The Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress has been portraying Sister Jude on the sophomore season of the critically-acclaimed FX series and in the most recent episode, she was chained to a bed in Briarcliff, the asylum she previously ruled with an iron fist ... and a closet full of canes.
Lange, who's up for another Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award this month for her work on "American Horror Story: Asylum" (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX), took the time to talk with The Huffington Post via phone about her inexplicable draw to playing characters going mad, a "startling" musical number in this week's episode (in which she dresses up like Dusty Springfield), whether or not Sister Jude will have a happy ending and much more.
What did you love about Sister Jude when ["American Horror Story" co-creator] Ryan Murphy first presented her to you?
When it started to kind of unravel, it became much more interesting for me. When he started talking about that there was this dark past that she was running from -- that she was tortured by and haunted by -- and ultimately, the descent into madness. I mean, somebody says that to me and that's all they've got to say. [Laughs.] It's like, "Where do I sign?" It's always the most interesting thing to play for me. I don't know why, but I absolutely love playing characters that desperately try to stay on the ledge and then, at some point, just can't hold on any longer.
But with this character, he did say that he wanted her to have -- I wouldn't say a happy ending -- but he wanted the character to find some peace before it was all over.
She's presented as a bit of a villain at the start of the season and now, she's a victim and as a viewer, you find you're feeling empathic towards her. Was it difficult to portray that switch?
Ryan did say at one point that he wanted her to become the hero of the story. So in spite of her own darkness and her torment that she keeps trying to outrun, those personal demons do catch up to her, but somehow she perseveres. I have always found that type of character to be fascinating, the one that somehow manages to either survive or a little bit better than to survive, to surmount the situation, and I think that's the story with her. There is something, in spite of everything, something rather -- I don't know if you'd use the word admirable -- but something very human about her.
The scene where she entered the recreation room, in her hospital gown, and the other patients were staring at her was a really powerful moment that really personified the 180 she's taken. What do you remember about shooting that scene?
I love working with Sarah [Paulson]. She's a wonderful actress. It always depends on how well written the scene is and I thought they really wrote a lovely scene there. It's definitely a transition, it's a turning point. It's one of those moments where the rest of the story is going to be triggered from that action. Those kinds of scenes are great to play.
She told Lana she's going to get her out and earn her trust. Is her goal at this point to earn forgiveness and right her wrongs or to be free herself?
I think they go hand-in-hand. The character, the way it's written, comes to the realization that all of this that she's put her faith in, whether it's the church or whether it's the monsignor or whether it's this institution or whatever, right down the line, have all betrayed her. The investment she had in atoning for the sins that she believed she had committed along the way became really paramount -- it was her life. So when she realizes that she has been not only betrayed, but sacrificed on the alter of their ambition and greed and ego, instead of crumbling in the face of that, it actually gives her some strength and resolve. She's determined to set something right.
The series is so special because it allows you to act with the same people, like Sarah, but in completely different capacities.
One of my very favorite scenes of this season was the one with Franny, Frances Conroy, as the Angel of Death in the diner. That was one of those scenes that was just thrilling to do and I loved working with her. I absolutely adore working with her. Sometimes you just have an affinity with an actor that's unspoken and on a very human level, you connect with them. And that's how I felt working with Franny, both years. And that scene, to me, was one of my most powerful scenes that they'd written for me. That whole sequence, going from being fired from the band to that whole discovery, it was just a great run of scenes to play, culminating in those two scenes -- the one with Franny in the diner and then, discovering from the family that this burden that she had been carrying around with her for years and years and years, it was false. It had basically ruined her life.
Were you aware at the beginning of the season that she didn't die?
No. I mean, those are things that you get an inkling of as you go along, but nothing is written before we jump into it. But in a way, it's kind of great because it mirrors reality. You don't know what's up ahead. You haven't read the second and third acts so you play them as though that was the reality, as in life, you don't know it's going to turn out that way. It's an interesting way to work I find because it gives kind of rawness. You have to really embrace the approach of working that way of kind of throwing yourself under the wheels of the truck to a certain extent. I'm always reminded of this great quote of Anthony Hopkins and I hope I'm not misquoting him: "Be brave and greater powers will come to your aid." And I feel, in a way, that's how you have to work on this project. You just have to be brave and somehow, something's going to look after you. You can't design it start to finish, like you would a play or a movie script, where you know the first, second and third acts and you know the trajectory of the character and the journey that it's going to go on. This, you're working moment to moment and I have found that to be a very thrilling way to work. You have to take chances, you can't be a coward and work this way so there's something great about it.
Is there anything that truly shocked you when reading the script?
You haven't seen Episode 10, but there is one of my very favorite, which I think is shocking, but in a positive way I think.
Is it the musical scene?
Is that something you wanted to do or had asked to do?
All along, I said, "Give me something where I can sing or I can dance." And he gave me a brief moment in the nightclub in one of the earlier episodes and this scene, one day, I got the lyrics and music to this song and I couldn't figure out what it was. [Laughs.] But it is actually quite startling when it happens. It was one of my favorite moments so far.
I look a lot like Dusty Springfield. [Laughs.] It was great. It was really great. I've got this big '60s bouffant. I started looking at all the great girl groups from the '60s and I was just stunned at how amazing they were and what they were doing. I guess I wasn't paying attention at that time, but, boy, when you start studying them and trying to figure out their moves and the choreography and the voices, it was pretty great stuff they were doing. So it was so much fun.
It must have been nice to have a lighter scene, considering how dark this season is.
Yes and I'm telling you, the actors who play the patients in Briarcliff, how they developed each of their characters … each one was so specific and was so consistent. There was nothing casual about it. So when we got to this piece after working together for months, it was really wonderful because we all just kind of went crazy and let loose and had such a great time.
Because this season deals with physiological torture, is it difficult for you to shake Sister Jude off when you go home at the end of the day?
I've gotten pretty good at that over the years, but what is hard is coming in in the morning and realizing you're going to put your kind of emotional and physical and mental well-being at risk. [Laughs.] Some days, it's kind of, "Ugh. I just don't feeling like doing this today. I don't want to go there." But, usually, after it's like, "OK. Did that. Now I think I'll go home and walk the dog."
Is there anything that was written that you felt like was too much?
Yeah. I think after the first or second caning scene and said, "That's it for me. No more of this. I've done it. We've established it. We get it. I'm not doing it anymore." [Laughs.] It's very unpleasant.
I know you mentioned the diner scene, but Jude has had so many this season. The scenes where she talks about her childhood and the squirrel really stood out to me.
Yeah. I haven't seen it, but I was told that the director let it play in one take, which is kind of an actor's dream. It mirrors what you do on stage -- you just have to do it from start to finish and that was kind of great. I was glad that he did that.
You know, the drunk scene introducing the movie … There are a lot of favorite scenes. I can't think of them now because I have no short-term memory. [Laughs.] But they gave me a lot to do. I loved the musical numbers that I got to do and the madness. I hate to admit how much I enjoy that but I do -- digging deep down into the well of darkness, that's always interesting. There have been a lot of great moments.
"American Horror Story: Asylum" returns Wednesday, January 2 at 10 p.m. EST on FX.