The Couple That Works Together...

Jessica Lange talks gays, marriage, Big Edie, and parading around with Drew Barrymore like a happy lesbian couple while promoting Grey Gardens.  

BY Corey Scholibo

August 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

Jessica Lange is so sweet it makes you wonder what she is hiding. Certainly one of the most talented actresses of stage and screen of the last 40 years, Lange always seems to play women you don't want to completely trust, and she has been rewarded for doing so with six Oscar nominations and two wins, among a slew of other trophies. Maybe it's because her characters always seem smarter than you, or you feel her sexuality is something beyond control, but her heroines -- be it Tamora in Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus, or Leigh Bowden in Cape Fear -- are intimidating. And so it is a surprise to hear her sound so damn normal when we discuss the DVD release of her new film Grey Gardens.

Anyone would be intimidated about taking on one of the most iconic characters among gay fans, Big Edie Beale, mother of Little Edie Beale and costar of the documentary Grey Gardens, which follows two women -- who just happened to be related to Jackie Kennedy -- who are living in utter squalor in the Hamptons. Their story was so fascinating that it spawned books, a musical, and out director Michael Suscy's film adaptation for HBO. Lange tells me how she had always thought about one day making the film into a dramatic piece, why she doesn't have a high opinion of marriage, and what the chemistry between she and Drew Barrymore was really all about.

Advocate.com: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.Jessica Lange: Thank you.

Have you ever done an interview for The Advocate.I don't think so. Oh wait. I think maybe I did for Normal. But I can't be sure because I have no memory myself. [Laughs]

In Tootsie the conceit at one point is that Dustin Hoffman's drag persona is in love with your character, and your character thinks she is a lesbian and rejects her. Do you remember how gays and lesbians may have reacted at that time?You know, I don't. But there was a lot going on in my life at that moment and I might not have been paying attention. But I do remember a lot of reaction to Normal, which was of course a film about the transgender community.

Tell me about how you got involved with Grey Gardens?Michael Suscy came to speak to me about it before he really even had a script or anything. I had actually in the back of my mind been thinking of doing something with it myself for a while. When I saw the documentary it just fascinated me and I thought, What could you do here as a dramatic film? because you look at the two Edies and you think, Whoa would I love to play one of those [laughs]. So it was something that I had in the back of my mind, but never got anywhere with. And then, out of the blue, I got a call from a friend asking me if I would meet with this young director to speak to him about Grey Gardens, which was pretty amazing. He described how he envisioned it with moving the characters back and forth in time, covering a 40-year period, and he asked me if I would like to play Big Edie, which I hadn't really thought about. And then of course the process of the script and getting it financed took several years before we were actually shooting. But it's one of those great characters that comes along rarely, especially now, and I think Michael did a great job with it. It was a little bit of a risk, trying to adapt this story dramatically, but I think he hit just the right balance. We didn't try to say this is what happened, or, this is the reason this happened, which I think would not only have been risky but it would have been dishonest, because how do you presume to know exactly how they got where they got?

Tags: film

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