Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange on Difficulty of Aging in Hollywood: ‘I Don’t Think It’s Changed Very Much’

Susan Sarandon Jessica Lange Catherine Zeta-Jones
David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

On the surface, “Feud” is about a woman vs. woman rivalry, but creator Ryan Murphy says the idea for the show actually came to him because of his progressive conversations with women in Hollywood.

FX’s latest anthology series “Feud” centers on the legendary backstage battle between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, played by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, respectively.

Murphy explained on Thursday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., that he had “lots of discussions with women in the entertainment business … and what came out of that for me was a lot of very moving sentiments from women.”

And after those conversations, Murphy jumped into “Feud.”

“I wasn’t necessarily interested in doing anything campy,” Murphy continued. “I was interested in something deeper and more emotional and painful.”

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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.”

Lange disagreed.

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“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.”

Executive producer Dede Gardner echoed Murphy’s sentiments that the show covers current issues.

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“I think the show is deeply modern. I think it’s delicious of a celebration of a town that was less crowded, but I don’t think it romanticizes it. I think it calls it out for its truisms,” Gardner said on the panel. “These women were treated brutally and were meant to treat each other brutally, and seemingly that was the only way to succeed, and I don’t think much has changed in that regard.”

Sarandon admitted that there’s been progression in Hollywood, with women now developing their own projects. With a laugh, she added, “And then there’s Ryan Murphy.”

Murphy — who founded the Half foundation, an organization that aims to fill half of the director slots on his shows with women — said he regrets not having initially made an effort to include diverse voices behind the scenes of his projects, which now has become an integral part of his life.

“I really have changed my business paradigm,” Murphy said. “I make it a big part of my day — that’s a big part of my day, making sure that different voices are represented behind the scenes.”

Half of the directors on “Feud” and all of Murphy’s other shows (“Scream Queens,” “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story”) are women. And on “Feud,” 15 on-screen roles are for women over the age of 40.

“It’s been one of the great joys that I’ve been able to do,” Murphy said.

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  1. Dhawn says:

    I adore him .. them… the characters they play… the script and the agenda behind this entire ensemble. It must be a dream come true for Ryan Murphy to cast Lange and Sarandon not to mention, to finally see this script come to life. Amazing… can’t wait.

  2. Ann Marie Brennan says:

    Ryan, you’re an exceptional man in Hollywood. Creating hugely exciting innovative storylines with multiple roles for hugely talented women of all ages is progressive and breaking age old moulds. Well done maestro!

  3. Bill B. says:

    Maybe Sarandon can’t get jobs, but I agree with Lange that things have improved. Streep is 67, Bullock is 52, Julia Roberts is 49, Charlize Theron is 41, Kidman is 49, Helen Mirren is 67, Jessica Lange herself is 67 and she is doing just fine. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at the peak of her career and is 55 & I’m sure there are lots more. The over 40 thing was true in the days of Davis & Crawford, but not any longer. I also always wondered how Katharine Hepburn managed such a long and distinguished career while Davis and Crawford were busy playing crazies. Seems to me that that these two felt they had to work all the time while Hepburn just waited for the right project to turn up now & then. Nevertheless, times were definitely tougher back then for aging actresses as compared to now.

  4. Jacques Strappe says:

    Heads up, Susan Sarandon. Donald Trump is willing to pay Hollywood actors and actresses to love him. You can also get your lady parts grabbed often as an added bonus. You voted for him, too — at least indirectly. I think you two are made for each other.

