Is there such a thing as being too good in a role? If so, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange certainly take the cake in FX's Feud: Bette and Joan. They despise each other with such explosive ferocity, you can't possibly imagine an alternate reality (a ka real life) in which they would tolerate each other for more than five seconds without someone getting pummeled in the head.
So, while watching the first five episodes, we couldn't help but wonder: Did any of this tension actually go on behind the scenes? And it turns out, boss Ryan Murphy was shocked at how well they got along, because it really could have gone another way.
"When you go into a project like this that's based on such a famous feud," Murphy tells E! News, "the actors who you have playing the feud can go super method and really go at each other. And I've actually seen that happen on projects where you write antagonism, and then it ends up becoming true."
But not Susan and Jessica.
"I was stunned at how Jessica and Susan would really go for each other's throats," says Murphy, "and some of those scenes, they don't come to blows, but at one point [Joan] gets kicked in the head and I would yell, ‘Cut!' and I was always really relieved that they would die laughing together. They were very supportive of each other, in a way that I ‘ve never seen from two actors on a show before. Like, ‘Was I too tough in that last take? ‘You know I don't mean it!' Joking. Laughing."
Jessica herself was surprised at how smoothly it went, too. "We'd never worked together," she tells E! News, "and we've known each other over the years. It was wonderful because there was a real ease to working with Susan. Sometimes when you start working with an actor and they're working in a very different way, you have to make adjustments and there's a tension. There was none of that with Susan. We just kind of stepped in and got to work, it was wonderful."
Jessica and Susan had known each other since the 80s, and had always wanted to work together—one of the main reasons they both signed onto this series, which was first brought to their attention in 2009 (before Lange had ever heard the words American Horror Story).
"They get along great," says Murphy, "and I think in their own way, and we talked about it at the end, that maybe they were trying to rectify and give a happy ending to Bette and Joan, because they remain friends at the end of our show. It was very sweet. It was very moving. And it was very fun to have those two women and to be in a position of leadership on the set. Because make no mistake, when you're doing a show with those two, they have a lot of opinions, and they're always right because they've been around the block."
Jessica and Susan, who serve as producers on Feud, also know how to rise above, as they have dealt with their own share of rumored rifts in the past.
"Susan and I were talking about this when we were shooting," Murphy recalls. "When she and Geena Davis, who could not be closer, were doing Thelma and Louise, that's all the press was writing about. They're at each other's throats, and it could not have been further from the truth. People wrote about Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow when they shot a movie called Hush and I know both parties and I know they both really like each other. Just like with Bette and Joan, the public is wildly fascinated by women going at each other. But in this case, it could not have been farther from the truth."
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays on FX.