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[This story contains spoilers from Sunday’s “Hagsploitation” episode of FX’s Feud.]
The stories of making What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the subsequent Oscars of 1963 have been told, but as FX anthology Feud: Bette and Joan made clear Sunday, that wasn’t where the infamous clash between Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) ended.
“Hagsploitation” jumped forward to 1964, when Crawford was on tour for Strait-Jacket and Davis was taking menial TV roles. Director Robert Aldrich’s (Alfred Molina) latest film had just tanked while studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) was infuriated that his competitors were making money off the female-horror genre he felt he had created.
The events culminated in the perfect storm for a reunion between the major historical players, as Aldrich put everything on the line — including his marriage to Harriet (Molly Price) — in order to make a “sequel” of sorts in the form of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte. After convincing Davis and Crawford to work together again and burning his last bridge with Warner, Aldrich began production on the highly anticipated film. Unfortunately, as Sunday’s episode showcased, it was a mess from the beginning.
To dive deeper into reconstructing some of the key scenes, re-creating the relationship between Aldrich and Warner as well as to share insight into next week’s penultimate episode, THR caught up with showrunner Tim Minear, who wrote and directed the hour.
Why was this the episode you wanted to direct?
What appealed to me was that this was a very transitional episode. It sets the table for the end of the story and it really starts to show the markers of the descent of Joan. I got to work a lot of with Jessica, whom I revere, and I got to work with John Waters [who had a cameo in the episode as William Castle].
This episode and next week’s season finale are a two-parter of sorts. Did you ever consider directing both?
I never considered doing both; we wanted to make sure that 50 percent of the direct slots went to women, so I would not qualify to do both.
When you were writing the episode did you try to incorporate any parallels from the pilot, since Charlotte was a reunion of sorts?
Not consciously, but that’s where the story went. This is a theme that we revisit throughout the show. At the top of episode four when they make this movie and it’s about to come out, they think that their fortunes have changed and they have not. Here, after the success of Baby Jane, Joan is sort of back to where she was. She’s been offered crap, and that’s where we are. This story in a lot of ways is about the sun going down. It’s about people starting to sense their own ending, and that they’re mortal. And not only are they mortal but so are their careers. They’re grasping for that last thing, which is a theme of the whole series.
Were there any scenes you were particularly excited to tackle from the director’s chair?
I was excited to re-create the trailer for Strait-Jacket and the tour that Joan went on with William Castle (Waters) as well as the Aldrich-Harriet scenes and the Aldrich-Warner scenes because I felt like I was bringing some closure, quietly, to some of these story arcs. And bringing the Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte table read to life: I knew that was going to be a lot of fun and it was.
There is a fair share of historical evidence available from that table read. What were the challenges that came with crafting this episode?
Pretty much everything in that episode, when it comes to Charlotte and when it comes to re-creating all that, there was a lot of documentary research that we found. During that table read, we don’t know exactly what the specifics were but we do know that Bette was attacking the script from a character point of view and Joan was complaining about the grammar. She couldn’t just let Bette weigh in, she was weighing in on it too but she was weighing in on these very picky points. We also know that Aldrich had a photographer up in the catwalk, and that Joan knew the photographer was up there and she was kind of posing with the bottle of Pepsi and then Bette caught it. So all that actually happened.
How deep into the Strait-Jacket world did you have to go in order to re-create those scenes?
The trailer is basically a re-creation of that trailer, so we re-created it the way we re-created moments and clips from all the episodes. We used footage and then there was a lot of research into Joan’s tour and her relationship with Bill Castle. And then of course we watched Strait-Jacket because it’s hilarious.
How many liberties did you have to take in order to fill in the scene with Aldrich and Warner?
There’s pretty much not anything in the show that could not have happened the way we presented it. A lot of it is taken from actual quotes, documentaries, eyewitnesses. We re-created this world and the story very faithfully. What was interesting about the Aldrich, Warner story is that when I discovered that Jack Warner did not produce the follow up, that it was with 20th Century Fox, it felt like a plausible way to end the story between Bob and Jack and to tell something of Jack’s own rivalry with Fox, and still have Stanley Tucci in the episode. So a lot of that is imagined but it ends up becoming a faithful story of, this picture didn’t go to Warner it went to 20th. It’s my version of that.
At that point, do you believe Jack Warner really was desperate for another hit?
I think he was. He had produced My Fair Lady and it was at that time the most expensive movie ever made. But all you have to do is look at the climate the world around Jack Warner at the time and everything he says to Bob in that scene about all the other guys that he started with, was either dead or had been pushed out of power. I think Jack would have been particularly savvy about this because Jack Warner, a couple of years before, had engineered the ousting of his own brothers. So when you’re standing there holding the dagger and it’s dripping with blood you know that some point there’s going to be a dagger in your own back. That is the point in Jack’s life where I think he was.
Is there any evidence that he did indeed coin the term “hagsploitation?”
It probably was coined in the The New York Times but I imagine Jack thought he did.
How desperate is Aldrich now for this thing to work?
He’s completely desperate. Aldrich’s story is his story. He had sort of been a little bit washed up by the time he did Baby Jane. I don’t think he was in a giant hurry to do that again. But then he did 4 for Texas and it was a giant flop. It was a big failure and the truth of the matter is that Bob Aldrich didn’t know at that time in his life just how successful he would end up being. His big box-office hits don’t come until later in history.
At this point in the series it seems as though Joan Crawford is getting a more in-depth showcase than Bette Davis; is that intentional?
This episode is largely told from Joan’s point of view but the show is about Bette and Joan. If it feels that way you just have to keep watching but the truth is, Joan Crawford, her story is the tragedy. So it just might seem that way. But Bette is just as vital and important to the narrative as Joan is. We definitely go into Bette’s point of view in the next episode. Her reaction to Joan is very 50/50.
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX. Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.
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