Jessica Phyllis Lange (; born April 20, 1949) is an American actress who has received worldwide acclaim for her work in film, theater, and television. The recipient of several awards, including two Academy Awards, one Tony Award, three Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, and three Dorian Awards; in 1998, Entertainment Weekly listed Lange among the 25 Greatest Actresses of the 1990s. In 2016, Lange became the twenty-second thespian in history to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting.
Lange was discovered by producer Dino De Laurentiis while modeling part-time for the Wilhelmina modelling agency. She made her professional film debut in his 1976 remake of the 1933 action-adventure classic King Kong, for which she won her first Golden Globe Award. In 1982, she became the first performer in 40 years to receive two Oscar nominations within the same year; she won her second Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a soap opera star in Tootsie, and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the troubled actress Frances Farmer, in Frances. Lange received three more nominations for Country (1984), Sweet Dreams (1985) and Music Box (1989) before garnering a sixth Oscar nomination and winning, along with her third Golden Globe Award, the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as a manic depressive housewife in Blue Sky (1994). In 1995, Lange became the second actress in Oscar history, after Meryl Streep, to win Best Actress after winning Best Supporting Actress; an achievement that was repeated nearly 20 years later by Cate Blanchett in 2014.
In 2010, she won her first Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis‘ famed aunt, Big Edie, in HBO‘s Grey Gardens (2009). Between 2011 and 2014, she won her first Screen Actors Guild Award, fifth Golden Globe Award, and second and third Emmy Awards for her performances in the first and third seasons of FX‘s horror anthology series American Horror Story (20112015). In 2016, Lange won her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play for her critically acclaimed performance in the Broadway revival of Long Day’s Journey into Night.
In addition to acting, Lange is a photographer with three published works. She has also been a foster parent and currently holds a Goodwill Ambassador position for UNICEF, specializing in HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Russia.
Early life and education
Lange was born in Cloquet, Minnesota, on April 20, 1949. Her father, Albert John Lange (1913-1989), was a teacher and traveling salesman, and her mother, Dorothy Florence (ne Sahlman; 1913-1998), was a housewife. She has two older sisters, Ann and Jane, and a younger brother, George. Her paternal ancestry originates in Germany and the Netherlands, while her maternal ancestry originates in Finland. Due to the nature of her father’s professions, her early home life was chaotic. Her family moved over a dozen times to various towns and cities in Minnesota before settling back down in her hometown, where she graduated from Cloquet High School.
In 1967, she received a scholarship to study art and photography at the University of Minnesota, where she met and began dating Spanish photographer Paco Grande. After the two married in 1971, Lange left college to pursue a more bohemian lifestyle, opting to travel throughout the United States and Mexico in a minivan with Grande. The couple then moved to Paris, where they drifted apart. While in Paris, Lange studied mime theatre under the supervision of tienne Decroux, and joined the Opra-Comique as a dancer.
While sharing an apartment with Jerry Hall and Grace Jones, she was discovered by fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and subsequently became a model for the Wilhelmina modelling agency. In 1973, she returned to the States and began work in New York City as a waitress at the Lion’s Head Tavern in Greenwich Village. While modelling, Lange was discovered by Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was looking to cast his next leading lady, an ingenue for his remake of King Kong (1976).
Lange made her professional film debut in 1976’s King Kong, beating out actresses Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn for the role of damsel in distress. Despite being a box-office success it became the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1976 and receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects, the film and her performance were widely panned. However, renowned film critic Pauline Kael praised her, noting, “The movie is sparked by Jessica Lange’s fast yet dreamy comic style. has the high, wide forehead and clear-eyed transparency of Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey, one liners so dumb that the audience laughs and moans at the same time, yet they’re in character, and when Lange says them she holds the eye and you like her, the way people liked Lombard.” Lange went on to win the 1976 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year. She would remain a favorite of Kael’s, who would later comment, “She has a facial structure that the camera yearns for, and she has talent, too.”
At the close of the decade, Bob Fosse, whom Lange had befriended and with whom she had carried a casual romantic affair, cast Lange as the Angel of Death, a part that he had written specifically for her in his semiautobiographical film, All That Jazz (1979). She had also been considered for the role of Wendy Torrance in The Shining before that role ultimately went to Shelley Duvall.
