“Feud: Bette and Joan,” the first of FX’s new anthology series from, Ryan Murphy, made headlines for casting leading ladies Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, respectively. And while audiences thrilled at their scenery chewing as the warring screen sirens of yore, some of the best moments in “Feud” came from someone who had almost no lines at all: Crawford’s stern and loyal assistant and housekeeper, who was usually referred to with just one-word — Mamacita.
Jackie Hoffman says it took 45 minutes to put on Mamacita’s wound-tight black and silver-flecked wig. But to make an Emmy-winning moment out of the simplest sentence or guttural interjection? It seems like that took no effort at all
Hoffman: “I knew who Mamacita was and I knew about her, but when I was offered the role I thought, Oh God. I’m going to live in L.A. for all these months and it’s going to be one day a week and I’m going to open a door and say, ‘She’s not in.’ And there were a lot of scenes in the script where it says, ‘Mamacita hands a drink to Aldrich and walks away’ and I was like ‘Goddammit.’ But my agent, Hannah Roth, and my manager, Jeremy Katz, told me that I can make a meal out of very little. And that is what I’ve done for a lot of my career.
“Ryan was very generous and said wherever Joan is, Mamacita is. But that was the nature of the character; she’s just in for these precious, fun nuggets.
|“When I was in college, I bought ‘My Way of Life’ and read about Mamacita. So it was life coming full circle.”|
“There’s a scene where the two stars — Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange — are being overly polite about who will enter a room first when they’re filming “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” ‘No you first,’ ‘No you,’ and I just go, ‘Ugh’ and just open the door. Even with a grunt, I was between these two powerhouses.
“I did a lot of improv at Second City and they said when you have a great partner, don’t be threatened or don’t be competitive and they’re going to be able to make you look better. With Jessica, it’s like, that’s a great partner who’s going to make me look better. But she’s such a great partner, how can you look better? She’s so real that you don’t slack around her. She works so hard and makes it look so easy.
“I left it to people like Ryan to keep me from playing a stereotype. Mamacita is German and everything’s done with a sense of purpose. I didn’t want to do a ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ accent or like Bernie Kopell’s Siegfried in ‘Get Smart.’ I did more of like a subtle European who was trying to blend into American culture because we had her be very proud of her United States citizenship.
“There is very little info out there about Mamacita, but she is mentioned in Joan Crawford’s book, ‘My Way of Life.’ When I was in college, I bought ‘My Way of Life’ and I read about Mamacita. So it was life coming full circle. But all I knew about her was what was in Joan’s book and what I could find on Google.
“She sounds like a remarkably strong woman. She had nine freaking children! And she took a lot of crap from Joan Crawford. And she was middle-aged during the Second World War. Her maiden name was Hoffman, spelled exactly as I do. She didn’t spell it with two ‘n’s,’ so I’m hoping she was Jewish. If she were German during World War II, we know what that could mean …”