Jessica Lange won rave reviews when she appeared in FX and Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan. Now on her eighth Emmy nomination, Lange phoned from New York to talk about playing screen icon and legend Joan Crawford and how Hollywood treats older women as illustrated in the show.
I think and hope Joan Crawford would be pleased overall with what we did with this piece. We tried to present her as truthfully as possible in all of her human contradictions. I think the greatest thing was we approached her with tremendous respect and truthfulness with as much as we knew from my research, the writer’s research, and existing interviews.
Everything we could get a hold of, we devoured it. We were honest and that’s all you can ever hope for with a biography. It has been an exhausting year. I did six months on stage with one of the greatest parts ever written [Lange won a Tony for Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day Journey Into Night playing Mary Tyrone].
Then, to have a month off and go into playing Joan Crawford which ended up being an extraordinary and wonderful surprise because I actually didn’t know that much about her or know what it was going to be like to portray her.
I found it to be a complete and whole character with what I was able to do with it. Starting with the flashbacks and delving into her personal history right up until her death. It was an actor’s dream to have all those hours to develop a character was extraordinary.
I didn’t see it when it first came out. I saw it in an art-house or cinema along the way. It really is such an amazing story. I thought the two of them were so equally powerful. Joan in a much powerful way, obviously, than what Bette did.
I think that was a point of real disappointment in her life. That often happens where the showier roles get attention whereas what she was doing with Blanche Hudson was a very quiet performance. I think using that as our launching pad as this story between them set everything in motion on so many different levels. We were able to look at where they both came from and where they arrived.
This is the great thing about doing a series. If it had originally been written as a film, we would have had to tell that story in two hours or less. This allowed us to get invested in their stories.
Nothing has changed all that much. You have a sell date. For me, the first big thing I did for TV was Grey Gardens and to then segue into four years of really fascinating characters with American Horror Story. They were all great to play.
I had never anticipated it would be this big or that exciting of a part to play. I do feel that things haven’t changed that much, but what’s hopeful across the board with actors, crew, directors, and writers is there is much more opportunity in TV than with film.
With aging, it’s tough. It’s really tough. It’s always been tough. If we’re talking about improvements, it’s marginal. It shouldn’t be like this, but it has been and it persists.
Ryan [Murphy] is making a concerted effort to turn it around. If everyone approached it that way, maybe there would be some change.
It was great. I’m so thrilled that six of us were nominated. I knew when we were doing it what a great and marvelous experience it was working with this caliber of actors and playing these kinds of parts. Then to have the six of us nominated was extraordinary.
I was on the street in New York waiting to meet my granddaughter to buy her some shoes, and suddenly it was a flurry of activity and she was standing there waiting for me to come in and help her get these shoes. It was a hectic morning.