20 Things You Never Knew About Jessica Lange

By

American actress Jessica Lange was first offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame seven years ago – but she hasn’t yet got round to claiming it. With an incredible list of movie and TV credits to her name, she is one of the most critically lauded actresses of all time. With Emmys, Oscars and a Tony to her name, she’s swept the world of show business since the 70s. Here are 20 facts you probably didn’t know about Jessica Lange.

20. King Kong was her screen debut

Lange’s first ever screen role was the leading lady in the 1976 monster adventure film King Kong.

In the film Lange plays Dwan, an aspiring actress who ascends the World Trade Center with the titular titan.

Lange almost didn’t land the part – established actress Meryl Streep was apparently the frontrunner for the role.

ADVERTISEMENT

But she was ultimately rejected after producer Dino De Laurentiis said that he didn’t think she’d make a good lead.

The role was also offered to Barbra Streisand, but she turned it down. The part of Dwan eventually went to Lange – who, at the time, was a fashion model with no real acting experience.

 

Lange went on to win the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year in this debut.

19. She’s one of only a few people to win the Triple Crown of Acting

The ‘Triple Crown of Acting’ is an entertainment industry term used to describe an Oscar, Emmy and Tony.

As of 2021, only 24 people have achieved this impressive feat – 15 women and nine men.

Tootsie, Blue Sky, Grey Gardens, American Horror Story and the play Long Day’s Journey into Night won Lange these top awards.

ADVERTISEMENT

She joins the ranks of Liza Minelli, Viola Davis and Audrey Hepburn in securing all three accolades of cinema, TV and theatre.

Helen Hayes was the first actress to win the Triple Crown award after she won an Emmy on February 5 1953.

 

Lange won her Triple Crown in 2016 after winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her stellar performance as addict Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night.

18. She was cast in The Postman Always Rings Twice after the director watched her chat on the phone for half an hour

In the late 70s, director Bob Rafelson was looking for a female lead for his new neo-noir erotic thriller.

At the time, Lange was busy as she was performing in summer stock theatre in New York.

Rafelson sought Lange out amid her packed schedule, and when they sat down to talk, Lange had to take a phone call.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rafelson offered to leave, but Lange said he could stay in the room and listen in on her phone conversation.

Hearing Lange banter for half an hour on the phone, Rafelson became convinced she would be the perfect star for his film.

 

While panned by critics on its release, 1981’s The Postman Rings Twice is now praised for the chemistry between Lange and co-star Jack Nicholson.

17. She’s thrice won roles that Meryl Streep desperately wanted

Among Jessica Lange’s best-known roles is her portrayal of the country singer Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams.

However, Meryl Streep was extremely keen on playing the role, since commenting it’s the only part she’s ever “begged” for.

Unfortunately for Streep, this wasn’t the first time she lost out on an iconic role to Lange.

ADVERTISEMENT

Streep also auditioned for King Kong but was rejected as she was “too ugly” for the part that would become Lange’s debut.

The role ended up being Lange’s breakthrough role, so perhaps it was for the best that Streep missed out on this occasion.

 

Streep also tried out for The Postman Always Rings Twice – but again, the part went to Lange.

16. She’s been “great pals” with Grace Jones since the beginning of their careers

Jessica Lange and the model-turned-Bond-actress Grace Jones were thick as thieves in their youth.

Like Jones, Lange started out as a model with the agency Wilhelmina before winning stardom in Hollywood.

They met in Paris, while Lange was studying mime with actor Etienne Decroux and working as a dancer in the Opéra-Comique.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jones and Lange got on so well that they moved into an apartment together which they also shared with Jerry Hall.

Credit: Stefan Ravn via Flickr

Jones wrote about their experience living together in her 2015 autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.

 

She called the trio three “young, lustful girls moving around Europe, with Paris at the center, making a living, becoming stronger, discovering new ways to hang out and look after ourselves.”

15.  She was considered to play Wendy Torrance in The Shining

When Jack Nicholson was cast in The Shining, he was quick to recommend Jessica Lange for the female lead.

He thought she was an ideal fit for Wendy Torrance as she appeared in Stephen King’s novel: a tough, independent character.

However, director Stanley Kubrick wanted to take the character in a very different direction, and to make her emotionally volatile and fragile.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why he turned down Lange and instead picked Shelley Duvall, believing she could better portray Wendy’s desperate state.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that Lange didn’t win the role, as Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall has since been reexamined as part of a long line of harassment of women on movie sets.

 

Duvall has said that Kubrick intentionally emotionally and physically exhausted her in order to achieve a more authentic portrayal of Shelley’s anxiety.

14. At 18 she got married and travelled around the US in a van

At the age of 18, Lange won a scholarship to study photography and art at the University of Minnesota.

