She made us empathize with the murderous Madame LaLaurie in American Horror Story, played Charlie Sheen’s cigar-smoking ghost on Two and a Half Men, and manned the lifeboats in Titanic. And of course, she brought one of Stephen King’s creepiest creations to life in Misery. Over the past four decades, Kathy Bates has racked up Emmys, Golden Globes, and an Oscar for her work in front of and behind the camera, turning us all into big fans — although maybe not Annie Wilkes’ definition of “big fan.”
In preparation for Comic-Con’s Women Who Kick Ass panel on Saturday (hosted by EW’s own Sara Vilkomerson), here are five reasons why Bates totally kicks ass:
She knows how to tap into her dark side.
Bates doesn’t always play a villain, but when she does, she brings it to a whole other level. Some of her best work has come when she’s swinging a sledgehammer or painting her face with her victims’ blood.
She relishes playing misfits and outcasts.
From the murderous Annie Wilkes in Misery to the bearded Ethel on American Horror Story, Bates has never shied away from unconventional roles. “I’m not a stunning woman,” she told the New York Times in 1991. “I never was an ingénue; I’ve always just been a character actor. When I was younger it was a real problem, because I was never pretty enough for the roles that other young women were being cast in. The roles I was lucky enough to get were real stretches for me: usually a character who was older, or a little weird, or whatever.”
She always goes above and beyond for her roles.
Bates has gone to some dark, creepy places for her roles, whether that’s thoroughly researching the real-life Madame LaLaurie or perfecting Ethel’s bizarre Baltimore accent by singing the national anthem every morning. And she got so into AHS that she once sent the writers a gift basket of plush toys shaped like disemboweled organs. “It doesn’t get better than when an Oscar winner sends you a grab bag of stuffed pancreas to say, ‘Thank you and job well done,’” series co-creator Ryan Murphy told EW.
She beat ovarian and breast cancer.
In 2012, Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy — nine years after beating ovarian cancer. “My family call me Kat because I always land on my feet and thankfully this is no exception,” she said at the time. Not only did she make a full recovery, but since then, she’s spoken openly about her own experiences and become an advocate for early detection and awareness.
She’s an outspoken critic of sexism and ageism in Hollywood.
Bates has led a flourishing career over the years, but it hasn’t always been easy, and she’s talked often about the discrimination that older actresses face. “It’s very real,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I’ve seen this happen to older actresses who really end up with nothing, and they’re so old that they can’t work anymore. I know that’s going to happen to me some day — it’s going to happen to all of us. We don’t like to think about it, especially in Hollywood where we’re all thinking about beauty and youth and joy — all those things we need to escape to; we need to, for a little while, get away from the dark side of the moon — but it’s something I do think about. I don’t take any of this for granted.” (Although there are a few benefits of getting older… More insurance, for one.)