“Feud: Bette and Joan” star Susan Sarandon and creator Ryan Murphy advocated for more female representation both in front of and behind the camera during an Emmy FYC event Thursday night at the DGA Theater in Hollywood, CA. The Oscar winner (Best Actress for “Dead Man Walking” in 1995) is nominated for playing Bette Davis in this FX limited series about her rivalry with fellow star Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) during the filming of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Murphy moderated the panel, which also included costume designer Lou Eyrich and production designer Judy Becker.
The panel was preceded by a screening of the episode “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963),” in which Crawford works to undercut Davis’ chances of winning her third Academy Award. Murphy contends at the Emmys for writing and directing this installment.
The series also grew from Murphy’s desire to diversify his production company. A little over a year ago he launched the Half Foundation, which “is dedicated to the idea that from that moment on, 50% of all the directorial slots in my company on average will be women.” As he was interviewing potential hires, “I kept hearing the same thing over and over, which is, ‘I can’t get in the door,’ and, ‘I’m over 40 and they won’t consider me for anything.'” Wanting to highlight this problem, Murphy turned to a blacklisted script about the making of Robert Aldrich‘s 1962 horror classic as his next television project.
“The fact that we’re having these kinds of conversations that weren’t before is a sign that we’re paying attention,” added Sarandon. She believes that if attention is paid, “people will open their minds to hiring women in different kinds of roles.” She views the rivalry between Crawford and Davis as a thing of the past, explaining, “I think that women actors no longer assume that the power-base is just male. You have too many people that are women that are able to greenlight projects, not just producers, but good actors that have great teams… Because of that, they don’t have to have other women as their enemies, because they’re not competing against them.”
Sarandon relished the opportunity to portray the Hollywood icon because, “She was the first actress… who really became raw in an unattractive way when she did parts. She wasn’t afraid to be kind of unattractive, not only physically, but emotionally, and that’s where she turned the corner,” for other actresses.
Lange was scheduled to appear, but had to drop out to be with her family following the death of longtime companion Sam Shepard. Sarandon read a message from her co-star, which stated, “I’m very sorry that I’m unable to be here tonight, and be apart of this event. I loved working on this project, the story we told, and most of all, playing Joan Crawford. And of course, having the opportunity to work with Ryan and Susan, and our incredible cast of actors and crew. It was a wonderful experience, and I’m very proud of it. I wish I could be there, but we’ve had a great loss in our family, and I’m unable to travel as this time.”
Murphy revealed that his involvement with the story came from a personal relationship with Davis. “When I was really young — like, eight years old — I started writing to Bette Davis,” he explains. Davis wrote back often, and as an up-and-coming journalist Murphy interviewed the famous actress at the end of her life. “I think I ended up having close to four hours with her,” he divulges. “I’ve always had such great affection for her and her battle and her struggles.”
“Feud” is nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, including Best Limited Series, Best Movie/Mini Actress (Lange and Sarandon), Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actor (Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci), and Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress (Judy Davis and Jackie Hoffman). Murphy also competes for penning the pilot with Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam. Both Eyrich and Becker are recognized for their work as well.
Following the panel, audiences were treated to a lavish dinner and drinks, plus free black tote bags.
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