I am given a very gentle warning just moments before I walk into my interview with screen legend Jessica Lange. Having only arrived from the US the day before, she had been teaching acting masterclasses for the Galway Film Fleadh all day, and she was very, very, tired.
As if I was not nervous enough already, now my fears that I could be dealing with a true diva were escalated to fears that I could be dealing with an exhausted, irritable, diva.
Taking a deep breath and accepting that there is no way out but to forge ahead I walked through the large wood doors into the massive seaview executive suite at the Radisson hotel. I see a pair of neatly pressed black slacks crossed below a large broadsheet newspaper. The corner turns down for a moment and an elegant face breaks into a brief smile. Folding her paper and standing to grip my hand in a very professional handshake, I am now face-to-face with one of Hollywood’s most prolific leading ladies. Slowly I remind myself to breathe.
Strikingly gorgeous even when fighting exhaustion, Lange gracefully slumps herself into her overstuffed chair and in a voice that is far from complaining informs me she is also losing her voice. I make a promise to her that I will be brief, telling her that being from abroad myself, I know the pain of jetlag. She questions where I am from and what brought me to Ireland, a few long-winded moments later and I suddenly I realise I am yet to ask a single question. And yet, I am completely as ease.
A two-time Oscar winner and a three-time Golden Globe winner, the 59-year-old Lange has, in the last 30-plus years, gone from being a New York City waitress to an unimpressive debut actress to one of Hollywood’s most famous female leads. Yet you would hardly know it from her casual demeanour and quick smile.
Her long and successful career, which includes such famous films as Tootsie and The Postman Always Rings Twice, has spanned across both the silver screen and the big stage. But which, having been so successful in both, was her preferred genre?
“They are both great. They both have their drawbacks and they both have their benefits,” said Lange. “With stage, the rehearsal period is fascinating, the whole creative process and the development of new characters, but the repetition is hard, especially when you’re doing an eight week run.”
She looks off wistfully for a moment and before she even says a word you know where her true love lies. “But then there is still the magic of filmmaking,” she smiles. “It is a process that is still mysterious and wonderful to me.”
But after so many years in the business it could not have always been good, could it? There were undoubtedly regrets along the way.
“Oh yes, of course,” said Lange. “Often I’ll look at films that were offered to me that I didn’t take and I’ll regret that I missed the opportunity. But more regretful is doing a film that is ultimately a disappointment and thinking, ‘why did I bother? Why did I waste my time?’”
Luckily for Lange those disappointing roles have been few and far between, allowing her to play some of the big screen’s most unforgettable characters including Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, Frances Farmer in Frances, and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
So what was it that drew Lange into the numerous real-life characters she portrayed, including Cline and Farmer?
“You feel a responsibility to them because they do exist, they are not just part of your imagination,” said Lange, whose most recent film, Grey Gardens, is also a bio-pic. The film, which is the story of Jackie Kennedy’s eccentric aunt and first cousin, both named Edith Bouvier Beale, was the subject of a cult-classic documentary of the same name which looked at the years of isolation the pair spent at their Long Island summer home, the Grey Gardens.
But for now Lange is not thinking about her upcoming film release, the filming commitments she has in the future, or even the book of photography she is about to have published, because after this past weekend’s Galway Film Fleadh, Lange is officially on vacation.
“I’ve been out to the west of Ireland before but I wanted to be able to travel more this time,” said Lange, who was returning to Galway city for the third time. “I really wanted to spend more time in Connemara.
“It just happened that my daughter is also in Galway right now, so it was the perfect opportunity,” said Lange, who plans to spend some of her downtime soaking up this week’s Galway Arts Festival. “Plus its too hot in New York!”
And as I look out my office window at our glorious Irish summer, I have to nod. Jessica obviously came to the right place this year