Oh what a treat. HBO’s telepic rendition of “Grey Gardens” with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange looks fabulous, absolutely fabulous.
I don’t say that lightly because I love love love the Maysles’ brothers 1975 docu. It’s a gem that my husband found late night on cable years ago — many moons before the Broadway show — and made me watch.
The telepic, skedded to bow in April, traces the early years of Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale (aunt and cousin of Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) through their time as members of New York’s high society in the 20s and 30s through the decades they spent together living in squalor in the East Hampton home that Big Edie refused to leave any other way than “feet first.”
Barrymore and Lange both looked incredible on stage at TCA Friday. Really glowing and beautiful in a happy rather than made-up way. They gushed, like only actresses can, about how much they loved each other and loved working together and how they “bonded” over the strains of doing the picture. (It took many hours in the makeup chair for both of them for the later 60s and ’70s scenes in the mansion.) But I believed it, just based on their body language and their glow.
Lange looked elegant in a black knee-length cocktail dress. Barrymore seemed to be channeling a happy version of Kate Winslet’s character in “Revolutionary Road,” wearing an orange and yellow print sling dress with one shoulder bare.
Barrymore bubbled with tales of how she’d never worked harder on a part in her entire career and how grateful she was to have had the chance. Yes, it’s a well-worn cliche for actors but she put it over. I believed her.
“I believe that I have not proven myself yet. Michael taking this chance on me is one of the greatest opportunities I have had in my life… I worked harder on this than anything I’ve worked on in my life,” Barrymore gushed.
Lange was a little more restrained, allowing Barrymore to take the spotlight, but she was also effusive about her experience, in contrast with her other recent work.
“It’s the most difficult role I’ve had in a long time as an actor. If you don’t flex your muscle, you get flaccid and lazy,” Lange said. “I’ve been very lazy as of late. It was wonderful to really work hard again in an way that I was accustomed to at one time.”
A few minutes later, Barrymore wanted to make sure that everyone in the room was crystal clear on how she felt about the part, the picture and her co-star and director.
“I’ve never had this kind of dramatic role” that involved her aging from 18 to 58 and “embodying another human being who is so well-documented,” she said. “I’ve never laid anything on the line or worked so hard for anything in my life. I’ve never been given this chance before. I wanted to do nothing but not let them down.”
Lange noted that the Grey Gardens manse is now owned by Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, who let them spend a few days out there soaking up the atmosphere. Lange came away understanding why Big Edie was so attached to the place.
“It’s one of the most beautiful houses. It’s not this kind of cold mansion. It’s one of the most beautiful, warm houses and gardens. It’s really lovely,” she said.
Barrymore said she was glad to have the experience of sleeping in Little Edie’s bedroom, except that “Little Edie wouldn’t let me sleep.”
“Grey Gardens” telepic was spearheaded by writer-director Michael Sucsy, whose makes his feature-length helming debut on the project. His background is helming commercials, but he began working on his vision of “Grey Gardens” the day after he first saw the docu about seven years ago.
Although he was a tyro feature helmer, there was never any question from HBO brass that he would direct “Grey Gardens,” Sucsy happily assured reporters.