Out of all the roles that Jessica Lange has had in her career so far, none are perhaps more memorable than her work on FX’s American Horror Story. Recognized with an Emmy for her portrayal of Constance in the first season of Ryan Murphy’s creepily fantastic hit, Lange has since proven that her award-worthy performance was not a one-time deal. In fact, season two’s American Horror Story: Asylum has only led Lange to up the game with her role as Sister Jude.
“I can’t pull any punches and I can’t do it halfway,” the actress explained on a press call last week while attempting to describe the challenge that comes with playing such a multifaceted character. “With Jude, she has a lot to lose because she’s holding onto something that she feels has saved her life and redeemed her – and then when it becomes clear that everything was false from the beginning, there’s a descent into madness that is completely different and much more interesting to play. ”
That madness is something that Lange is well aware of, especially after last season. “I thought Constance was a wonderful character. She was kind of a throwback to the ’40s, kind of tough dame, sweet-talking but with a real edge. Nothing went past her; she had a way of moving through everything and getting what she wanted.” So how does that compare to playing Jude? “This woman is much more vulnerable and I think in some way, tragic,” mused Lange. “She’s destroyed her life. She’s an addict. She’s an alcoholic. She’s had bad luck with men, and a lot of bad men in her life. And she’s come to the end of the road with the hopes that this church, that this man, the Monsignor, is going to save her…that she’ll become something else, that she’ll make her life worth living. And of course, that all comes crashing down and she’s left absolutely alone, completely and totally alone.”
While Lange admitted she “kind of understood that we would be dealing with this kind of descent into hell,” she also admitted she knew next to nothing about the path Jude’s arc would take this season – though she was quick to point out that wasn’t necessarily something that affected her performance. “When we started talking about season two, 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 and I remember I asked Ryan for that. I wanted to play somebody who was really down and out, but I did not know really that Jude would rise to the top of this in a way, and that’s what makes it interesting to play. With this, it’s a whole new experience.”
And that “new experience” rings true not only for Lange, but also for her character who, based on the previews for tonight’s episode, will find herself in Briarcliff – this time on the other end of the spectrum, as a patient herself. “Everything gets put in motion now as far as Briarcliff and everybody’s departure from it – everyone’s except mine,” Lange teased when asked how the tables might be turned. “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.”
American Horror Story: Asylum airs tonight at 10pm on FX.