Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude began this season of American Horror Story: Asylum as a punitive nun with a steely stare and “spare the rod, spoil the child” approach to managing her patients at Briarcliff Asylum. As the episodes unfolded, Sister Jude was revealed to be a recovering alcoholic who turned to the Catholic church for salvation. Last seen stabbing Santa Claus in the neck, Jude has returned to Briarcliff to take on the devil himself.
Last week Lange—who was recently nominated for a SAG Award for her work on the show—spoke with reporters about the FX drama, what viewers can expect as the series heads towards its January season finale and what’s on tap for season three.
This show can be very outrageous. Has there ever been a time when you’ve received a script and thought, “this is just too much?”
Lange: Sometimes on episode to episode I think, “Oh my God, what the hell are we doing? We shouldn’t be doing this.” And yet, the thing that always amazes me is nothing that we do in this show really is not somehow founded in some reality somewhere. I think there was a leap of faith on my part just thinking, “well, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.” And I think as an actor you have to have trust, you have to believe that somebody is taking care of you or watching your back, because with a part like this especially and where we’re going with it, I can’t pull any punches. I can’t do it halfway. Especially when you’re dealing with madness and this descent into madness, and I really felt like, “OK, I’m going to embrace this 100 percent and hopefully somebody will look out for me and not let me completely humiliate myself.”
How would you describe Sister Jude?
Lange: Jude, she has a lot to lose because she’s holding on to something that she feels has saved her life and redeemed her. [Compared to Constance last season], this woman is much more vulnerable and I think, in some way, tragic. She’s destroyed her life. She’s an addict. She’s an alcoholic. She’s had bad luck with men, a lot of bad men in her life. And she’s come to the end of the road with the hopes that this church, that this man, the Monsignor, is going to save her, that she’ll become something else, that she’ll make her life worth living. And of course that all comes down, crashing, and she’s left absolutely alone, completely and totally alone.
How much of Jude’s storyline did you know ahead of time? Jude started off as the villain, so to speak, and has now kind of become the hero of the story. Did you know that this was the arc she would take?
Lange: Really, no, because this thing kind of has a life of its own. It’s like a river, it moves one direction and then it continues that way and then it shifts direction. I think [executive producer] Ryan [Murphy] has these things roughly plotted out of where things are going to go, but I don’t always know ahead of time. I have to say I kind of understood that we would be dealing with this kind of descent into hell, but I did not know really that Jude would rise to the top of this in a way. I don’t know where it’s going. It’s kind of like life. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. And it’s been an interesting way to work. It’s made me work in a much more fluid [and] braver way, of just taking every chance that comes along. I don’t plan things ahead of time. I don’t map out the character. I don’t do anything. It’s been for me a great, powerful exercise in working just in the moment, from this moment to the next moment. And I actually think that it’s made me a better actor, in a way, because of not being able to go into something pre-determined.
In the previews for this week’s episode, we see Sister Jude has now become a patient at Briarcliff. What can you say about this week’s episode?
Lange: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about what’s coming up or not. I’m always a little timid about talking about the plot line. Yes, everything gets put in motion now as far as Briarcliff and the demise of that institution and everybody’s departure from it, except mine. Yes, she actually does now try to right the wrongs that she has done, but, of course, she’s totally trapped within her own making, in a way.
American Horror Story has been picked up for a third season and you will be part of the cast once again. How much have you and Ryan talked about season three?
Lange: Well, we haven’t really talked about it too much, and all that stuff is still under discussion. I don’t know yet. I haven’t really thought it through. When we started talking about season two, I had very clear ideas of what I wanted to play. I had never played an alcoholic before. I wanted to play a great drunk scene. I remember I asked Ryan for that. I wanted to play somebody who was really down and out, and also the whole area of madness. So those were things that I specifically had in mind when we talked about the character of Sister Jude. For next year, you know, I’m just exhausted from this whole experience. And this season, it seems like it’s gone on forever and I really don’t have a thought about next season yet. There’s a lot of stuff that will come up, but as of now, I hate to say, I haven’t given it any thought whatsoever.