Drew Barrymore

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Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange are getting high praise for their performances in HBO's Grey Gardens from the people who know the story like no other: Big Edie Beale's grandchildren.

"I thought it was spectacular," Michelle Beale, whose father (Phelan Jr.) was Big Edie's older son, told me last night at the L.A. premiere at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Michelle's cousin Christopher Beale (dad was Buddy Beale) added, "Very, very well done."

Read on for more on what they have to say about Barrymore and Lange, why not everyone in the family is a fan of Albert and David Maysles' original documentary and why their dads wished cousin Jackie O had not cleaned up the now legendary estate.

What did you think when [director and writer] Mike Sucsy first came to you and told you he wanted to make the movie?
I was very reluctant to talk to him. I thought the first movie, the documentary, was very exploitive. My father felt that way as well. He felt that they were manipulated. They never got anything from it. I did not contribute as much as my cousin, Chris. Well, now I think they did an excellent job, and I just told him that. I think the two actresses were spectacular.

How close did Drew and Jessica get to the real Edies?
In Jessica Lange, I can hear my grandmother. And Drew Barrymore really got Edie's accent down, and she also got some of her mannerisms.
Christopher: She got all of her mannerisms.

How much do you remember of the Grey Gardens home?
I lived there when I was very little. In the late 1940s, I lived there for a couple of years after the war. We ultimately moved to Oklahoma, but during the '50s we would go back. Daddy was very close to his mother. But you could see things starting to deteriorate. They didn't have the money to keep it up. My grandmother would not leave.

In the movie, your fathers are shown trying to convince them to sell the house and move to Florida.
They were a whole lot pushier than that. They were thrilled when the health department came and they were going to shut the house down and throw them on the street. My father was thrilled. But then Jackie [Onassis] popped up and shaped the place up. My father was furious. He didn't want her saving them. He wanted them out on the street, so he could pick them up in a station wagon and drive them to Florida.

Did your grandmother and aunt realize what was happening?
I think my grandmother realized it, but over time she became oblivious to it. It was like tunnel vision. They were savvy, but in their world they stopped seeing things. They stopped seeing that the raccoons were there.
Christopher: They stopped seeing and they stopped smelling.

Did you visit them even after the house got that bad?
Many times, we would haul them out for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter and take them out to a restaurant in East Hampton. But when you got to the house, by the time you got halfway up the stairs, your ankles were in agony by being chewed by fleas. I would go there and light up two cigarettes and just wave them around.

Was your grandmother or aunt ever diagnosed with anything that may have explained what happened with them?
Oh, no no no! They never believed in doctors. My grandmother was a devout Catholic but became a Christian Scientist, so she didn't want anything to do with going to a doctor.
Christopher: [Little] Edie was healthy as a horse. She lived until her 80s.

How hard was it to be in the theater tonight and hear people laughing at them?
It's a very hard movie to see. But it is easier than the documentary because I will never forget the first time I went to see it. People were laughing, and it was just horrific to me. My father refused to see it. But I believe [the HBO production] is great. I believe it's presented in a way that these are not people to spurn.

What do you think your grandmother and Little Edie would think?
I think Edie would have loved it. She would have said, "You know, this is my chance!" Hard to say about my grandmother. She was a star in her own right.

For more A-List stars portraying real-life people, check out our Rewind: Actors Playing for Real photo gallery

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