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The Transformation Of Jessica Lange From Childhood To AHS

Jessica Lange has the range. The actress is one of the few to win the "triple crown" of acting: an Emmy, a Tony, and an Academy Award, per Insider. That's one Grammy short of an EGOT, by the way. Someone give her a David Bowie cover album, stat! Lange actually has two Oscars and three Emmys, so she's really more of an EEEOOT. But Lange got a surprisingly late start on all her acting plaudits, only joining the biz at the age of 27.

Lange had led a crazy, anecdote-filled life before even starting acting with the 1976 remake of "King Kong." Then, she worked steadily for the next few decades, only to find a zeitgeist-capturing vehicle in "American Horror Story." Lange was the backbone of the show, and fans have missed her dearly since her last full season, "Freak Show." Lange's return to the Murder House in "AHS: Apocalypse" gave the actress her 10th Emmy nomination in 2019. Here's how she got there.

Pre-Kong days

The Independent wrote that Lange's childhood seemed straight out of an Arthur Miller play, writing, "Her father was a salesman, her mother a housewife and her childhood illness was soothed away by acting out Olivia De Havilland's deathbed scene in 'Gone With the Wind'." Lange went to college at the University of Minnesota, where she studied photography until dropping out to travel the world. While there, she met her first husband, Paco Grande. 

Per that same Independent article, Grande and Lange traveled through Europe in a pick-up truck. While in France with Grande, Lange studied mime with famed instructor Etienne DeCroux and singing at the Opéra-Comique. Also while in Paris, Lange was discovered in Paris by photographer Antonio Lopez. Back then, she shared an apartment with fellow models Jerry Hall and Grace Jones. In her memoir (via CR Fashion Book), Jones described the trio as "Young, lustful girls moving around Europe, with Paris at the center."

She hated being a 'model-turned-actress'

Eventually, Lange flitted off to New York, where she became a waitress at Greenwich Village's famous Lion's Head bar. Producer Dino De Laurentis found Lange through her modeling, and singled her out as the new Fay Wray-type in his remake of "King Kong." De Laurentis played up her "discovery" by him, but Lange said that she "hated being lumped into that category of model-turned-actress," per The Independent. According to her biography, "King Kong" was a box office success but a critical pan. Many critics slammed Lange for being a former model.

Lange didn't work for three years after "King Kong." During that time, she started dating Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous ballet dancer. She also befriended Bob Fosse, who gave Lange's career a second shot with "All That Jazz." In the barely veiled autobiopic, Lange plays the Angel of Death. She converses with Roy Scheider's Fosse character on his deathbed; the two reminisce about his life and where it went wrong. Her turn in such a prestige pic helped Hollywood reevaluate her.

Double trouble at the Oscars

Lange starred in another remake, this time of "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Here, she was singled out as being one of the few things that made the remake worth doing. Lange and co-star Jack Nicholson's chemistry got the film nominated for AFI's "100 Years, 100 Passions" list. It also got Lange noticed by Graeme Clifford, who edited "Postman." Clifford picked Lange for the role of actress Frances Farmer in his directorial debut. 

While making "Frances," Lange was in the process of separating from Baryshnikov and began seeing her co-star Sam Shepard. "Frances" was a critical success for Lange, but the role took a toll on her mental health. According to Prabook, Kim Stanley, who played Lange's mother in the film, advised her to take something light next, which turned out to be "Tootsie." The comedy starring Dustin Hoffman as an actor who cross-dresses to get a part on a soap opera, was a box office smash. That year at the Oscars, Lange was nominated for Best Actress for "Frances" and Best Supporting Actress for "Tootsie." She won for "Tootsie," and was the first performer in 40 years to be nominated twice in the same year (per Vulture).

Meryl Streep's favorite Actress

In 1985, Lange starred in another biopic, this time playing country singer Patsy Cline in "Sweet Dreams." Her co-stars included Ed Harris and John Goodman. Backstage Magazine noted that the film is more complex and therefore perhaps less easy to love than the Loretta Lynn biopic "Coal Miner's Daughter," writing, "Their film is foremost a torrid love story, an incisive examination of a union between two temperamentally well-matched protagonists [...] who are never happier than when raging war with one another." 

Meryl Streep, who had been campaigning for the role, has praised Lange over and over again for her turn as Cline. She was quoted in Backstage as saying, "I couldn't imagine doing it as well or even coming close to what Jessica did, because she was so amazing in it." Streep again praised Lange's performance on "Watch What Happens Live," with Stephen Colbert (per Variety), and in conversation with Jane Pauley, saying, "Every job I've ever taken, about three weeks before I begin, I call up my agent and say, 'I don't think I can do this. I don't think I'm right for it. They should call up Jessica Lange.'"

Depending on the kindness of strangers

In the '90s, Meryl's favorite actress earned her second Oscar for "Blue Sky," where she played an Army wife with bipolar disorder. "[W]e see the value of her craziness in the movie's third act," Roger Ebert wrote of her performance in 1994.

Lange also entered her Blanche DuBois era at this time, making her Broadway debut as the Tennessee Williams heroine in the 1992 "Streetcar Named Desire" revival. Her Stanley was Alec Baldwin, who was Tony-nominated for his performance, per Playbill. Lange took "Streetcar" to "CBS Playhouse" as a TV Movie, which won the actress her first Emmy. She then did Blanche in London, which resulted in sold-out performances.

"There has never been a part that has ever fascinated me like Blanche," Lange told the Los Angeles Times. "I think maybe for a man it's 'Hamlet'–an actor feels this need, this desire, this incredible compulsion to play 'Hamlet.' I am sure most actresses feel that way about Blanche. I know I surely did."

Lange's creepy house era

Jessica Lange transitioned smoothly from her Blanche era to "AHS" via the TV movie for "Grey Gardens." For what is "Grey Gardens," if not the place where Blanche DuBois and "Murder House" intersect? Based on the real lives (and 1975 Maysles brothers documentary) of Big and Little Edie Beale, HBO's "Grey Gardens" movie starred Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Lange as Big Edie. The film was nominated for 17 Emmys, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for both Barrymore and Lange. Lange won.

Two years later, Lange made her debut on "American Horror Story" as complicated anti-villain Constance Langdon. "Like all my TV shows, it's rooted in a childhood obsession. Two actually: Dark Shadows and a movie called Don't Look Now," Ryan Murphy said of his inspiration for "AHS." Lange's campy creations on the show gave new life to her career and introduced her to a new generation of fans.