Monday, October 21

Sweet dreams are made of this


Sweet dreams are made of this

Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange renews her craft, learns to
distance self from roles

By Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Staff

Jessica Lange has finally learned how to relax.

Long known for immersing herself in her roles of troubled,
volatile women to the extent that she has felt "emotionally
battered" well after the final take, Lange, 45, has at last learned
to distance herself from her roles.

That serenity descended on the actress during a two-year hiatus
from filmmaking when, she says, "I found a different approach to
acting which made it feel new again, like I was starting all
over."

And it has paid off. Her recent return to films has not only
reaffirmed her status as one of Hollywood’s most talented
actresses, it has also made her one of the most visible. Last week
she won an Oscar for her dazzling portrayal of a manic-depressive
housewife in Blue Sky. And she currently stars in Rob Roy and
Losing Isaiah in two varied but emotionally charged roles.

The difference is that now she leaves her character on the set
when she goes home.

"Before I took time off, I felt as though the well had been
emptied out," she says in the languorous drawl that recalls her
soap opera actress in Tootsie or her Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams.
"But during those two years I felt a certain amount of creativity
refueled and I had the energy and the desire once again to act. I
was able to clear my head."

"I’ve done a lot of those emotional parts where a woman is taken
to the edge. It’s always been very physically and emotionally
exhausting and often I would come into those emotional scenes with
a sense of dread that I’d have to go through this again."

She no longer dreads those roles. "Now I look at it completely
differently, it’s like I have been given this opportunity to act,
it’s like a gift. I have a sense of joy when I take on a role. It
has to do with coming from a place of ease rather than anxiety. It
makes the work feel much more fluid, freer, and truer."

That new sense of ease comes across in Rob Roy in her scenes
with Liam Neeson, who plays cattle driver Rob Roy, husband to her
Mary MacGregor. Based on the true story of the 18th-century
Scotsman, the tale follows Mary and Rob as they battle the forces
of the Marquis of Montrose who threatens to seize their land and
evict them.

"This couple has a purely male-female relationship, where they
are on equal footing," she says. It is so rare in films today to
see a relationship that is very sexual and very passionate but very
equal. There’s nothing modern or neurotic about what they
have."

Lange was instantly attracted to Mary, her character in the
film. "I loved the fact that she was so fleshed out, that in what
was predominately a male film the writer had created a female
character that was every bit as interesting as the men and she had
a wonderful kind of sensuality, vulnerability, strength and
intelligence," she explains. "It was a great opportunity to get to
play this kind of character in a big romantic, historical
epic."

But a sweeping epic is not without violence, and Mary is
brutally assaulted by the unscrupulous Cunningham (Tim Roth).
Discussing that scene, Lange seems almost to be mocking her former
self:

"I can’t say that was the hardest scene for me to do. It would
be false for me to say, ‘Oh, It was so hard, I had to stay in bed
for a week afterwards.’ We’re actors, this is what we do. It’s just
make-believe."

But that statement is so at odds with her prior attitude towards
acting that she feels compelled to explain:

"I was much more easily affected by my roles in earlier films.
When I did Frances I was about ready to be locked up by the time
that film was over. When you play really emotional parts like that
there’s always this tendency for the role to become so much a part
of your psyche and your emotional life that you never really get
rid of it."

But her attitude has changed thanks to her family. Lange has a
son, 7, and daughter, 9, by her companion, playwright Sam Shepard
and a daughter, 14, by Mikhail Baryshnikhov. "I’ve got to go home
and deal with my children now, so I can’t dwell on the character
the way I used to. I can’t let it just keep bubbling away and I
have found over years of practice that it gets easier to do it and
then walk away from it."

With its high profile marketing campaign, Rob Roy may be an
exception to the kind of smaller films she typically chooses.

One such part was her Oscar-winning turn in Blue Sky. Lange is
the first to admit how surprised she was by all the critical
attention the film received. "There was a period when I didn’t
think that film would ever be released, there was so much baggage
coming into it. It had been delayed and then held up in bankruptcy
proceedings, the director (Tony Richardson) died, and Orion dropped
off the face of the earth."

The award provided "a really nice kind of closure. But truly,
just getting the nomination and getting the recognition for that
film was a great treat, I was tickled to death."

Her post-Oscar projects will include a televised version of "A
Streetcar Named Desire," in which she reprises the role of Blanche
which she played on Broadway. And she is developing a project
called "Thousand Acres" with Michelle Pfeiffer, in which the two
actresses will costar.

Of how she feels to be getting older in an industry notoriously
kind to younger actresses, Lange says, "The paradox is that now
that I’m 45, some people may say that I’m coming to the end of my
career, but I feel like I’ve just now hit my stride, like I’ve just
figured out how to do this. Everything up until now has just been
like a long acting lesson and now I can start doing my best
work."

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