In FX’s new drama Feud: Bette and Joan, Jessica Lange stars as iconic 1960s actress Joan Crawford. Lange sat down with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle during a SiriusXM town hall discussion to bring some light to Crawford’s troubled past and how it informed her acting.
“When she was Joan Crawford, she was Joan Crawford and that was a creation,” begins Lange. “But, I think, as time went by, what became more and more evident was that she was always Lucille LeSueur.”
Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur and grew up in Texas, before beginning her career as a dancer in traveling theatrical companies, going on to her big Broadway chorus girl debut and then taking on film and television roles. But it wasn’t always a glamorous life for the dazzling star and, as Lange points out, she never fully shrugged off her past as LeSueur.
“She was always this poor, abused, wretched child from San Antonio that no one wanted,” she says, going on to tell of the devastating poverty Crawford was born into. “[She] worked like an indentured servant as a child, was farmed out to boarding schools, had a mother that never wanted her, ended up in a sexual relationship with her stepfather at very young age, so she had this kind of Dickensian childhood that I knew nothing about when I used to watch Joan Crawford.”
“She devoted her life’s energy to creating the character of Joan Crawford,” she explains further. “Always beneath that is Lucille LeSueur, and that became what was so fascinating to play, whether it was just under the surface, just in a gesture or a glance behind the eyes or whatever, that character was always there.”
Lange also believed there was a sadness in Crawford that came from being underappreciated as an actress, so she tried to add that nuance to her depiction, too. “She was a great beauty, but she really worked hard,” she says. “I don’t know anybody that worked harder than Joan Crawford. To be Joan Crawford and to sustain this career and to create this kind of iconic mythology? There’s a lot to admire about her, especially when you think about what she had to overcome, where she came from.”
See the clip above, and watch Cagle’s full town hall interview with the cast of Feud, streaming now on PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network at PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app on mobile or connected devices. You can also listen to the full interview on EW Radio (SiriusXM ch. 105) all this week.
Feud premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.