first in the category of Best Supporting Actress on Television. She was also awarded the Dorian Award by the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association for Television Performance of the Year. In addition, she was chosen by TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and MTV for giving one of the "best performances of 2011".
Lange starred in Michael Sucsy's The Vow (2012), opposite Channing Tatum, and will appear in a film adaptation of the television show, The Big Valley, in the role Barbara Stanwyck made famous.
Humanitarian work and political views
Lange is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), specializing in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Congo and in spreading awareness of the disease in Russia. She has also been a public critic of former U.S. President George W. Bush, once calling his administration, "a self-serving regime of deceit, hypocrisy and belligerence," and has been a fervent human rights supporter of the Buddhist monks in Nepal.
Lange was married to photographer Francisco "Paco" Grande from 1970 to 1981. Since 1982, she lived with playwright/actor Sam Shepard, but separated in 2010. She has three children, Alexandra (born 1981) from her relationship with dancer/actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker (born 1987) with Shepard.
In 2008, Lange published her own collection of black-and-white pictures entitled 50 Photographs (powerHouse Books) with a special introduction by Patti Smith. An exhibition of her work, along with a series of her films, was presented at the oldest international museum of photography and film, the George Eastman House, after which Lange was presented with the first George Eastman House Honors Award in 2009. In 2010, she published a second collection of photographs, In Mexico.