THE ACTRESS' ROLES--FROM APE'S WOMAN TO SCOTSWOMAN--SPEAK VOLUMES

By EW Staff
Updated April 14, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Jessica Lange’s career has ranged from the absurd (Dino De Laurentiis’ ’76 King Kong remake), to the little-seen (1989’s Music Box) and not so interesting (1980’s How to Beat the High Cost of Living), to the sublime (playing the anguished Frances Farmer in ’82). Here she offers a take on some highs — and lows. * The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) Lange won her first good reviews as a murderous adulteress in this steamy film noir remake. ”It was my first really serious part. Jack (Nicholson) looked after me at a time I really needed it. He was amazingly nurturing as well as being very naughty.”

* Frances (1982) Lange was nominated as Best Actress for her portrayal of starlet Frances Farmer. ”She really took me over the edge — I felt the same kind of rage she did. I immersed myself in it more completely than I needed to. I was really haunted by that character.”

* Tootsie (1982) As the best friend of an in-drag Dustin Hoffman, Lange snagged the year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar. ”It’s the only film of mine I’ve seen in recent years. Once I do the film and see the director’s cut, I never look at it again. But my children enjoy it, so now and then I’ll watch parts with them. I had to adjust to working with Dustin. He likes frenetic energy, and I like to work from a quiet, private place.”

* Country (1984) Lange costars with Sam Shepard in this story of struggling farmers. ”This was very dear to me at the time. It dealt with the Midwest and that kind of disappearing rural life in America. It was a very personal film.”

* Sweet Dreams (1985) Lange won another Oscar nod with her portrayal of country singer Patsy Cline. ”One of my favorites. To slip into her skin and live that life. We used her recordings because I can’t sing a lick. I’d lip- synch and have them turn the volume up so that I could sing as loud as I wanted. It was like her voice was coming through me.”

* Crimes of the Heart (1986) Lange, Diane Keaton, and Sissy Spacek play eccentric Southern sisters. ”I had just had my second child and wasn’t as concentrated as I should have been. But I just loved being around Diane and Sissy.”

* Everybody’s All-American (1988) Lange is the unhappy wife of an aging college football hero played by Dennis Quaid. ”It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. I went into it thinking it could be one of the greatest love stories ever put on film. Then to see the whole thing unravel…. The rehearsals start and you think, ‘No they’re not getting it.’ Then the shooting, and you’re thinking, ‘Uh-oh, it’s off track.’ Then you see the final cut and it’s like, ‘F- – -!’ I was crushed. Then I felt I’d been duped, and I got angry at myself.”

* Far North (1988) Lange returns to the family farm after her father is in an accident. ”We were up around my family’s home — back in the woods in Minnesota. Sam wrote it for me. It was a joy.”

* Men Don’t Leave (1990) Lange plays a widow struggling to raise two sons. ”It wasn’t promoted — it was just thrown out there. But many people say it’s their favorite film of mine — they say it came just when they got divorced or their mother died. It seemed to touch people.”

* Cape Fear (1991) Lange costars with Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, and Juliette Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 thriller. ”My character was the least important of the lead four. But I was so anxious to work with Marty. I actually had gone up for (Cathy Moriarty’s) part in Raging Bull and had desperately wanted to do that.”

* Blue Sky (1994) Lange scored this year’s Oscar win as a manic-depressive, sex-obsessed Army wife. ”It’s easier to do roles like Carly, because you can take them in any direction and make them wild and insane. One of my favorite actors is Tommy Lee Jones. He’s not easy to know; he’s not trying to be Mr. Congeniality. But he has this powerful magic.”

* Losing Isaiah (1995) Lange is a social worker who adopts a black baby. ”I had a terrible time on that film. It was as bad as it ever gets with that director (Stephen Gyllenhaal). I never should have let myself get into it. I don’t think the story was balanced properly between the two characters, and there was a lot of tension created on the set by the director and the writer- producer. I let my feelings be known. It ended very, very, very badly.”

* Rob Roy (1995) Lange is Liam Neeson’s wife in this 18th-century Scottish epic. ”One of those films where you say, ‘Oh, God, I was so lucky.’ Rarely do you see characters like mine and Liam’s who aren’t two 20-year-olds but who + are sensual and sexual and who are in love with each other and honor each other.”

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