Jessica Lange on ‘American Horror Story: Coven’

Jessica Lange American Horror Story Coven

For the new season of “American Horror Story,” I got to speak one-on-one with Angela Bassett and Sarah Paulson, but I had to fight for Jessica Lange.

When FX brought the entire cast of “AHS: Coven” to the Television Critics Association, Lange was the main attraction. After the panel, I joined Lange up on stage and threw out as many questions as I could, including many suggested by our readers on Twitter. “Coven” casts Lange as Fiona Goode, the matriarch of a school for teen witches in New Orleans. 

CraveOnline: Can we expect any big surprises like "The Name Game" or another musical number?

Jessica Lange: [Laughing] Wouldn’t that be delightful? I honestly don’t know. I mean, I'm sure there are going to be some lively little surprises there, but I don’t know if they’ll be of a musical nature or not.

What did you think when you read that last year?

You know, it was such a funny thing the way that came up because we were dealing with such dark, dark, material: insanity and mental health and the incarceration and the warehousing of human beings.

I mentioned to Ryan [Murphy], and this is the great thing about being in a show that’s as fluid as this, that it's not all there on the page from the beginning. I said, because I've done a little snippet of a musical number as a flashback as the second-rate lounge singer that I played, I said, “Can I have another musical number?” and out of the blue came this, which I thought was absolutely brilliant because it comes out of her despair and her madness and the question do you know who you are? Then, boom! You're into this kind of crazy, Dusty Springfield musical number and it was so much fun to do.

The most fun about it was watching all of our extras, all the actors that played the inmates throughout the year.  I mean, how much fun everybody was having and how great everybody was in it. Yes, it was a great treat. I hope there's something like that in store. Like I said, I doubt if it’ll be another musical number. I think I probably exhausted my talent in that area.

Are you astounded every single year? Do you know what you'll be doing a year from now?

No, I'm not sure yet. It will depend a lot on what the storyline will be. But they keep coming up with new things. I mean, it's pretty amazing.

Is there anything you wouldn’t do? It seems like you get to do so much in these sordid roles.

I don’t want to do the overt, violent stuff. I mean, as long as it has some kind of emotion. That doesn’t set well with me. I've made that pretty clear.

Since you’ve been a regular, is it easier or harder to have a new cast come in every year versus working with other regulars?

Well, I do work with the same [actors].  I mean, this will be the third year working with a lot of these actors. Some of them skipped the second season and are coming back, some are. But, this group of actresses is pretty spectacular. I'm waiting to see if we get any men.

Is there anything that creeps you out or scares you about being in New Orleans, the city, and learning more about voodoo?

I think there are areas that you don’t want to tempt. I think you need to have a kind of genuine respect for tradition and for those dark arts. I wouldn’t want to come up against anything. There's something about this city that I've always loved and there is something about it that people have such a deep and profound respect for that place. I mean, the people who live there, and have such a tremendous passion about their town. That in itself is kind of, I don’t know. I'm in awe of it in a way.

What is the dynamic with you now playing Sarah Paulson’s mother?

Again, we don’t know where it's going or what that’s going in there. I think, to a certain extent, I may have failed the character in that way. We have to see where it's going.

Did you ask for that dynamic to be changed?

No. That was something that the writers and Ryan and the creators came up with this year."

Will you have a close relationship with Jamie Brewer this year?

Yes. She's back. I mean, not as my daughter this time. Yes, she’ll be there and we have a unique relationship again.

What is your plan at this point?

I like to think of it as being at the third chapter of my life and it opening up and maybe being the best chapter. Who knows? But I want to embrace it with all the kind of enthusiasm that I had when I was young. I want to see where this next adventure, I'm not talking about work now, but the next adventure of my life takes me. It could take me in a completely different direction.

I want to go back to the way I did things when I was 18, and that was just by saying yes to everything and having no kind of predetermined idea about what it was going to be, and just seeing where the adventure could possibly take me. I do want to try something maybe completely different from anything I've ever done before. I don’t know how long I'm going to keep acting. I may just do something unique, 180 degrees from what I've been doing for the last 35 years.

What’s the scariest film you’ve ever seen?

I think maybe The Exorcist. I remember that one haunted me for a long time. Or I remember when I first saw Night of the Living Dead, when you walk out on the street and it's like, “I know who you all are.” Yes, I think probably The Exorcist. I'm not a horror film junkie. I haven’t seen a lot of them.

Did you have a lot of Frances moments in your head last season?

Yes. I mean, every once in a while when I do the shock treatment, I thought to myself, “Oh, I better research on this and see what happens.” Then I realized, “No, I have researched this and I know it.” All those things are still in the body somewhere.

Is Fiona a good witch or a bad witch?

It's fluid. It shifts. I hate to say it because I don’t know what direction it's going to go yet, but I would imagine there's a lot of darkness to all of it.

Do you like the costumes?

I'm very glamorous this year. Very glamorous, yes.

What are your favorite places in New Orleans since you love it so much?

I love the river. I love being in the Quarter and I love the parks. There's something quite magical about the place, I think. I love the trees and the flowers, and the smell at night.

Where have you spent time in the Quarter? Have you been to all the old places?

I've been to a lot of them. I try to avoid the ones that are most popular from a tourist’s point of view. I mean, for obvious reasons. They're not as interesting. They’ve been tricked out for the tourists. Yeah, the Napoleon House is a great old place.

Had you worked in New Orleans a lot prior to this?

No. The first time I spent time there I was actually shooting in Baton Rouge. I was doing a film called Everybody’s All American. Every time I had a moment, I'd run down to New Orleans, of course.  Then over the years I've made pretty good friends there. I've had a photography show there. I've had a show of my own collection of photographs at the Ogden Museum there. I've come and gone. I've worked with a photographer there making photograph viewers. It's a very interesting city, not just for the film industry that has come but for a long tradition of arts and photography.