Prolific showrunner Ryan Murphy has a new series coming out on FX in March called Feud. It’s going to be eight episodes and is all about the backstage rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of the 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Crawford was about 57 at the time (her exact birth date is unknown) and Davis was 54, which was practically ancient at the time. Murphy has spoken about the fact that parts dry up dramatically for older women, and that he’s trying to change that with his series. In fact this show addresses that specific issue, something the stars, which include Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alison Wright (I LOVE her as Martha on The Americans) were asked about during a recent press conference. Sarandon said that things were changing, because she often fails to understand issues that don’t personally affect her, while Lange acknowledged that it’s a real problem and that there aren’t enough movies being made featuring older women. Variety has the story:
Murphy says that what he loves about his upcoming show is that “even though it’s set in 1962, the themes are so modern and women are still going through those things and nothing has changed.”
His stars Lange and Sarandon agree.
“I think that a big part of the show is what Hollywood does to women, as they age, which is just a microcosm of what happens to women generally as they age, whether you want to say they become invisible or undesirable or unattractive,” Lange said, posing the question, “What happens when that beauty is no longer considered viable because it’s equated with youth?”
Lange, 67, noted that Crawford was actually 10 years younger than she is now when she starred in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” — the iconic film that’s at the center of the eight-part FX anthology series. “And yet, her career was finished,” Lange added, speaking of Crawford, who was then 57 years old.
Sarandon jumped in to say that she believes Hollywood has made strides in a small way.
“When I started, it was over by 40. So definitely the line has been pushed,” Sarandon said. “I was told on many occasions not to bring up that you had children. … I think those things have changed and you see the line has been moved forward.”
“I don’t think it has changed very much to tell you the truth. I don’t,” Lange said.
“It’s not a question of age or looks,” Lange continued. “If the powers that be aren’t interested in a story of a woman of a certain age,” then older women won’t be cast in those stories.
Chiming in, Sarandon agreed with her co-star, noting that women are often shut out of leading roles in Hollywood solely because of their age. The “Thelma & Louise” icon said that aging in Hollywood is difficult “even for people who were trying to do parts that aren’t youthful glamour parts.”
“When Bette [Davis] doesn’t get the Academy Award, she sees it — and probably rightly so — as her last chance to get good parts,” Sarandon recalled. “Part of the interesting dynamic is that Joan [Crawford] was the beautiful one and Bette went for the character actor … she was counting on that Academy Award to revive things.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is playing Olivia de Havilland in “Feud,” said that she hopes to portray her character as a strong-willed woman who was ahead of her time.
“She was a tough ball-breaking woman. She went up against the studio, which was rare at the time, and today,” Zeta-Jones said. “There’s a bit of an enigma, which I love, but I want to play her stronger than more people would have imagined.”
When I was in college I understood and discussed feminism similar to how Sarandon initially framed this issue – things have changed, we’re breaking the glass ceiling, we don’t have to fight as hard thanks to our moms and grandmothers shouldering that burden for us, etc. Now that I’m older I really get how serious this is, and how I have been insulated from so much by being a white women from a specific background. (I hope that I’m coming to a similar understanding about race but realize I need to listen more and not make assumptions based on how easy it’s been for me.) Getting back to this story, Hollywood is a very visible microcosm of society and older women are marginalized in so many ways. We shouldn’t have to be young and attractive to be heard and when we’re young and attractive that should not constitute the majority our worth to society. I’m sick of men running everything frankly. I’m sick of them having the money and power and I’m sick of them calling the shots.