The Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off its upcoming 2015 installment two months ahead of time with its annual fundraiser at the Bacara on Sunday. The Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film ceremony honored actress Jessica Lange for her lifetime of work in the movies and did so with a gala dinner, a series of retrospective clips, and celebrity presenters. This was the ninth year for the popular event.
Currently, Jessica Lange is riding a career high as the central character in FX’s award-winning creepshow, “American Horror Story.” Because of its season specific stories, Jessica Lange has played a different character every season, from a spooky neighbor in the first one, to a cruel Mother superior in season two, a supreme witch in season three, and now the leader of a traveling freak zone in the ongoing fourth season. While other actors are resting on their laurels in their 60s, or playing to their familiar strengths, Ms. Lange keeps stretching her abilities, pushing herself to grander and more outré directions. And while Hollywood is having a hard time finding any meaty roles for women these days, Ms. Lange has owned her corner of the television world and won two Emmys.
The evening delved into Ms. Lange’s large back catalog, from her debut in 1976’s remake of “King Kong,” her sultry role in the remake of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and her supporting role in “Tootsie.” She’s played blacklisted actress Frances Farmer in “Frances” and country singer Patsy Cline in “Sweet Dreams.” After those successes in the early ’80s, her career meandered a bit, but slowly she began to get back important supporting roles in “Prozac Nation,” “Big Fish,” “Broken Flowers,” and then a starring role in the fictional version of documentary “Grey Gardens.” It was that northern gothic role that set her up for “American Horror Story” and her celebrated return to the spotlight. The clips were introduced by her “American Horror Story” co-star Kathy Bates and by actress Demi Moore, who stars with Ms. Lange in the upcoming film “Wild Oats.”
“The show (American Horror Story) has always revolved around Jessica,” said series creator Ryan Murphy. “Sometimes when I watch the show back at my house I marvel at what a star she is. How she has such charisma and can hold the screen, and so as a result we give her pages and pages of monologues, which she loves.
“She’s a great collaborator,” he continued. “I’ve been a fan since I was a child, so to get to work with someone I so admire, and to have young people get turned on to her through the show, and go back and watch all her movies…that’s been a great thing. She’s the best. She’s fearless.”
In the show, Ms. Lange’s characters constantly evolve as audience gets to know more of their backstory. Sympathies change. But Ms. Lange said that she is not usually privy to that whole arc.
“You get an idea where you might be going but that can change dramatically during the course of it, too,” she said. “There’s something about it, it’s a little bit like life. You don’t know where it’s going to end up. So it’s nice. You’re playing it for what’s right in front of you at the moment.”
As of press time, SBIFF just announced its second honoree of the upcoming Festival in January, with 2015 Outstanding Performer of the Year Award going to Steve Carell, for his work in the upcoming “Foxcatcher.” Previously, SBIFF announced that Michael Keaton will receive the Modern Master Award for his work in “Birdman.”