Oh my, it’s such delicious fun seeing two legendary stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood chewing up the scenery and savoring every moment in the spotlight. Feud: Bette and Joan is the critically acclaimed new eight-episode series that premiered on the FX Network to blockbuster ratings, airing Sunday nights through April 23rd.
It oozes Silver Screen magic with Susan Sarandon embodying the incomparable Bette Davis and Jessica Lange taking on the fierce Joan Crawford. Feud chronicles the intense rivalry between Davis and Crawford during the production of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The Oscar-nominated thriller was an epic pairing of the legends and serves as a backdrop as the series explores how the two women endured ageism and sexism while struggling to hang on to their fading careers and fame in youth-obsessed Hollywood.
Eager to talk about their respect for the legends they are playing and the relevance of their story, Sarandon and Lange held court at the FX panel for the Television Critics Association during the winter 2017 press tour.
“The good news and bad news with playing someone well-known is that there are so many films, TV appearances, interviews and recordings,” Sarandon said about preparing for her role as Bette, adding that she was terrified at first. “I had to have a dialect coach because her speech pattern is the antithesis of mine. I’m so sloppy and slow, and she has got that thing that’s been imitated so many times.” Sarandon revealed that series creator-producer-director Ryan Murphy “does a very good Bette Davis, and sometimes he would correct me. I think it was an exercise in surrender and trust, and just jumping in and channeling Bette in some way, hoping that she’s pleased.”
Ryan Murphy (the force behind American Horror Story and American Crime Story anthologies on FX) was certainly a great source since it’s interesting to note that Murphy got to interview Davis months before her death and got her to comment about her feelings regarding Crawford.
Lange said, “I read every biography on Joan Crawford, her autobiography and looked at all her interviews. For me, the thing with Joan was she was always on. When she was in public she was always performing. It was very hard to find a moment where you could really discern what the heart and soul of that character was. There is that famous quote of hers, ‘I never go out without looking like Joan Crawford. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.’”
Lange researched back into Joan’s childhood and discovered physical abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, “all these things, she was constantly fighting against for the rest of her life.”
Since the series reflects on how difficult it was for Bette and Joan to find work as older actresses, Sarandon addressed the notion that things have changed in Hollywood. She insisted, “Aging actresses still have the same problem. I can guarantee that. Bette went towards being a character actor. So, in a way, her base was broader. But there weren’t any more big parts, because they just didn’t exist.”
“When I started, it was over by 40,” said the stunning Sarandon at 70. “So definitely the line has been pushed. Also, you weren’t supposed to have children. I was told not to bring up the idea that you had children, because in some way that would cut into this idea that you weren’t sexy or sensual. I think those things have changed.”
So, has Hollywood evolved since Bette’s and Joan’s day? Jessica, 67, said, “I don’t think it’s changed that much.” But Susan added, “Well, we’re working!”
In addition to Oscar-winners Lange and Sarandon, the cast includes Alfred Molina as Baby Jane’s director Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci as studio titan Jack Warner, Judy Davis as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and notable guest stars include Catherine Zeta-Jones as film star Olivia de Havilland, Sarah Paulson as Geraldine Page and Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell.
Tune in to Feud: Bette and Joan on FX Sunday nights.
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years. Among her credits: being featured in the movie “Alligator” and being half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.