Sixty-eight-year-old Jessica Lange fulfilled one of the goals on my personal bucket list by appearing on the cover of AARP Magazine this month. Inside, she’s interviewed in the piece “Jessica Lange Can Finally Relax” (a perfect headline), where she discusses her fascinating career, her most legendary romances, and what she calls the “pervasive” problem of ageism in Hollywood.
On her first movie, the disastrous 1976 remake of King Kong:
Getting cast in the Fay Wray role was such a fluke. I was just back from Paris, and all skin and bones with a white Afro, and they took one look at me and said, “She’s not right.” But then they flew me out to MGM to put me on camera — what did they have to lose? And by the time I left, I had the part. I had no idea how big the movie was, or that coming out of it I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I went back to taking acting classes for a few years. When you’re young, you don’t see the connections, how one thing leads to the other.
On Tootsie, the film for which she won her first Oscar in 1983, Lange says:
I knew when I did [the character of] Frances that it was something extraordinary. I love those kinds of parts, with huge emotional swings. But Tootsie turned out to be the best film I ever made. And to win my first Oscar for it was thrilling, not terrifying, the way it might be today. The awards were more casual then. You did your own hair; you did your own makeup. It wasn’t the fashion event of the season.
After revisiting the ’80s and ’90s—during which she had two great loves: Mikhail Baryshnikov and the late Sam Shepard—Lange talks about her unexpected transition into not just television, but television horror. She says she never intended to do more than one season of American Horror Story, but that Ryan Murphy, “a great seducer,” convinced her to stay on for four years.
Television, Lange later explains, is one of the many places older women in Hollywood turn when the “important” film roles stop coming in.
Ageism is pervasive in this industry. It’s not a level playing field. You don’t often see women in their 60s playing romantic leads, yet you will see men in their 60s playing romantic leads with costars who are decades younger. I think about how few wonderful actresses of my generation are still doing viable, important film work. You go to television. You go to the stage. You do whatever you can because you want to keep working.
And Lange isn’t just still working, she’s still winning. She received an Emmy for 2014's American Horror Story: Coven, and a Tony for her performance in 2016's A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. She’s even great in the otherwise forgettable 2016 comedy Wild Oats (which, by the way, is streaming on Netflix).
You can read the full piece over at AARP.