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Over her 55-year career, Joan Crawford starred in nearly 100 films and saw her many marriages and romances splashed across various magazines and gossip columns. However, Jessica Lange says there was still “a whole other side” to the famed actress that she wanted to examine when she stepped into the role of Crawford for Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan.
“I think she was an extremely kind, considerate friend to people, and I’m not sure people think of her that way,” Lange tells The Hollywood Reporter. “People, when they think of Joan Crawford, they think of Mommie Dearest.”
Lange uncovered this softer side of Crawford while doing extensive research for the series, which she also exec produced.
Lange calls playing Crawford one of her favorite roles in recent memory. “I loved playing that character, and I also feel like it was one of the biggest, most complete characters I’ve played in a long, long, long time,” she says.
Her nomination for Feud, for best actress in a limited series or movie, is her eighth Emmy nod overall. The actress has won three times before, twice for Murphy’s American Horror Story, in addition to her two Oscars.
Lange talked to THR about the biggest surprise during her research on Crawford, pushing against those Mommie Dearest preconceptions and what’s next after Feud. (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to the passing of Sam Shepard.)
Looking back at Feud, what surprised you the most about how the show and how your character was received?
Well, what I think surprised me in doing it and then in putting it together and then the release of it was what a big character she was, and how huge she was for me, emotionally, to play. Again, the greatest thing is when you play a part like that, you hope it comes across, and I think the way the story was told and filmed and everything, that it was what I had hoped it would be when I was doing it, if that makes any sense. Sometimes you do a part and then it feels dimensioned in a way when you’re done with it. That could just be an actor’s delusion, but you think you’re doing more than you are but somewhere along the process, it isn’t what you had hoped it would be or it wasn’t what you anticipated or it wasn’t even what you thought you had done, but this was everything and more.
Looking at Joan specifically, what would you say was the biggest misconception about your character?
Well, I don’t think people take into consideration what a really — everybody that I knew that met her, everything that I knew that I read — what an extremely good friend she was to people, and how attentive she was to their needs and to what was going on in their life. I was just moved by the fact that she always took time to like write a note or to inquire about somebody. Granted, sometimes you think, “Was it just over-the-top?” But I think she was an extremely kind, considerate friend to people, and I’m not sure people think of her that way. But all the research I did, you kept coming upon that time and time again, how she would look after people if they needed help. One of the problems I do believe is, it would be a terrible thing in anyone’s life to have your history written, or rewritten, after you’re gone and you can’t defend or even present your point of view, your experience. People, when they think of Joan Crawford, they think of Mommie Dearest, and in all my research — and I don’t even want to address that book or that film — but in my experience and the research I did and the people I knew that knew her, there’s a whole other side to her, and that’s what I hope in some way we have been able to explore.
Coming off of such a big role, what do you think you’ll want to do next? What are you looking for to follow up Joan Crawford?
It’s interesting because last year I worked straight through. I did a play for six months playing my favorite character ever written, Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and then went from that into playing Joan Crawford, which was like a great, wonderful surprise, the emotional depth of that character, and now, I don’t really feel like working, to tell you the truth. (Laughs.) There’s nothing that I really want to do right now.
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