Is Jessica Lange Really Leaving 'AHS'? 'Freak Show' Is Probably The End But Here Are 7 Actresses Who Could Succeed Her

Through four years of FX's demented anthology series American Horror Story , Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange has portrayed a washed up starlet, an iron-fisted nun, a glamorous witch, and now a delusional sideshow manager. Part of (if not most of) the fun of the various editions of AHS has been watching the extremely talented Lange transform herself into very different, but equally compelling, characters. And so, while we wait with bated breath for Season 4, it's also with a tinge of regret — since AHS: Freak Show is sadly Jessica Lange's last season on the show.

The star — who quickly became synonymous with the show itself — made her intention to leave very clear as far back as when Coven began airing, citing the taxing schedule as her reason for leaving after Freak Show . She told EW:

It ends up being a lot of time during the year being committed to something. I haven’t done that for a long time ... It’s like doing a stage play between the rehearsal and the run. This is a 6-month commitment every year. That will be four years in a row. I want to have more time to myself I guess.

Naturally, some fans latched on to the idea that Lange might change her mind. And Lange stoked their hopes. She admitted that she had doubts about leaving, saying, "Once it’s over and I have a full year ahead of me with nothing to do, who knows? It might not have been the best decision."

So has anything happened between Coven and Freak Show, or during the filming of Season 4, to sway her towards staying? Sadly, it seems that's not the case.

In another EW interview last month, Lange stated that she was definitively done with AHS saying, "I haven’t reconsidered." However, she did follow that up with a caveat: "I’m just trying to get through this year." Is it just my wishful thinking, or does that imply that there's still a bit of wiggle room in her mind? What if, at the end of this year, she decides she does want more Horror in her life?

At the very least, it's nice to know showrunner Ryan Murphy is on our side: Murphy also wants more Jessica Lange, and he's working on tempting her to stay. He told TVLine:

This is her favorite season, without question. I really want her to keep her hand in. Does that mean 13 episodes? Does that mean six? Does that mean one? She and I are probably going to have a dinner date when the holidays come. It always starts with a character for Jessica, so I think I’d have to present her with something she was very interested in. Before, I was met with a really quick "No." Now, I’m hearing, "Well, let’s keep talking." So I thought that was a very good sign. I think if I presented her with the right character, and it could work with her schedule, she might be interested. That’s my hope.

At this point, it would be shocking if the show finished its run without at least one more Murphy/Lange collaboration. But while it's nearly impossible to imagine an entire season of American Horror Story without Lange's imposing presence, the question is: Who would be up to the task of filling her formidable shoes, should she not return as a series regular? The show doesn't exactly lack for other high profile actresses (Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett both return in Freak Show after debuting in Coven). But just like Lange has been the linchpin since Season 1, perhaps Season 5 should introduce a new face to count as de facto AHS mascot for several seasons. Here's some fresh blood Murphy should consider:

Patricia Arquette

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When Lange signed onto AHS Season 1, it was her first regular role on television after 35 years acting on the silver screen. The show has remained famous for recruiting top-notch film actresses to play juicy roles, and Arquette is one of the hottest names out there this year, thanks to her stellar turn in Richard Linklater's Boyhood . She's the frontrunner for a Best Supporting Actress nom (as well as the win), but she's also shown she's cool with appearing on TV, thanks to a compelling guest part as Sally Wheet on the past two seasons of HBO's Boardwalk Empire .

Helena Bonham Carter

Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

These days, Carter is more known for her cartoonish Harry Potter villainess Bellatrix Lestrange and wacky roles in Tim Burton movies, but the unusual actress actually has quite the pedigree behind her, including a 1998 Best Actress nod for The Wings Of The Dove. I'd love to see her tackle something a bit meatier, and what better milieu for both her impressive talents and her odd tendencies than the dark world of AHS?

Jessica Chastain

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Of course, there's no rule that says AHS's leading lady has to be over 40. Ever since those darn rumors that Jessica Chastain was in the running for HBO's True Detective emerged, I've been hankering to see this budding star on our TV screens. An added bonus: she has experience with horror, both modern (last year's Mama) and gothic (Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming Crimson Peak). She would be right at home in the varied settings and time periods of AHS's disparate seasons.

Glenn Close

Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

You could make the argument that Close singlehandedly pioneered the modern migration of respected actresses from film to television with her roles on two FX shows: The Shield and Damages. Isn't the next logical step in her career to star on a third acclaimed FX drama? Watching Close return to horror almost three decades after Fatal Attraction would be the most thrilling gift Ryan Murphy could bestow upon us.

Viola Davis

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I know, I know. Viola Davis is starring on ABC's How To Get Away With Murder — I don't live under rock. But since her new legal drama and AHS only have 13-episode seasons, it's not inconceivable that she could juggle roles on both shows. The two-time Academy Award nominee has worked with Murphy before, on his 2010 adaptation of Eat Pray Love. Surely the showrunner's got some pull there, right? (Davis and Chastain also appeared together in both The Help and The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby. Maybe he could get them both to sign on together? Or am I getting too greedy?)

Meryl Streep

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Naturally, if you're shooting for the stars, you might as well aim for the biggest one. Imagine the bragging rights the first network to land Streep as a series regular on one of their shows will get. With the film-to-television migration picking up steam thanks to the likes of Matthew McConaughey, you know it's only a matter of time before a role presents itself that's juicy enough to draw Streep to the small screen. Murphy should strike while the iron's hot and write one specifically for her.

Tilda Swinton

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I mean, look at that face — Swinton is one of our most delightfully odd actresses working today. (Have you seen her bizarro supporting turn in Snowpiercer ? 'Cause you should.) She would fit right in to the campy, twisted tone of AHS. It's quite remarkable how an actress with such a distinctive face can be so utterly chameleon-like in her roles. She's played an androgynous aristocrat (in 1992's Orlando); an ice witch (in 2005's The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe); a corporate fixer (in 2007's Michael Clayton); a terrified mother (in 2011's We Need To Talk About Kevin); and an eclectic vampire (in 2013's Only Lovers Left Alive). Just think of the insane characters Murphy could create for the uniquely talented Swinton — the possibilities are literally endless.

Images: Frank Ockenfels/FX; Getty Images (7)