Lange began the new decade in the light romp How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), co-starring Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James, but it received mostly negative reviews and quickly disappeared from theaters. A year later, she was contacted by director Bob Rafelson regarding a project on which he was working with Jack Nicholson, who had recently auditioned Lange for Goin’ South (1978). Rafelson paid Lange a visit in upstate New York, where she was doing summer stock theater, and has famously recounted how he watched the budding actress conversing on the telephone for half an hour before their meeting when he decided that he had found the lead for his film. After his meeting with Lange, he wrote her name down on a piece of paper, placed it in an envelope, and sealed it. After several meetings and auditions with other actresses (though Rafelson had already made his decision, he feared he had done so too quickly and wanted to make sure his choice was absolutely right), the final choice was between Lange and Meryl Streep. In the end, Rafelson offered Lange the lead role opposite Nicholson in his remake of the classic film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). Upon offering her the part, he gave her the sealed envelope in which he had placed the piece of paper with her name on it. Although the controversial film received mixed reviews, Lange was widely praised for her performance.
While editing The Postman Always Rings Twice, Graeme Clifford realized he had found the leading lady for his next film his first as a director; a biographical film of actress Frances Farmer, whose disillusionment with Hollywood and chaotic family background led her down a tragic path. Filming Frances (1982), which co-starred Kim Stanley and Sam Shepard, was a grueling experience for Lange, who pored over the screenplay scene by scene, making deep and often taxing connections between her life and Farmer’s to tap into the well of emotions the role required. By the end of the shoot, she was physically and mentally spent. Due to this, she decided to take her co-star Stanley’s advice to star in “something light”, which led her to accept a supporting role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Sydney Pollack‘s Tootsie (1982).
In 1982, Lange became the first performer in 40 years to receive two Academy Award nominations in the same year, scoring a nomination for her work in Frances and eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Tootsie, which not only became the second-highest-grossing film of 1982, following Steven Spielberg‘s E.T., but which also scored an additional nine Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Her performance in the film also earned her a Golden Globe, 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 next produced and starred, again opposite Shepard, in 1984’s Country, a topical film depicting a family during the farm crisis. Her performance earned her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress. That same year, 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, whom she later neighbored and befriended.
At the close of 1985, she portrayed legendary country singer Patsy Cline in Karel Reisz‘s biopic, Sweet Dreams, opposite Ed Harris, Ann Wedgeworth, and John Goodman. She was nominated a fourth time for an Oscar and came in second place for both the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress. 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 for 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- to late 1980s, which included Crimes of the Heart (1986), Far North (1988), and Everybody’s All-American (1989), were mostly low profile and underperformed at the box office, though she was often singled out and praised for her work. In 1989, she starred in Costa-Gavras‘ Music Box Lange played a Hungarian lawyer defending her father of Nazi war crimes. Her performance earned her a fifth Academy Award nomination and a sixth Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Lange continued making films throughout the 1990s, periodically taking time off to raise her children and also choosing theater- and television-based projects. She began the decade in Paul Brickman‘s warmly received Men Don’t Leave (1990), for which she earned positive reviews and came in third place for the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress. She was then approached by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who had both auditioned her for the role of Jake LaMotta‘s wife in Raging Bull (1981), to star in a remake of Cape Fear (1991). The film became the 12th-highest-grossing film of the year. 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, which was met by mixed reviews, also occurred that same year when she portrayed Blanche DuBois in a production of Tennessee Williams‘ A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Alec Baldwin.
In 1994, Lange was lauded for her performance as a manic depressive army wife in the 1960s in Tony Richardson‘s final film, Blue Sky. In 1995, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, along with the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, the Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, and the Sant Jordi Award for Best Actress. She also came in second place for the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress, the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, and the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress.
