When I recently suggested the scenario to Lange, she said it would be quite fitting because the real-life characters they played in Grey Gardens, Big Edie Beale and her daughter, Little Edie, were inseparable. Lange and Barrymore are both up for Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for their work in the Michael Sucsy-directed HBO production.
"Oh, wouldn't that be great," Lange said. "I think that would be poetic justice. It would be the perfect end to our little journey here."
So what was it like for Lange to transform herself into a delusional recluse who lived with her only daughter in a decrepit East Hampton home full of cats and raccoons? Read on to find out, plus what role Lange would love to do on Broadway.
Do you remember the first time you saw the Grey Gardens documentary?
I didn't see it when it came out in the mid-'70s. I really wasn't aware of it until about maybe 10 years ago, but then I became obsessed with it. There's just something about these women. You can't get enough of them. I must have watched it probably a dozen times.
I read somewhere that for you to perfect the scene in which you sing "Two for Tea" while sitting up in bed, you prepared by staring in a mirror and doing it over and over again while watching the documentary.
This was my singing coach. I had never sung, but once I committed to do it, he asked me if I wanted to do my own version of it or did I want to do it according to the documentary. I said, "Let's do the documentary and let's do it moment by moment, beat by beat."
What about all that makeup and the prosthetics? It must have been grueling.
Yeah, it was. I have no patience for the makeup chair in a regular film, so for me to sit there for five hours was a test of my patience. Both Drew and I early on said, "We're going to do this and we're going to do the whole thing—not hold back, not cheat these characters at all...But it's uncomfortable, wearing all these plastic pieces on your face. But it all worked in the end and made it all worthwhile. I can't imagine going through all that and having it all not work. That would have really, really, really been a drag.
Now, imagine you and Drew both going up on that stage and accepting the Emmy together.
That'd be great. I can't think of a better scenario.
Do you want to do more Broadway?
Yes, but I haven't found the next play I want to do. I did a production in London of Long Day's Journey Into Night. They asked me to do the Broadway production, but I wasn't able to do it. I regret not playing it in New York. That's something I would still love to do.
What do you think when you see the paparazzi today and all the craziness that goes with it?
I'm glad I'm not coming up now. I would never be able to deal with that kind of media attention that these actors do now. I really feel fortunate that I lived my life and raised my family and did all of that without being hounded.
I have to ask about the Grey Gardens DVD, which was released not too long ago. Do you ever sit at home and watch it?
Oh, bless your heart—I'm not quite Norma Desmond yet. [Laughs.] I actually watched it more than I watched most of my other films because I did go to the New York and Los Angeles premieres. I wanted to see it in the theater and I wanted to see it with a big audience. But once I did that, I was like, "I probably won't see it again for a while." I do adore the film we made, but at a certain point you do have to kind of move on.
Check out more celebs playing real-life people in our Rewind: Actors Playing for Real photo gallery.