You think Jessica Lange would be used to the creep factor, costarring on the acclaimed F/X series American Horror Story, but her latest movie genuinely unsettled her. In the gloomy period drama In Secret, based on Émile Zola's 1867 novel Therese Raquin, Lange plays the hyper-controlling aunt/mother-in-law of a young woman Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) trapped in a loveless marriage with her cousin. When Therese embarks on a bodice-ripping affair, the story takes a deadly and, ultimately, tragic turn.
This film is very dark. What attracted you to the role?
Émile Zola remains one of my favorite novelists. I know his work well, and this story is interesting for me. I’d read it decades ago to prepare for The Postman Always Rings Twice. [Writer] James Cain based Postman on Therese Raquin. It was funny to kind of go full circle all these years later.
How did you gear up for the part of Madame, who eventually ends up paralyzed after a stroke?
This woman has experienced these huge, dramatic emotions, and normally you would rely on the physical — your voice, all these things. But how do you play her when you’re immobile and have no capacity for dialogue? It was very challenging, and I thought when I first said yes, that I would look at silent movies. But of course that made no sense whatsoever because what those actors made up for with the lack of voice was this kind of exaggerated movement. So to have neither the physical nor the voice was a great kind of undertaking, trying to figure out how to make it work and have resonance. Hopefully the audience understands the grief of what this woman was going through.
What was the atmosphere on set like? Very intense?
Nobody kind of investigates the human condition the way Zola does. And the set was designed exactly the way it was described in the book. Many passages have this kind of emptiness and darkness and dampness and claustrophobia, all which lead to this sense of desperation. I think they did a great job capturing the dreariness of Paris from that era, though we actually shot in Belgrade and Budapest.
You’re in high demand these days. How is it having a new generation of fans?
Yes, all of a sudden after a decade of just kind of lounging about [laughs]. I don’t know if I’m in demand, but in between American Horror Story and a few other projects, it is busy around here. I am genuinely surprised when young people recognize me on the street. That always catches me short!
How is TV work as opposed to movies?
TV is a much longer schedule, like 5 ½ months of shooting. But it’s the best of both worlds because you can really develop and investigate this character. In the first season, AHS sort of felt like a stage play, just you weren’t repeating it night after night. I did enjoy that part of it. But to come back to the same person year after year, I would find that exhausting. To be able to do one character and then start anew, that’s kind of a dream. It’ll have been a great experience [the upcoming fourth season will be her last].
You look fantastic. What’s the secret?
There’s no secret — it’s all in the lighting. If you’re lit well, anybody can look good, even some ancient old crone [laughs]! I used to do Pilates religiously for years, but I was never one for gyms. With my schedule it’s hard. Really, it’s just walking, swimming and riding my bike.