Two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange candidly chats with Gold Derby about her recent role as legendary actress Joan Crawford in “Feud: Bette and Joan.” We made the complete video available to you weeks ago (watch it again above), but now you can enjoy the full interview transcript below. In this interview, Lange discusses her Oscar, Emmy, and Tony victories and what she might do going for an EGOT by winning a Grammy.
For the FX eight-part limited series now nominated for 18 Emmys, Lange portrayed Oscar champ Crawford (“Mildred Pierce,” 1945) opposite Susan Sarandon as two-time winner Bette Davis (“Dangerous,” 1935; “Jezebel,” 1938). The two women were fierce rivals who teamed up to star in the cult classic “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962) for director Robert Aldrich (played by Alfred Molina). Other stars include Judy Davis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jackie Hoffman, and Stanley Tucci.
Lange is a two-time Academy Award winner herself, having prevailed as Best Supporting Actress for “Tootsie” (1982) and Best Actress for “Blue Sky” (1994) among her six career nominations. Along with Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, they are the only actresses in Academy Awards history to first win in supporting and then lead. She also took home a Tony Award last summer for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” With that trophy, her two Oscars, and three victories at the Emmys, she is just a Grammy away from becoming the 13th person to achieve EGOT status.
Read our full interview transcript below (recorded weeks before 2017 Emmy nominations were announced):
Gold Derby: Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan” just finished airing on FX. I know you’ve worked with Ryan Murphy so many times. How did he convince you to take on this challenging role as Joan Crawford?
Jessica Lange: There was a script around for a long time that was written as a film script, and I had been aware of it for a couple years and we had kind of talked about maybe doing it as a film, and then about a year and a half ago I got a call from him and he had this idea of doing it as an eight-part series and expanding the story forward and back. And I thought it was a really great idea. I’d always loved the core story around the making of “Baby Jane” and the Oscars and that, but I thought if we could really explore these women’s lives leading up to that moment and then, for me to be able to play Joan Crawford right ’til the end, it was great. It was great. He didn’t have to do too much to convince me to do it. I wanted to play it.
GD: You trust him at this point, don’t you?
JL: For the most part (laughs). There’s always an element of surprise.
GD: Before this aired I think more people were familiar with Bette Davis than they were Joan Crawford, the types of roles they took and some of Bette’s Oscar wins and so forth. What do you hope people came away with about Joan Crawford, learning more about her from this project?
JL: Well I think this project allowed us to talk about Joan’s past, about her childhood and what a hard life it was for her coming up, and what drove her to Hollywood and to become successful. Really what I hope people understand about her is the tremendous complexity like all human beings. It’s not this or that, it’s not black and white. There’s a lot of area, contradictions, and I think what we tried to do was to be very honest and very … sympathetic to her and to where she came from, what she was up against, what it was like to be a great star in Hollywood, to see that star dim and fade and then disappear all together. So all of those things that we dealt with in this, I think present a portrait of a woman that we haven’t had before, a portrait of Joan that people aren’t really familiar with, and I hope more than anything that’s what we succeeded at. She was contradictory. She was difficult. She was also incredibly vulnerable and tragic in a way, and I don’t think in anything that I’ve seen … was that kind of portrait existed of her before and this is what I hope. I made a mess of that question! (Laughs).
GD: No, that’s good. As an awards website, we couldn’t help but love that fifth episode which was all about the Oscars. What did you enjoy shooting about that particular episode?
JL: I was so stunned that somebody could do this. To have the, for lack of a better word, the balls to carry this thing through and to do it with the kind of style and drive and ambition that she had, it’s so outside my wheelhouse as a human being. But there was something … playing her I kept going back time and again to, what was the motivation? What was the cause of this, the cause and effect, and every time there was some kernel there that was rooted in a deep sorrow and disappointment, fear, all of these things that made those moments really rich to play. Listening to the broadcast that night and watching that footage of them waiting backstage, I just thought, “This is so extraordinary to see something like this going on.” Because you’re never aware of all the backstage drama and I really felt with Ryan writing it and directing it, he captured something extraordinary in that episode.
GD: I’m interviewing Jackie Hoffman in a few days. The two of you seemed like you were having a ball together as actresses. What was it like acting opposite her?
JL: Well, it was great. I loved all the actors that I worked with, have to say. I thought this was just an extraordinary cast from Jackie to Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci and of course the great Judy Davis, and Susan [Sarandon]. It was one of those rare cases where you think, “Ah, this is perfect. This is the perfect cast.” And everybody seemed to find a way to work together that had a great deal of ease and trust. But working with Jackie, because there was so much personal stuff there between them, she was probably in some way closer to Joan than a lot of these other people, living there with her in the house and knowing all of this. And I thought that Jackie did just an extraordinary job of finding that character and bringing her to life.
GD: Not only the cast but as one of the producers on this project, I think you’re gonna see a lot of Emmy nominations in a few weeks across so many different crafts categories and actors and so forth. What would that mean to you as one of the producers?
