As a child, Lange's family moved constantly due to her father's frequently changing jobs. Lange later noted that her family "lived like gypsies." But instead of rebelling against this transient lifestyle, Lange inherited the travel bug. By the time she enrolled as an art student at the University of Minnesota in 1967, she had big dreams of seeing the world.
In the spring of 1968, before she had finished her freshman year, Jessica met and fell in love with 24-year-old photography professor Paco Grande. Lange and Grande left school and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe. They lived mostly out of Grande's van, and Lange met many of Grande's friends within the film community. They returned to Minnesota briefly in July 1970, where they were married.
During her time abroad, Lange's marriage to Paco Grande had deteriorated. Grande left Jessica in New York, where she started working as a waitress and model with the Wilhelmina Agency in order to make ends meet. In the fall of 1975, film producer Dino De Laurentiis contacted Lange's modeling agency looking for an actress to star in his new King Kong movie.
In 1979, director and choreographer Bob Fosse (a close friend) gave Lange another shot at acting when he wrote a part especially for her in his autobiographical film, All That Jazz. But it was her lead role starring across from Jack Nicholson as Cora in the remake of the 1940's classic The Postman Always Rings Twice that got the attention of critics and viewers. Lange's performance earned rave reviews, and audiences loved her. She was finally on her way to stardom.
Her performance in the biopic Frances, in which she portrayed actress Frances Farmer, earned her a best actress Academy Award nomination. She won her maiden Oscar for best supporting actress in the comedy Tootsie. Lange continued to shine in performances throughout the '80s and '90s in films such as Sweet Dreams, Music Box and Men Don't Leave. In 1994, she won another Academy Award and this time for best actress in the drama Blue Sky.
In recent years, Lange has given several impressive performances on television. She played Edie Ewing Beale in the 2009 biopic Grey Gardens. Lange netted her latest Golden Globe for her supporting role on American Horror Story. Lange received the first Tony of her career in a return to the stage for her lead role in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.