While the initial appeal of Feud: Bette and Joan, Ryan Murphy's latest anthology series to come to FX, lies in the inherent camp factor of seeing the legendary feud between silver screen icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford come to life, the prolific creator insists that there's something larger at play here.
"We started it, when you hear about what it's about, I think your natural inclination is, 'Oh, it's going to be that.' And Bette and Joan were both larger than life figures," he told reporters during the show's panel at the 2017 Winter TCA Press Tour. "I wasn't interested in doing anything campy or quote-unquote camp-fest."
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"For me, what I love about the show, even though it's set in 1962, the themes and issues are so modern," he continued. "We really wanted to lean into that aspect of the show…We just wanted to take it away from what people would expect and make it a little more emotional."
Feud stars Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Crawford and Davis, respectively, with an embarrassment-of-riches supporting cast that includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Davis, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina and Kiernan Shipka, among many more. And while it does, indeed, tell the story of Crawford and Davis' legendary clash of the titans while filming Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the story Murphy and his writers are exploring speaks to some much broader themes.
"I think that's a big part of this show, which is what Hollywood does to women as they age, which is just a microcosm of what happens to women as they age—whether they become invisible. I think with this film, we've touched on that in a very profound way," Lange said. "I mean, Joan was 10 years younger when this takes place than I am now, and yet her career was finished because of her age. I think what we've tried to do is somehow investigate what that does to a woman."
While the show will take care to lovingly recreate a bygone era in Hollywood's history, this isn't a project that intends to simply romanticize the past. "I think the show is deeply modern, actually. I think it's delicious in its celebration of a town that was less crowded, but I don't think it romanticizes. I think it calls it out for its truisms," executive producer Dede Garnder admitted. "It was brutal, these women were treated brutally and made to treat one another brutally. Seemingly, this was the only way someone was going to get ahead, and I don't think much as changed in that regard. "
Before you go making your wish list for future installments full of the industry's other infamous feuds, both past and present, Murphy told reporters after the panel that there are no plans to keep doing more of the same. "I think if we're gonna do feuds, we can't just do Hollywood stories. I think we could do something from the 16th century," he revealed. "I think the scope of the show can go back in time in history and it doesn't have to be modern. I would never do another Hollywood woman vs. woman story, although people really want the Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. I get a lot of requests, but I'm not going to."
It won't even always be woman vs. woman, Murphy admitted. Rather, the goal is to find stories that focus on the tragedy of hurt feelings among people who should've been allies, but just couldn't move past their pain. "I've called friends of mine that I've worked with, I've called Mark Ruffalo for example, and said, 'are there any famous feuds that you want to do, that you're interested in?' I've just reached out to some of my favorite people," he added. "Susan and Jessica will always be producers on the show moving forward, so I've talked to them about what are you interested in seeing, even if you don't want to act in it, producing with me? But we haven't done too much of that yet because I don't have an order."
Feud: Bette and Joan premieres Sunday, March 5 at 10 p.m. on FX.