From Reverence to Rage

Transcending the Ordinary: Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

CP: With Carly in Blue Sky, you also played off a sort of seductive girlishness.

JL: Definitely Blue Sky--she's like a spoiled child. But that was very specific to her. And again, that's in relation to her husband, because remaining a child was her excuse for getting away with this kind of irrational, and kind of unconscionable, behavior--with her promiscuity and everything else she does.

CP: I read an interview just a few weeks ago where you said you were done with those sorts of freak-out, breakdown, wild-hair roles.

JL: I know [laughs]. I usually say things like that after I've just finished one. Because it does take its toll. You spend three or four months investigating the dark side of human nature, or the madness... I mean, people might wonder why I've done Blanche DuBois three separate times. It's because the character still remains fascinating to me. But every time I finish doing it, I think, Ah God, why am I doing this? It's nuts. I don't want to keep playing crazy people.

CP: What other kinds of roles might you do instead?

JL: Well, that's the problem, because to play just kind of a straight...[sighs] I mean, I've tried that before, and I must say, I've been bored to death. So...I don't know. I'm going to do a production in London of Long Day's Journey Into Night, so right there I'm back in the throes of what I said I don't want to do anymore [laughs]. Of course that role's a twist that I haven't done--a character that's not mad but who's a servant to a kind of greater evil. I've also got a film coming up that's different from anything I've done before: We're doing an adaptation of a Colette novel, called Chéri. It's a real love story, but there's a twist to it--I guess that's what I'm always looking for, y'know, for that twist when the story somehow transcends the ordinary.

CP: Sigourney Weaver complained recently in Movieline about the one-sidedness of the current cinema wave of May-December romances--all these sixtysomething men courting 20- and 30-year-olds, and not even a peep about how weird it is. She said she wanted to star with Johnny Depp, which reminds me of the Chéri story.

JL: Chéri might actually shock people--there's a huge age difference there, and it's gonna turn things around a great deal for people to see a 48-year-old woman with an 18-year-old boy. What's acceptable for a man to do is not necessarily acceptable for a woman [laughs]. So I'm actually looking forward to it--you know [sounding sly], it's kind of a silly system out there.

CP: I wonder why the movies have been shy about exploring the older woman/younger man scenario--they're usually so obsessed with sexual taboos.

JL: Well, I don't think you could say that films nowadays are really delving into any kind of dangerous area--it seems to me we've hit about the safest period of filmmaking since I've been involved. When you compare the kind of films that were being done, say, in the '70s and the kind of films being done now, it looks like everybody's running pretty scared out there, doing what's politically correct, what's acceptable, and what's commercial.

CP: Perhaps the sight of older women being passionate disturbs some people. The Graduate definitely made that idea seem very creepy.

JL: But she's very predatory, very destructive. With Chéri, it really is a love story, and completely reciprocal: Both are desperately in love but driven apart by this very thing. You can probably count on one hand the films that have dealt with that. What was that one--in the '60s, or was it the early '70s, with Ruth Gordon? Harold and Maude. That made a lot of people very nervous; that really was a difference in age [laughs]. This one won't be quite that bad.

CP: Have you ever heard the Nirvana song, "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"?

JL: You know, my daughter played that for me.

CP: It amazes me how pertinent Frances continues to be--not only to Kurt Cobain's situation, but to the media madness around Princess Di's death. There's that scene where Farmer's mother cries something like, "You've got to go back to Hollywood! Your fans need you!" What, if anything, do you think performers owe their fans?

JL: I've never bought into that. I think an artist, whether you're an actor or a musician or whatever, your first obligation is to your craft and to what makes you happy doing it. But I'm probably not the best person to comment, because I've never felt that kind of pressure. I mean, I'm not a rock star, I'm not a huge movie star. I don't get pursued on the street, I don't need bodyguards... I don't even know who my fans are, to tell you the truth [laughs]. I don't feel connected to that part of it whatsoever.

CP: Which has partly been your choice.

Jessica Lange: In Retrospect runs through October 29 at the Walker Art Center, with double-features each Wednesday at 7 p.m. and a sneak preview of Lange's most recent film, Cousin Bette, on Friday, October 17 at 7 p.m.

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