In 1995, she followed her victory with further critically lauded performances in Losing Isaiah, opposite Halle Berry, and Rob Roy, with Liam Neeson. That same year, Lange reprised her role as Blanche DuBois in a CBS television adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane, and John Goodman. She received glowing reviews for her performance, which earned her fourth Golden Globe Award and her first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
In 1996, Lange made her London stage debut in another performance as Blanche DuBois, which received rave reviews. The following year, she starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in a film adaptation of Jane Smiley‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres. Lange received her ninth Golden Globe Award nomination and won the Venice Film Festival‘s Schermi d’Amore award for her performance in the film. In 1998, she starred opposite Elisabeth Shue in a film adaptation of Balzac‘s Cousin Bette, for which she received strong reviews. That same year, Lange also starred opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the somewhat cult classic, Hush, which generally received negative reviews. Roger Ebert, however, praised Lange’s performance, commenting, “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 strong reviews for her performance in Titus, Julie Taymor‘s 1999 adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s Titus Andronicus, co-starring Anthony Hopkins and Alan Cumming. Film critic for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum, included Lange in a “for your consideration” article directed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She commented, “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 “morphine”-addicted Mary Tyrone, for which she became the first American actress to receive an Olivier Award nomination.
She appeared mostly in supporting roles thereafter, 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 Normal, a film about a man who reveals to his wife his decision to have a sex change, for which she received nominations for the Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. She followed this with 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 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.
In 2009, Lange co-starred as Big Edie, opposite Drew Barrymore, in HBO‘s Grey Gardens, directed by Michael Sucsy and based on the 1975 documentary of the same name. The film was a huge success, garnering 17 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and winning five. Lange won her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie after two previous nominations in the same category. She also received her eleventh Golden Globe Award nomination and second Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her performance, losing both awards to Barrymore.
In 2011, Lange joined the cast of FX‘s horror anthology series American Horror Story. Series co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk originally wrote her part as a supporting character, but after Lange acquired the role, they expanded it considerably. Murphy, a long-time admirer of Lange, stated that he chose her because he wanted to expose her work to a new generation of viewers. He also singled out her performance as Blanche DuBois on Broadway in 1992, which he saw twice, as his favorite performance, citing it as another motivating factor in hiring Lange. The show was a huge success not only for the network and creators, but also for Lange, who experienced a resurgence in her popularity, receiving rave reviews and several awards for her controversial role. She was chosen by TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and MTV for giving one of the “best performances of 2011”. In addition, she won a second Primetime Emmy Award, a fifth Golden Globe Award, and her first Screen Actors Guild Award, after two previous nominations. She was also awarded a Special Achievement Satellite Award for Outstanding Performance in a Television Series by the International Press Academy and the Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year by the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA). She was further nominated for the TCA Award for Individual Achievement in Drama, Critics’ Choice Television Award, and Saturn Award.
In 2012, she had a supporting role in her Grey Gardens director Michael Suscy’s box-office hit The Vow, opposite Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, but also returned to star as the lead in the second season of American Horror Story, titled American Horror Story: Asylum. Once again, she was chosen by TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly for giving one of the “best performances of 2012”. She won a second Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year by the GALECA, and received a fifth Emmy nomination, a thirteenth Golden Globe Award nomination, a fourth Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, a second Saturn Award nomination, and a second Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination.
In 2013, the third season of American Horror Story, American Horror Story: Coven, garnered the series its highest ratings to that point, and has held the record for garnering the series its highest on-average ratings. Lange was joined by fellow film actors Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. For her work on the show, Lange earned a third Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries, a third Dorian Award for Best TV Performance of the Year and her first Critic’s Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries. She also received her fourteenth Golden Globe nomination, her fifth Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and her fifth Satellite Award nomination for her performance on the series. In addition, Lange replaced Glenn Close in a film adaptation of mile Zola‘s Thrse Raquin, directed by Charlie Stratton and titled In Secret, co-starring Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac, and Matt Lucas for which she received rave reviews.