JL: I would be thrilled. I think everybody’s work on this has been so great. Certainly Lou [Eyrich] with all the wardrobe, our production designer, hair and makeup. Everybody worked so diligently to try to get it right, and it was working from photographs obviously, from footage. It was a great crew, and I would love to see everybody’s work recognized. Yes. Not just as a producer but as a fellow participant in the whole project, I think everybody deserves to have their work recognized. It really was extraordinary across the board, I think.
GD: You never had a chance to meet Joan Crawford, right? She would have maybe passed away just as you were starting?
JL: She passed away in ’77 and my first film came out in ’77. So no, I never had a chance to meet her.
GD: I did run across a photo today of you and Bette Davis. What do you recall about that? It was an AFI event.
JL: It was an AFI event and to tell you the truth (laughs), I don’t have a very clear memory of it. I don’t know what we were … we were on a panel. I think maybe Jimmy Caan was there also, but I can’t even imagine why, having made one movie, why I would have been on the same panel as Bette Davis. I have no idea (laughs). I don’t know what we talked about. I have no memory of it except somebody showed me that same picture. And I knew I had met her. It wasn’t like I forgot meeting her, of course, but I have no idea what it was about.
GD: I love that coincidence, though, for this particular movie.
JL: Yes, it was. I do remember being like, “Wow, this is Bette Davis,” when I met her.
GD: Well since our website last had a chat you have won a Tony Award last summer. What was that experience like? You’re one of the few people as an actor to win a Tony, an Oscar and an Emmy.
JL: Well it was thrilling, mostly because that part of Mary Tyrone means the world to me. I love that character. I loved playing her. I loved our production. But just going out there every night with that play and that character was thrilling. It was a thrilling experience. And to be recognized that way with the Tony, it was one of the best nights (laughs).
GD: Only 12 people have ever won what we call the EGOT. You just need a Grammy. Have you thought about what you could record maybe to get a Grammy and become the 13th?
JL: I don’t know what it would take for me to win a Grammy (laughs), but it won’t be for my singing, I know that.
GD: I think several people, actors and actresses, have won their Grammys-
JL: For spoken word, I would imagine.
GD: Spoken word. Maybe find a favorite book of yours, or a children’s book. You love children’s-
JL: I do, I love children’s literature. I could do that.
GD: Maybe that’s the way you do it.
JL: I could do that (laughs).
GD: Another coincidence I discovered. We were on a little retreat, our editors, a few weeks ago. We were watching some old Oscars and the night you came back the year after you won for “Blue Sky,” you had come back to present Best Actor as is the tradition, and Tom Hanks presents Susan Sarandon the award. She’s crossing offstage and you’re walking onstage to present Best Actor. I just thought that was a wonderful coincidence.
JL: Oh! That’s how it would have happened, yeah, no I don’t remember that. But yes, that was an interesting coincidence. I loved working with Susan. We had a great time. She is a powerful actor and I thought what she did with Bette was really extraordinary.
GD: You’re one of the few, also, to win two Oscars, and I think only three people have been in your situation, actresses, to win Supporting and Lead — Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, so that’s very good company. Do you have a favorite memory from one of your Oscar nights?
JL: I’m so bad with memories and anecdotes.
GD: Let me ask you this. I asked Richard Dreyfuss last summer, I said, “You had won so many awards leading up to that night,” I said, “Did you kind of expect you were gonna win?” And he said, “Absolutely. I told my manager I was gonna win and I was bound to do it.” Did you expect to win or was it a surprise, either time?
JL: I think for “Blue Sky” it came as kind of a shock, really, because that was a film that hadn’t really even received a general release. It was in a very strange situation in that the studio that made it, Orion, had folded, and had been bought up by Multimedia or something. I can’t even remember who or what. And it had just sat on a shelf in a bank vault for several years before it was released and in the mean time, Tony Richardson, the director, had passed away. A lot of time had gone by and then suddenly it was released and there was all this attention. But it was never really a film that … how can I say this? It didn’t follow the kind of normal trajectory of a movie that’s being positioned for Academy Awards, and we all know everything that goes into that. So this just was this dark horse little movie that most people only saw in the early days of DVD when the Academy would send DVDs out, because I think it only played in a couple theaters. Then to have the work recognized, it was kind of shocking. It was wonderful. It was surprising, though.
GD: I looked at both of your speeches last night. You’re always so gracious and I loved in your first speech, your “Tootsie” speech, that you thanked your leading lady, Dustin Hoffman, I love that.
JL: (Laughs). Well because most of my scenes with Dustin in that was when he was in drag, so yeah, you began to think of him as your girlfriend, your friend, your leading lady.
GD: Well you’ve been gracious to us all these years and this is one of the best achievements of your whole career, playing Joan Crawford.
JL: Thank you so much. When I went into it, I didn’t really know what to expect, playing Joan Crawford. I kind of stepped into it with no expectations, and I was so stunned at what that character gave me to do, what presented itself in playing Joan Crawford. It was really a huge role — the range of emotions and the physical transformations. It was a dream part as an actor. It ended up being just thrilling to play her.
GD: It was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for your time today.
JL: Okay. Thank you, Chris.