With Ryan Murphy’s new series The Politician launching on Netflix this Friday 27th September, one of its stars, Ryan Murphy regular and all-round legendary two-time Oscar-winner Jessica Lange was in New York for a press conference today to talk about her role on the show as “terrifying” grandmother Dusty Jackson.
The Queer Review’s James Kleinmann asked Jessica Lange about her character’s look, what insight it gives us into Dusty and whether she had any input in creating it.
Jessica Lange: “I think that Dusty at some point in her early life watched Five Easy Pieces and saw Karen Black in that film with Jack and kind of fell in love with that look and thought to herself ‘that is the height of glamour, of sexuality, fashion’ and she has stuck with that look many decades too long! That’s what I was trying to go for there. And then Ryan of course had his input, the nails and the jewellery, but to my mind it was a young girl in some rural community somewhere seeing that film and falling in love with this kind of glamorous, to her mind, glamorous, sexy actress in this particular part and modelled herself after that.”
After much laughter, she went on to give advice for any drag queens out their inspired by The Politician to recreate Dusty’s look.
“It’s not an easy look! I mean that’s the advice I would give, you know. It takes a while to get in and it’s not entirely comfortable. One of the things was I had to try to look fifteen years younger because one of the plot points of course is that I had my daughter when I was very young, like a teenage pregnancy. She follows kind of the same path, she ends up having a child when she’s just a teenager, so when you do the math now her daughter is a teenager, so I’m supposed to be playing fifty five years old, so I would just advise anyone doing it that it’s a lot of work!”
When asked whether being in so many Ryan Murphy shows had made her a gay icon she responded: “Wasn’t I a gay icon before?! I thought I’ve always been a gay icon! The characters are kind of bigger than life, but also take for instance playing Joan Crawford; I’m playing a person who is also a gay icon more or less, so that’s built in from the get-go. This character I have no idea how people are going to respond to her. I keep saying to myself as a mantra ‘just remember it’s a comedy, just remember it’s a comedy’.”
On being approached by Ryan Murphy about the role Ms Lange said: “when he called me about it I think he was juts kind of imagining the character to begin with. He obviously had an idea of what the character was but he was filling in all the blanks and obviously knowing what appealed to me as an actor, after these years of working together, he was hitting the right notes to interest me in it. At this point, unless it’s something that really doesn’t interest me, I know that Ryan is going to create something that is going to be interesting for me to play so that’s how he approached me. I was sitting on the porch up at the cabin last summer or the summer before and looking out at the lake and the phone rings and I always know that it’s going to be that kind of conversation, because he always starts ‘hello lady, what are you doing?’ ‘I’m doing absolutely nothing.’ ‘Do you want to go to work?’ So that’s how it usually goes down. “
On describing her character in the series, Lange revealed: “She is terrifying, she’s a monster and it is a comedy however so that couches everything. With her she’s so small-minded and so wilfully ignorant, the things that matter to her in the larger scheme of life are so inconsequential, you know free dinners at Olive Garden, trips to Disneyland. She’s on the take all the time. She’s a despicable character actually when you think what she is willing to do for nothing. However in creating her backstory I had to somehow come up with something that would explain how she got to this point so I created a whole thing of coming from an incredibly poor community, a broken family, possible abuse, not finishing her education and then…how do you get from there to where she is now. She does the unforgivable, inexplicable and anybody who’s a mother or a grandmother, anyone who’s a real human being would never be able to do what she’s done. I mean the cruelty, the ignorance and selfishness. But it’s a comedy!”
Although she’s worked so many times with Ryan Murphy she does have limits to what she will agree to: “there are things that I tell him I won’t do, but we have come to kind of an understanding. For instance in American Horror Story my characters… over those four years of doing that I wasn’t involved in the really gory aspect of that series. I said from the beginning, the thing that interests me was the madness, the psychological danger, the failings, but I did not want to do the other stuff and he always respected that. So instead he would give me a Bowie song to sing which was I thought was a great tradeoff!”
On being asked about the types of characters she’s played in Ryan Murphy’s shows she said: “I don’t find them campy. I think there’s an element of that to this show, but I’ve always and the writers have always tried to ground it in some kind of humanity no matter how bizarre or off-kilter or demented that humanity is. I never think of those characters as being camp. There are certain elements of madness and despair, their histories are convoluted and dark. So I approach those parts as I would any character, trying to find the core of it somewhere in there.”
On what she admires about Ryan Murphy and thinks has made him so busy as a creator she observed: “I think Ryan has an extraordinary imagination which really is a precious commodity, the power of the imagination. And I think he also has a sense of zeitgeist, of what’s out there, what story is kind of bubbling. With this one, The Politician, I mean it really is a microcosm of everything that is gong on, especially in this country. You’ve got gender politics, you’ve got the down and dirty political fighting, it’s all there and he just somehow understands that. I think he’s incredibly instinctual and imaginative and that’s a really powerful combination for creating literature or film or programmes, whatever.”
On whether we’ll be seeing her character return if there was a second season she revealed: “No, the agreement was my character my was done. It was a one-off.”
So we’d better make the most of Jessica Lange in Season 1 of The Politician, which hits Netflix Friday 27th September.
Synopsis: Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a wealthy student from Santa Barbara, California, has known since age seven that he’s going to be President of the United States. But first he’ll have to navigate the most treacherous political landscape of all: Saint Sebastian High School. To get elected Student Body President, secure a spot at Harvard, and stay on his singular path to success, Payton will have to outsmart his ruthless classmates without sacrificing his own morality and carefully crafted image. Full of comedy and sly satire, Ryan Murphy’s The Politician offers a rare glimpse into just what it takes to make a politician.