Lange began 2014 by being honored with a nomination for a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame, though she has yet to claim it. Lange was also recognized by Elle Magazine with the L’Oreal de Paris Legend Award presented to her by her friend Shirley MacLaine during The Women in Hollywood Awards, honoring women for their outstanding achievements in film, spanning all aspects of the motion picture industry, including acting, directing, and producing. She was next honored with and became the first female recipient of the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, presented to her by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Later in the year, Marc Jacobs chose Lange to be the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty. In addition, Lange would be featured in the brand’s summer and fall print ad campaign photographed by David Sims, and would also star in a short campaign film directed by Jacobs. Previously, Jacobs dressed and interviewed Lange for Love magazine’s fifth-anniversary issue, and had her provide a spoken-word version of “Happy Days Are Here Again” as the soundtrack for his autumn/winter 2014 show. She next starred opposite Mark Wahlberg in the remake of the 1970s action-thriller, The Gambler, receiving rave reviews for her work. She also led the fourth season of American Horror Story, titled American Horror Story: Freak Show. The series, once again, topped its and the network’s highest ratings, breaking all ratings records for both. Though self-admittedly not a singer, Lange’s covers of David Bowie‘s “Life on Mars” and Lana Del Rey‘s “Gods and Monsters” for the show were both hugely popular, receiving heavy circulation on YouTube and charting in the top 50 on the iTunes music charts. For her work on the show, Lange received her seventh Primetime Emmy Award nomination, her fifteenth Golden Globe nomination, and her fourth Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination. In 2015, Lange announced that she would not return for the series’ fifth season. She followed her final season on American Horror Story with role opposite Shirley MacLaine and Demi Moore in the road-trip comedy, Wild Oats, which wrapped production at the end of 2014. It premiered on Lifetime on August 22, 2016 before receiving a limited theatrical release on September 16, 2016.
In 2016, Lange had a supporting role in Louis C.K.‘s critically acclaimed and Peabody Award-winning web series Horace and Pete, which debuted on C.K.’s website on January 30, 2016. She next returned to Broadway alongside Michael Shannon, Gabriel Byrne and John Gallagher Jr. in a revival of Long Day’s Journey into Night at the American Airlines Theatre, produced by Ryan Murphy and the Roundabout Theatre Company. The show was a critical and box-office hit, becoming the most Tony-nominated play of the season. For her performance, Lange garnered her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play nomination and win, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Lead Actress after one previous nomination, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play, and a BroadwayWorld.com Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play. She was also nominated for a Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance, a Time Out New York Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, and a Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a Play.
Lange next starred in FX’s anthology series, Feud, also serving as producer alongside Susan Sarandon, who also co-starred, and executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Pitt. The first season revolved around the infamous rivalry between Hollywood legends Bette Davis (Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Lange), which came to a head during the making of the classic film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis and Catherine Zeta-Jones co-starred. Production began in the fall of 2016 and it was released on March 5, 2017. The series was a critical and ratings hit, garnering Lange her second TCA Award nomination for Individual Achievement in Drama and her eight Emmy Award nomination for Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie.
Lange was also honored by the Trinity Repertory Company‘s Pell Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts on May 23, 2017.
Lange is lined up to star opposite Naomi Watts in Gia Coppola‘s second film, The Lonely Doll, adapted from Jean Nathan’s memoir, The Search for Dare Wright: The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, which chronicled the life of Dare Wright (Watts) and her tempestuous relationship with her mother, Edith Stevenson Wright (Lange). Production for this project is set to begin in the Spring/Fall of 2017.
Lange was married to photographer Francisco “Paco” Grande from 1970 to 1981. Though they separated not long after moving to Europe during the mid-1970s, they did not divorce until the early 1980s, after which Lange paid him an undisclosed sum in alimony. From 1976 to 1982, she was partnered with renowned Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, with whom she had her first child, Aleksandra “Shura” Baryshnikov (born 1981). During that time, she was also sporadically linked with Bob Fosse, with whom she remained friends until his death.
In 1982, she met and entered into a relationship with playwright Sam Shepard. They had two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker (born 1987), and lived together in Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, and eventually New York City, before separating in 2009.
Though she does not follow any set religion, she periodically practices Buddhism. She once admitted, “It’s been a discipline that makes sense more than anything because it’s like a science. I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve always looked for some kind of spiritual meaning. I didn’t grow up going to church. My mother’s family were atheists and my father’s side was confused.” She is also a vegetarian.
Lange has also revealed that she suffers from severe bouts of depression, once admitting, “I have never been a believer in psychoanalysis or therapy or anything like that. I’ve never done that.” She confessed, “Though my dark side is dormant right now, it continues to play a big role in whatever capacity I have to be creative. That’s the well I’m able to tap into, where all the anguish, rage and sadness are stored.”
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. Most recently, she released a children’s picture book called It’s About a Little Bird (2013), while for the first time in Russia, she exhibited in Moscow‘s Multimedia Art Museum in 2014.
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 Democratic Republic of 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.
In the early 1990s, she fostered a Romanian child with disabilities.