  5. libby says:

    Many people grow into different jobs as the age.
    Actors often learn the craft of acting and then become directors, producers, etc.
    .
    Many of the biggest complainers are those that stick to the same roles.
    .
    Many of those who complain about roles for women only like to take roles in man h8r movies. Though man h8r movies are fun, audiences have begun to find them boring and cliche’,
    .
    The vast majority of actors dont earn $10,000,000 per movie. Feel bad for them?
    .
    Most movies have a few stars that are in most of the movie and the vast majority of acting roles are bit parts for grade b actors, that make fraction of what these ladies earn.
    .
    Interestingly, the grade b actors, though earning less, because they are in far fewer scenes can be in more movies each year. They earn less, but are in more movies.
    .
    The grade b actors are far more successful working throughout their career, in part, because they dont demand $5,000,000 per movie. Of course, they dont win many oscars and few know their names, but their careers usually have far greater longevity. Ever thought you dont have to be the star? You could play a supporting role, play in a few scenes and not be on the set every day, all day. Actors aremt kniwn fod xrricial thinking though they are sometimes good act playing fictional characters

  6. libby says:

    First world problems for rich women.
    Ever ask a construction worker how hard it is to work at such a physically demanding job as they age?

  7. Maddy says:

    The reason things aren’t changing is because these kinds of stories continue to be told. Maybe it’s not a romanticization but it is for sure a glorification. Glory is all about pain and suffering as long as the cameras are on. History doesn’t repeat itself because of ignorance, it repeats because we keep telling the same stories. Without stories of what’s possible, of what confident women look like who are healthy, happy and secure at any age, the dynamics in Hollywood will not change. While I appreciate Murphy for employing women, it’s specious to say that “their” voices are being heard with storylines that perpetuate, even amplify the ugliest aspects of the feminine, witchy, jealous, insecure, neurotic, killers no less (which as a reflection of the population statistically just isn’t accurate). The much larger truth about the feminine aspect is the ability to give life, to nurture, to transform through connection and generosity. If that can’t be made entertaining that is because the voices who can tell those stories aren’t being heard. But it’s easier to hide blatant misogyny by saying “Hey but I employ women.”

  8. cadavra says:

    In fairness, people are living a lot longer now than they did back then. Bette Midler at 71 looks younger than her namesake did at 50.

  9. jmengele says:

    OPEN LETTER TO BOTH Susan Sarandon AND Roseann Barr- I have never hated any two people more than I despise, ahbor, detest, just can’t stand either of you two. Don’t know why you campaigned against Hillary so much but you were extremely vocal about your meanness toward Hillary throughout the entire campaign. Now, we [which includes YOU TWO] are stuck with Trump and as you can see from his recent “PRESS” conference that we are not in Kansas anymore. Intelligence has fled the White House because that good looking black man is gone now that his two terms are up. That same black man who had been so roughly and violently handled by y’all racists is gone and you racist, trailer park, Tea Baggers won’t have him to kick around anymore. So, you two women should be happy now with Trump, the idiot that has replaced Obama as they steal his Health plan; they are going to pretend that they have revoked it but they are actually keeping his health plan INTACT because none of those KKK, trailer park racist Cabinet members can come up with even a remote replacement plan. So, they hate Obama’s health plan just because they hated the man. And they hated the man for only one reason: Just for being a black man. And, now they are going to RE-NAME that black man’s same HEALTH plan but now they are going to call it TRUMPCARE. That’s the way Y’ALL have always operated throughout the entire world. Just bogart anything others have that you decide that you WANT and then just put your name on it because after a while, people will forget. We hope you both are deliriously happy now because your selfish rage against Hillary has ushered in Nazism against all blacks especially and against all poor people in general. I know that you probably don’t care cuz you’re both rich. But that doesn’t change the fact that in speaking for all black people in America, we DESPISE the both of you two privileged SPOILED bee-yotches.

  10. Nanny Mo says:

    So you’re saying that people would rather see young and beautiful than old and dumpy as a general rule and somehow that’s a bad thing? Funny how both these old hags are talented and we still want to see them. Did I miss that American Horrorably Written Stories but still entertaining is going on like it’s 8th season, Lange? Seems like old and haggy is working out fine for you. Perhaps it has something to do with you being talented and not just another want-a-be, who wants to be and isn’t, so she blames the industry. Sigh. It’s so boring hearing about this, again.

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