However, when she met the Spanish photographer Paco Grande, she left her studies to marry him and lead a nomadic life.

They travelled around the USA in a van – as Lange put it, “moving from town to town.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The pair eventually settled in Paris, where they drifted apart. They divorced a decade later. “I stopped living that way because things began to turn around 1972,” Lange said.

“Once the dust settled from Watergate and the Vietnam War was over, the things that had galvanized my generation evaporated, and the country seemed like it wanted to wash its hands of the Left entirely.”

 

Lange has also been married to the ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and the playwright Sam Shepard.

13. Her grandparents were from three different countries

In 1949, Jessica Lange was born to travelling salesman Albert Lange and housewife Dorothy Sahlman.

She came from a truly international background: her paternal grandfather, called George Oscar Alexander Lange, was German, while her paternal grandmother, called Tena Trientje Eitens, was Dutch.

Her maternal grandfather, George Ilmar Sahlman, was Finnish, and her maternal grandmother, Lillian Elvira Buskala, was also Finnish.

ADVERTISEMENT

Jessica was raised in Minnesota with two older sisters called Jane and Ann and one younger brother called George.

As her father was a traveling salesman, Lange moved around multiple times to various towns and cities in Minnesota during her childhood.

 

But the family eventually settled in her birthplace of Cloquet, where Lange went on to graduate from Cloquet High School.

12. She’s published four collections of her photography

It may surprise you to learn Lange has become an accomplished photographer alongside her acting career.

She has published four photography collections, featuring pics of US Route 61, her international travels and bird life.

Credit: Mingle MediaTV via Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, Lange published a book black and white photographs with powerHouse Books, titled 50 Photographs.

ADVERTISEMENT

She went on to publish her second collection of photographs, titled In Mexico, in 2010.

Credit: diChroma Photography via Wikimedia Commons

Then in 2013, she published a book of photography for children, titled It’s About a Little Bird.

 

In 2019, Lange published her fourth and most recent book of photography, called Highway 61.

11. She takes inspiration from Buddhism

Speaking to Rolling Stone Magazine in 2019, Lange said she tries to live her life by Buddhist principles.

“I try really hard to be present,” she said. “It comes a bit from studying Buddhism over . . . well, I haven’t done it regularly, but over the past 20 years.”

Credit: Dominick D via Flickr

“It teaches you some good rules, like being compassionate and paying attention,” she explained in the interview.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Because if you don’t pay attention, it all just goes by so fast,” she continued. “You think, ‘OK, where was I that decade? How did I miss the Eighties?!'”

Credit: @jessicalangeph on Instagram

She also opened up about her experience with Buddhism in an interview with the Guardian in 2007.

 

“It’s been a discipline that makes sense more than anything because it’s like a science,” she said.

10. Jack Nicholson nicknamed her Blinky

Lange starred alongside Shining star Jack Nicholson in 1981 film The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Lange played the character of Cora Smith in the film while Nicholson played Frank Chambers.

Cora, a young woman who works at her husband’s diner, and Frank, a drifter, end up having an affair.

ADVERTISEMENT

Nicholson and Lange shared great chemistry off-screen as well as on, with Nicholson even coming up with a pet name for Lange.

Nicholson affectionately dubbed Lange ‘Blinky’ because she could hardly see without wearing her glasses.

 

The passionate affair that the pair have in the film is so convincing that it’s no surprise that they still got on well even when the cameras stopped rolling.

9. She’s a huge Bob Dylan fan and featured in his film

Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Lange has said in multiple interviews that she’s a huge fan of folk artist Bob Dylan.

Speaking to AARP in 2017, she revealed that she can “sing every lyric Dylan ever wrote.”

Credit: Xavier Badosa via Flickr

“He was a transformative artist in my life,” she continued, explaining the extent of the influence Dylan has had on her.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lange even made an appearance in the 2003 film Masked and Anonymous, which was written by Bob Dylan.

Lange featured as a minor character called Nina Veronica. She was paid union wages for the film.

 

The film was not a raging success. Robert Ebert gave it half a star and deemed it “a vanity production beyond all reason.”

8. She initially said no to Tootsie

Lange cemented her position as a serious actress after her stellar performance in Frances back in 1982.

This meant that Lange was exceptionally picky with the parts she signed up for afterwards.

The first role she was offered after Frances was the role of Julie Nichols in Tootsie.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I turned it down because I had just finished a film called Frances which was like this huge dramatic role,” she explained on Good Morning America in 2017.

“When Sydney Pollack and Dustin came to me about doing Tootsie I thought, ‘Oh, it’s so lightweight,'” she continued.

