Jessica Lange, the star of FX’s upcoming “Feud,” revealed the one piece of advice she got from the late Bette Davis during Thursday’s Television Critics Association press tour.
“I never met Joan Crawford, but I did meet Bette Davis once,” Lange said, explaining that she once did an event with the legendary actress when she was just starting out as an actress in her 20s. “I remember her saying to me, ‘You better court the press, honey.’ That was her advice to me.”
Lange plays the late Crawford in the first installment of Ryan Murphy’s upcoming anthology series, opposite Susan Sarandon, who plays Davis. And both actresses agreed that playing such widely recognized individuals is both a blessing and a curse.
“We all just hunkered down for the first six weeks, we were just getting as much [information] as we could,” Sarandon said, explaining that the cast and producers poured over interviews, archive footage and the actresses’ on-screen roles. “When Ryan talked to me about it, I said I was so scared. And he said, ‘Well I’m scared too, but everything’s going to be fine.'”
But Joan Crawford and Bette Davis proved to be roles especially challenging to inhabit, because the actresses were so good at putting on a persona in front of the cameras and the public.
“She was never not on, and some actors are just that way,” Lange said of Crawford. “So it was hard to find a moment where you could discern what the heart and soul of that character was.”
Murphy explained that the inspiration for this series came from his work with his foundation Half, which aims to create more opportunities for female and minority directors. The producer said he saw that many of the problems faced by Crawford and Davis in the 1960s were not unlike the issues facing women in Hollywood today.
“We were interested in doing a show about two women and their lives … I wasn’t interested in doing something campy,” he said, calling the way the two actresses were discarded by Hollywood because of their age “painful.”
“I think it’s human nature to romanticize anything that’s passed in memory, and I certainly did that growing up. I thought those two women were something seen through amber with such charmed lives,” he said. “But I thought we had an obligation with this to lean into [their] pain.”
“Joan was 10 years younger than I am now and yet her career was finished because of her age,” said Lange, who referenced Amy Schumer’s “Last F–able Day” sketch as an example of how things haven’t really changed.
“It’s not necessarily a question of age or looks, it’s who’s interested in these stories,” she said.