The first installment of the new FX anthology series from Ryan Murphy, Feud: Bette and Joan tells the story of the legendary rivalry between actresses Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) during their collaboration on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Through the lens of ageism, sexism and misogyny, the two women tried to hang on to success and fame in their careers, as long as they possibly could, even if it mean directly attacking or sabotaging each other. The series also stars Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman and Alison Wright, with appearances by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates and Kiernan Shipka.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Alison Wright (who plays Baby Jane director Robert Aldrich’s assistant, Pauline) talked about how proud she is to be a part of the FX family, how she feels about the way things wrapped up with her character on The Americans, the differences in working on the two TV series, why she jumped at the chance to be a part of a Ryan Murphy project, what she enjoys most about Pauline, playing a woman ahead of her time, and what she thinks of both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
Collider: The Americans and your terrific performance on that show is the first time that many people became aware of you and your work. And now, here you are again, on another FX show, with Feud: Bette and Joan. What has it meant to you to be a part of the FX family and work in such a creatively exciting environment?
ALISON WRIGHT: I know. I feel like it’s just luck that the next show that I got happened to be on FX. I’d like to think that they wanted to adopt me, but I don’t think that’s what it is. It just happened to be that this is the next gig that I got. That being said, this is probably the best time for anybody to jump on board with FX because they have been soaring, the past couple of years. They’re one of the most important outlets on television, these days. FX is knocking it out of the park. I’m very proud and willing to be a part of that, for sure.
After having such a great arc on The Americans, and so many incredible twists and turns to your story there, was it bittersweet to have that character depart, in the way that she did, or are you happy that she’s still alive and out there and could return, at some point?
WRIGHT: I don’t think of it as bittersweet, at all, or in any way negative, whatsoever. I think I got the best possible send off, that any actor could ask for in a job. The last season – Season 4 – was the culmination of Martha’s story, and I don’t think an actor could ask for more. I am jumping for joy, the way it worked out. You have to serve the story. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was excellent. It was perfect. It doesn’t matter what happens, from here on out. The journey for her was excellent, and that’s echoed by the public, on a daily basis, as far as how much they care for her, still think about her, and have hopes and dreams for her. They’ve really managed to invest in this character that initially a lot of people poo-pooed, to some extent, criticized, judged and thought, “Oh, she’s so stupid that she doesn’t know this. How naive is she that she’s not understanding this?” And then, all of those people ate all of their hats when the tables turned, and everybody embraced her. I couldn’t possibly ask for more. It was perfect.
How does being a part of Feud and that incredibly talented ensemble of actors, under the guidance of Ryan Murphy, compare to your experience on The Americans, with that incredibly talented ensemble of actors, under the guidance of Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields?
WRIGHT: The Americans and Feud could not have been more different. They’re in different universes to each other, and the experiences couldn’t have been more opposite. It was perfect to work on this story of Ryan Murphy’s, in this world and with these titans with all their smoke and mirrors and illusions. To be living in L.A. for the first time, for a serious chunk of time, and working with those actresses, not to mention the actresses that they’re playing, couldn’t be further removed from the stinky Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. The Americans was always under the radar. Maybe we were always the cool kids, but we were never the popular kids. We just got on with it and did the work. Whereas working on a Ryan Murphy show is a gigantic machine, where you’re on the Fox lot in L.A. It couldn’t be more foreign.
How did you come to Feud?
WRIGHT: I’m very proud to say that this was just a straight offer. It was not my first straight offer, but coming from Ryan Murphy, my agents and my manager called me about it to let me know. They were about to break it down for me, and I was like, “No, no, no, no, I know all about this. I know all about the project and who’s doing it.” I’m very interested in Ryan Murphy and his subject matter, and the aesthetic of the world that he creates. Also, because of the actresses that were in it, I knew all about it. So, I lost my shit when they called and informed me that Ryan Murphy felt that he wanted me in one of his shows. That was one of those tremendous moments that, as an actor, you can only pray might happen to you, now and then. I was tremendously grateful, and still am. Any actor’s life can change, in any phone call on any given day, and that was definitely one of those days.