 

Thankfully, eventually Lange changed her mind: “it was one of the best decisions I ended up ever making because it’s a classic film.”

7. She initially only wanted to take part in one season of American Horror Story

Jessica Lange is one of the most important and best-loved actors in the American Horror Story ensemble cast.

The show is unique in that many cast members – such as Evan Peters, Emma Roberts, and Lily Rabe – return as different characters in different seasons.

Lange is considered a core member of the show’s ensemble cast – but she never thought she’d end up as one.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lange initially just wanted to take part in one season of the show but ended up coming back for four other seasons.

“Horror has never been my favorite genre, but Ryan Murphy, the producer, is a great seducer. I thought, I’ll do it for a year,” she said in a 2017 interview with AARP.

 

“And it turned out to be four years of amazing roles. Television has been great,” she added.

6. She says she loves being a mother “more than anything else in the world”

Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Lange has accomplished so much in her lifetime. She’s not only been an actress, but she’s been a successful model and photographer too.

But in an interview with AARP in 2017, she revealed that being a mother is the most rewarding thing she’s done with her life.

“Having children gives you a perspective you didn’t have before,” she explained in the interview.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You are no longer the center of the universe. It opened my heart, made me a different person.”

Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

‘Every move you make is with someone else in mind. I loved being a mother more than anything else in the world, and being a grandmother is even more fun.”

 

“There’s the chance to do it again. It’s in the perfect order of nature: You raise your children, and then the next generation comes along,” she said.

5. She’s outspoken about ageism in Hollywood

Jessica Lange may well be in her 70s, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down any time soon.

But as Lange has got older, she’s found that she’s had to deal with ageism in the industry firsthand.

“Ageism is pervasive in this industry,” she said in an interview with AARP in 2017. “It’s not a level playing field.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“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,” she continued.

 

“You go to television. You go to the stage. You do whatever you can because you want to keep working.”

4. She nearly turned down the role of Constance in American Horror Story

American Horror Story owes so much of its success to Jessica Lange’s iconic performances throughout the series’ various seasons.

But Lange very nearly turned down the role of Constance Langdon and almost never starred in the series at all.

Back when show creator Ryan Murphy was casting for the role, he knew that Lange was his first choice.

ADVERTISEMENT

However she wasn’t convinced and turned down the role. “Horror has never been my favorite genre,” she admitted in an interview with AARP in 2017.

But Murphy persevered and eventually talked Lange into it. “Ryan Murphy, the producer, is a great seducer,” Lange said.

 

Lange continued: “I thought, I’ll do it for a year. And it turned out to be four years of amazing roles. Television has been great.”

3. She has “really deep regrets” about some of her roles

Many actors regret turning down parts – but conversely, Lange regrets wasting her time on roles she wishes she said ‘no’ to.

“What I don’t want to ever do, and which I did a lot, is waste my time doing stuff I should’ve just said no to,” she said in an interview with Deadline in 2019.

FRANCES, Jessica Lange, 1982

“And I’m sure a lot of actors feel that way, when you have a career that spans almost 40 years,” she continued.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Why did I do that? Why did I ever waste my time?,” she said, recalling the times where she took on parts she wasn’t passionate about.

“But there’s always a part of you that says, “I should work. I really should work. I’ll find a way to make it worthwhile; I’ll find a way to make this work.”

 

“I have really deep regrets,” she added. “It’s not about what I didn’t do, but what I did; what I wasted my time doing.”

2. Including ‘The Name Game’ scene in American Horror Story was her idea

American Horror Story’s second season, Asylum, is noted for being incredibly bleak – even by the series’ standards.

Perhaps the only bit of comic relief in the whole season comes with ‘The Name Game’ scene.

The scene sees Lange in character as Sister Jude lead a sing-a-long to a rendition of Shirley Ellis’ The Name Game.

ADVERTISEMENT

In an interview with Vulture in 2013, Lange revealed that including the scene was essentially her idea.

“Well, I had said to [Ryan Murphy] […] “Let me do one more number. Just because everything we do is so grim.”

 

“I also think everyone felt by episode ten, like, Jesus, we gotta have a little lightness in here. And actually it was great, and I had so much fun learning that number.”

1. She was once nominated for two Oscars in one year

Back in 1983, Lange became one of the few actors to have ever been nominated for two Academy Awards in the same year.

She was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Frances as well as Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie.

Lange didn’t win both awards, but she did manage to bag the Oscar for her performance in Tootsie.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tootsie was hugely acclaimed and even achieved a rating of four out of four stars from film critic Roger Ebert.

Tootsie is the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when they weren’t afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs,” he wrote.

Lange also won a Bambi Award, Boston Society of Film Award, and Golden Globe Award for her performance as Julie Nichols.