Yet Lange kept returning to the role. Following her Broadway run, she appeared in a better-reviewed production of Streetcar on the West End and then a much-praised performance filmed for TV. “There’s something about that character that gets under your skin,” she says. “She is so haunting in a way that it physically takes its toll on you.” Lange anticipated a similar experience in 2000 when she took on O’Neill’s morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone, in Long Day’s Journey Into Night in London, but found that “it wasn’t the same.” (She was nominated for an Olivier for that role.)
Motherhood may have curtailed her career, but Lange believes it has deepened her work. When she uses emotional triggers to fuel her acting, “a lot of those—a lot of those—have to do with my children.” What about the current role of Amanda, the domineering mother? “Oh, yeah.” Before I can even get the next question out, she brusquely answers, “No!” Those specifics are private.
Others have played Amanda archly, as Katharine Hepburn did in a 1973 TV version: a mean woman with dangerous delusions. But Lange tends to get the audience on her side from the start, employing her trademark crooked smile. From her perspective, Amanda Wingfield is no bully. “Williams actually says it in the script—‘unwitting cruelty,’ ” she says. “She loves those children. I actually find her tremendously valorous. She has so many facets; she’s like a diamond. I absolutely believe what she says when she says she had seventeen gentleman callers in one afternoon. I think she had a glorious young womanhood.”
Lange is candid about some of her lousier recent roles. “I’ve never been able to keep my mouth shut,” she says.
Lange is frank about some of her lousier recent roles. “I’ve never been able to keep my mouth shut,” she says, shifting in her chair, as she often does. “So if somebody asks me how I feel about Hush, I’ll say it’s a piece of shit.” In film, she adds, “I can get very distracted, I can get very lazy, and every once in a while I see how a performance has suffered from that.” But Lange isn’t making any more threats to quit. She’s already wrapped several movies she’s content with, including Don’t Come Knocking, a Wim Wenders flick co-starring Shepard, and Neverwas, with a “fascinating original screenplay” and Nick Nolte and Ian McKellen in the cast.
Still, she knows that plum roles for actresses diminish with age. Does playing Amanda, who clings so passionately to her lost youth, make Lange contemplate her own future? “I don’t see her as a character who’s obsessed with growing old,” she insists. Amanda’s fantasies are “her escape, it’s like a balm . . . ” She smiles disarmingly, pulls a hand toward her chin. But this reverie is interrupted: Menagerie director David Leveaux and associate producer Dante Di Loreto come bursting into the room.
“Hello, hello, here come my gentleman callers,” she jokes as she gets up to leave. “We were all going to come, the seventeen of us,” Di Loreto announces. “We’ve come to collect our lovely lady.”