Jessica Lange has two Oscars, three Emmys — but no Tony Award.
That may change, given her performance in the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” at the American Airlines Theatre through June 26. The play recounts a sordid day in the life of an actor (Gabriel Byrne), his frazzled wife (Lange) and their troubled sons (Michael Shannon, John Gallagher Jr.), in a house near the foggy banks of Long Island Sound.
Lange, 67, nominated for a Tony for best actress in a play, forged a film career playing memorable women, from Frances Farmer (“Frances”) to East Hampton’s Big Edie Bouvier Beale (HBO’s “Grey Gardens”). Then came her creepy stint in FX’s “American Horror Story.” Next up — she and Susan Sarandon will play notorious rivals Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in FX’s upcoming miniseries “Feud.”
The actress has three grown children (one from an early relationship with Mikhail Baryshnikov, and two with Sam Shepard — the couple split in 2009 after nearly 30 years together).
I’d never seen this play — never read it — and was on the edge of my seat. They keep talking about your character: She’s “back” . . . “looks better” . . . but she’s been in “the spare room.” I’m wondering: Back from where? Better from what? And what’s up with the room? I wish more people could go knowing less.
Yeah, I think about that sometimes. There are young people out there who may not know the play. I didn’t know, in this day and age when everyone’s attention span is 10 seconds . . . [she laughs] . . . how an audience would sit and listen. But they do. And it is a long day’s journey.
Yes, truth in advertising. Nearly four hours long.
O’Neill was writing this about his own [boyhood] family. So it transcends time or place. There’s something in it that everyone recognizes — loneliness, disappointment, guilt. [She chuckles.] I mean, it’s not easy. And yet . . . overriding everything is love. That’s what binds families together. No matter the hardships. I think it’s O’Neill’s best play — maybe one of the best in American drama. Maybe the best. In his dedication to his wife, Carlotta, he talks about it being an act of love and forgiveness. I think it took him years to write, and Carlotta recounted how he’d go into his studio in the morning, then later come out for lunch but couldn’t talk. Pretty soon, he just started eating in his studio.
You’ve said you feel closest to this role. It’s rough — do you need some kind of emotional palate cleanser afterward?
Sleep, mostly. When we started rehearsals, I’d find myself waking up, realizing I’d been running scenes in my head over and over. Now I just sleep — completely. But it’s worth it. This part is every actor’s dream.
You’re a master at playing characters who are losing it. Has going to the edge like that become easier over time, or harder?
It’s interesting — I did this role 16 years ago in London, and I didn’t play it the way I’m playing it now. Back then I had all three children still at home, and I was busy with school, getting them up in the morning, making breakfast. Coming back to it at this point in my life . . . [She looks off, as if picturing something.] In those 16 years there’s been so much more loss, more . . . what would you say? Heartache? Or . . . whatever. [She looks back.] The thing I love about characters on the edge is that you’re not confined by having to serve a rational approach. You can just let your emotions dictate.
One last thing — Sarandon vs. Lange — in “Feud”? Brilliant casting.
It’s a very interesting story. And . . . Crawford. I love anybody who comes from hard knocks. She came outta some backwater place in Texas. No education. Scrappy. It should be great. When I finish the play I’ve got two months to research. There are so many things I have to learn about her.
I can see you in either role. Are you more Joan than Bette?
I think so. When I first read the script years ago, it was Crawford that drew me in. Now we have to figure out how to make me look like her. I don’t want it to be camp. It’s going to be tricky. You know, when I was doing Big Edie in “Grey Gardens,” the way into that character for me was her voice. Every day on set, in my trailer I’d listen to Big Edie’s voice in the documentary over and over. As soon as I had the voice, things fell into place.
Think you’ll find Crawford the same way?
Maybe . . . maybe . . . We’ll have to see.