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Remote Controlled: Susan Sarandon on ‘Feud’s’ Bette Davis, Joan Crawford: ‘They Were the Early ‘Real Housewives”

Variety logo Variety 6/15/2017 Debra Birnbaum
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Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks to “Feud” star Susan Sarandon about why she signed on for the FX series, the powerful message executive producer Ryan Murphy brought to the project, and why she’s ready to do another TV project.

“Bette Davis has been chasing me since I was a kid,” she says. Sarandon says she’s been offered a number of projects, including plays and scripts. But it wasn’t until Ryan Murphy revisited it with her as a series that she was finally ready to sign on. “He seemed to have a handle on it,” she says. “I love the fact that you could give it a context that was more interesting than how to ask bigger questions about Hollywood now. … It just seemed like now is the time.”

Murphy didn’t have any finished scripts, but she was persuaded by his enthusiasm for the project. “I think the good thing in surrendering to Ryan is that you know that he’s in charge,” she says. “He’s not going to be whittled down by a committee. … I’d always rather throw my faith in with someone who has a vision. … I felt that with Ryan there would be a voice.”

And once those scripts came in, she found that she had more in common than she realized with the character she was set to play. “In terms of our being outside of the Hollywood community and not wanting to, she wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of being a movie star but was a real workhorse,” she say. “I just felt that he was going to expose a lot of things that we really didn’t know about her. At the basis of the feud was this pain.”

Susan Sarandon photographed exclusively for the Variety Remote Controlled podcast


Sarandon reveals that she still hasn’t watched the program, which has earned critical acclaim. “I haven’t seen it, but I’m dining out on everyone else having a good time,” she says. “It’s always heartbreaking when things are cut or you look at yourself and you think, ‘Well, I could have done that better or more courageously or something,’ so I’ve decided just to dine out on everybody else saying they’re having a good time.”

Given her experience on the project, Sarandon says she’s ready to do another TV project. (She’s already signed on for the upcoming season of “Ray Donovan”). “I have a book that I think makes a better TV series than a film because it’s complicated,” she says. “Maybe not eight, maybe not 12, but a limited TV series I think would be a much better place for it than trying to make a two-hour movie where things tend to be more simplistic, especially if it’s talking about race or inequity of some sort. You don’t want it to be the white guy saving that black guy. … It’s hard to do a film in two hours that’s about a complicated nuanced subject without falling into stereotypes, I think.”

And as for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Sarandon says she thinks their relationship wasn’t on the best of terms at the end of their lives. “It was pretty hard to get over that Academy Award thing,” she says.

But she says their feud was exploited by the people who surrounded them. “I choose to believe that maybe they could have worked it out if everybody hadn’t benefited so much,” she says. “They were like the early ‘Real Housewives’ of wherever. They needed them to be fighting. They really fueled the flames of that to get more drama going. It’s a shame because now in the business women are allies of each other and they produce things for each other, and they stand by each other and they support each other. I think the days are gone where women had to align themselves with men because they had the power.”

You can listen to this week’s episode here:

New episodes of Remote Controlled are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes of Remote Controlled here.

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