Warning: This story contains spoilers about the first season of The Politician.
You’ve never seen Jessica Lange quite like she is in Netflix’s The Politician.
And, by that, we mean in an Olive Garden.
Lange plays Dusty Jackson, the manipulative grandmother of teen Infinity (Zoey Deutch), who both become involved in the high school campaign of Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) in the comedy created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan.
EW sat down with the actress to discuss her first comedy since 1982’s Tootsie(!), which nabbed her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and if she’ll ever return to American Horror Story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to play Dusty Jackson?
JESSICA LANGE: The idea that it was a comedy. A dark comedy. All these years, I haven’t played that many comedies. I thought this will be good. It’ll be good to shift gears and try something completely different. The character was so outrageous and so monstrous. I don’t know it just appealed to me at the moment when he started kind of spinning the yarn and doing his Ryan Murphy, “Lady.” So I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Dusty has quite the lewk. Did you have input on her appearance and that hairdo?
It was a wig, yeah. Okay. So, the story with that is, Ryan had an idea in his mind. Then I thought, “Okay, so here’s a character that grew up in some rural town in West Virginia. Probably very unhappy childhood or whatever.” She sees Five Easy Pieces and Karen Black becomes the epitome of glamor and sexuality and, you know. So, I thought, “Okay, we’re kind of going to for the Karen Black look.” It was perfectly in sync with what Ryan wanted.
I should probably, from time to time, say no. But I let them put me in those leopard skin stretch pants and high heeled shoes. At a certain point, you just think, the more outrageous the better. We’re not doing Chekov here.
Much like your other roles, you get some grandiose speeches in The Politician. Do you like doing those? Or are they challenging?
Yeah, I love doing them. I mean, from the very beginning with Ryan, they would throw those at me like a piece of steak. It was like, “Here, chew on this for a while.” But they’re great fun to do. With everything that I’ve done with Ryan, the writing is always good. So that’s the bonus in this all. I really like Dusty’s monologues.
The common link in all of your roles in these series seems to be faded dreams. Is that a theme you’re interested in?
I certainly am interested in it. Ryan, I’m not saying he tailors things specifically for me, but they do to a certain degree know what I like to do, know what I can do, know that I’m attracted to those bigger than life moments and emotions, to characters who are teetering on the edge, who are on the verge of madness or whatever. But yes, I love that thing of dreams deferred, to quote Mr. Hughes. What do you do then? Is it rage? Is it just sorrow? Is it revenge? What is it? With this character, of course, I mean, she does the inexcusable, the unforgivable.
Most of your scenes are with Zoey Deutch. How did you like working with her?
I loved working with her. We had had a great time. We had an immediate, easy rapport with one another. I think she’s a wonderful actress. There was no kind of discord of, how’s she approaching this or why’s she doing that that way. It had a natural rhythm and flow and vitality to it.
You and Zoey have multiple scenes set at an Olive Garden. I have to ask: Has Jessica Lange ever been to an Olive Garden?
I can’t remember that I ever have, although I’ve been to Denny’s. Does that count?
It’s close. But I just can’t imagine you with one of those buzzers that tells you your table is ready.
I didn’t even know what that was when we started playing that scene. It was great.
In terms of all the TV experiences you’ve had on American Horror Story and Feud, how does playing Dusty stack up?
It took a lot of pressure off for a couple reasons. One, because it’s a supporting part. So I’m not the protagonist, I don’t have to carry the whole piece. I have a little sidebar and I could explore that fully. But it was the commitment time and everything else was so much less than I’m used to doing with Ryan.
Also, again, I keep hearkening back to, it’s a comedy. So, I didn’t have to approach this character as this tragic monster. It was much more finding the absurdity.
Do you think we’ll see Dusty again on The Politician?
I don’t think so. I mean, Dusty’s not one of those that has a second act. As Fitzgerald says, “There’s no second act in America”. Especially for her.
Do you know what you’re going to collaborate on with Ryan next?
Yeah. We’re trying to develop this piece on Dietrich, from those kind of Las Vegas years to the end. We’ve got a really good script that Michael Cristofer wrote. At one time, Ryan thought he might want to direct it but he’s got a thousand other things that are going on. I don’t particularly want to wait. So, if we can get this going next year it’ll be great. Ryan will produce and I can sing like Dietrich because she had a very limited range.
You’re releasing a book of photography on Oct. 1. Have you ever considered directing?
I would love to. I just have never been really approached to do it and have never found anything on my own that I wanted to do.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to American Horror Story?
I don’t think so. I feel like I got the best of it in those first four seasons. Great characters. It was exciting to do. I worked with some of my favorite actors but I can’t see that we could ever get back to that.
And you got to wrap it all up by being in Sarah Paulson’s directorial debut in Apocalypse.
Just that tiny little reprise, that part, that was enough.
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