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Steeled Magnolia : It seems as if Jessica Lange is a supermarket shelf of emotions. And that doesn't even count what she manages to do on the screen.

March 19, 1995|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar

'I'm really happy for the first time in my life, and I don't know where it came from," says actress Jessica Lange.

"I know this sounds like hocus-pocus, but I do believe our Saturnian lessons come in cycles, and that it takes a big shock like death or profound disappointment to get you moving to the next stage. My father's death six years ago was a huge turning point for me, and with his passing something transpired that's allowed me to move out of an area where I'd been held captive for a long time."

Currently in the running for a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a manic-depressive Army wife in the Orion film "Blue Sky," Lange's performance already netted her this year's best actress award from the L.A. Film Critics and the Golden Globes.

She also stars opposite Halle Berry in Stephen Gyllenhaal's "Losing Isaiah," which opened Friday, and turns up again on April 7 in "Rob Roy," a historical epic set in Scotland that also stars Liam Neeson.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 26, 1995 Home Edition Calendar Page 95 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Earlier "Pioneers"--The year that Glenn Jordan and Jessica Lange worked together on a television adaptation of "O Pioneers!" was 1992, not 1993, as was reported last Sunday.

Lange's definitely on a roll--nonetheless, her optimistic frame of mind is surprising, considering that she's in the midst of playing Blanche DuBois, the tortured heroine of the Tennessee Williams' classic "A Streetcar Named Desire." The film, which airs this fall on CBS and also stars Alec Baldwin, will serve as Lange's farewell to the part she played on Broadway for six months in 1992.

"There aren't many characters in American literature as tormented as Blanche, and it's amazing what this work can do to you physically," Lange says during a conversation in her dressing room. "When you're acting, your nervous system doesn't understand that it's just pretend, and lying in bed last night I could feel everything trembling.

"In doing the play I realized it was imperative that I learn how to not be devoured by the characters I play, and I'm working much differently now," she adds.

"Instead of setting specific tasks for myself or thinking about what the expectations of the scene are, I try to get myself into a neutral state and then I just start. I've found that if you get yourself into the right state, the emotions will come and they'll come very purely and powerfully."

Lange got decidedly mixed reviews when she played Blanche on Broadway, but as one watches her on director Glenn Jordan's set, she seems remarkably well cast. The sexuality that ignited her performance as Carly in "Blue Sky" is reigned in and blanketed with an aura of wistful melancholy and bone-rattling fatigue--qualities central to the character of Blanche DuBois. Dressed in a pastel, floral-printed chiffon dress, white hose and heels, her hair bobbed and tinted the color of champagne, she has a fragile, faded loveliness that extends to her manners. Lange always seems to be doing several things at once, yet her ladylike composure never wavers despite an unending barrage of things demanding her attention.

During her half-hour lunch break she confers with her publicist over what to wear to the Oscars, while seeing two of her children off to an art class. Baldwin drops by for a brief word, the phone rings frequently, her lunch arrives. She leaves it untouched, choosing instead to do needlepoint while she talks. It's hard to know how much of this soft-spoken gentility is Blanche and how much is Lange; however she's doing it, she manages to come across as open, graceful and grounded.

In conversation, Lange returns repeatedly to her children, who she says made her feel secure for the first time, taught her not to take herself too seriously, helped her grow up.

"With the arrival of my family, I felt tethered to life for the first time, and the restlessness that plagued me when I was younger finally disappeared," she says.

"I used to have real bouts of depression--I say that not having been in the depths of depression for a couple of years, thinking it's a thing of the past, and maybe it's not," she cautiously adds. "When I was on my own, I could stay in bed for a week at a time and not talk to anybody, but with children you can't allow yourself to wallow in those depths too long.

"Nonetheless, 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."

One imagines Lange dipped into that well frequently in recent years. From the hyper-emotional "Blue Sky," which was originally slated for release in 1991 but was shelved during Orion's bankruptcy, she starred in Martin Scorsese's remake of "Cape Fear," then moved on to six months of Blanche on Broadway.

"Losing Isaiah" finds her cast as a frustrated social worker who adopts a crack baby, only to have the courts take him two years later. Shortly after wrapping that film, she raced off to Scotland to shoot "Rob Roy," wherein she's a stalwart wife who is raped and sees her house burn down. None of those roles, however, proved as taxing as Blanche DuBois.

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