"I remember when I was doing 'Frances,' I let her get so deep under my skin that it actually felt like a haunting," she said. "And when I did Blanche DuBois for the first time, I think my kids were worried about me. The deeper you go, the more they settle in and it's harder to pull away. I used to soak in a hot tub for hours in the dark, just like Blanche."

Michael Sucsy, who directed and co-wrote "Grey Gardens," recalls Lange's first look at the telefilm's posters in which her character's wrinkles were airbrushed out.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

"She was like, 'I was in the makeup chair for four hours getting those, why would they get rid of them?'" he says. "She was always pushing for more. She was all about us making her fatter, older, whatever. And you don't find that with a lot of female actresses."

Presenting a stark truth is what drives and guides her work, says Lange, who moonlights as a fine art photographer.

"I shoot in black and white because I think there is something much more arresting about it. I think any time you distill an image down to shadows and highlights, it has a kind of power that speaks to something on a much more primal way," she says. "My acting roles are a blending of that — it's the gray. And I love the balance. It's been fun. Depressing, sure, but fun. So I want a little more of it. For a little longer."

yvonne.villareal@latimes.com

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'American Horror Story: Coven'

Where: FX

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)