Jessica Lang won raves (and an Emmy) for her role as Constance, the Worst. Mother. Ever. in the first season of FX's American Horror Story. We never dreamed she could top that colorful Southern villainess, but then came AHS: Asylum, the second season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's twisted thriller (now set in a 1960s mental hospital), and we happily and fearfully stood corrected. As the stone-cold nun Sister Jude, Lange plays a woman struggling to manage both a nuthouse and her own past demons. She is by turns hateful, tragic, and heroic, and her evolution is anchored by Lange's emotional and raw performance. ''Constance was a really fascinating character, beautifully written,'' says the actress, 63. ''But you couldn't really say she went from A to Z in the course of the year. Jude does. I cover practically every base [the writers could] configure in their mad little minds. In that way, it's a much bigger part and more exciting in a way.''
Exciting is putting it mildly. Within the first nine episodes, Jude made out with a Catholic priest, came face-to-face with an alien, confronted a former Nazi, and most recently scrapped with a psychopath dressed like Santa Claus, played by Deadwood's Ian McShane. ''When Ryan told me that Ian McShane was coming on to do this part, I thought, 'How great!' Then it turned out to be an all-out brawl,'' she says. ''But I love what Ryan comes up with and the characters he creates for me. These two have been quite memorable.'' Especially for the audience.