Of course Ryan Murphy’s Feud, debuting this Sunday on FX, is about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, duking it out on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and fighting for the spotlight as only two fading screen queens can.
But the two’s passionate dislike for one another isn’t the sole star of the show. No, behind the made-up faces and fragile egos is the circus’s ringleader, the puppet’s marionette. Jack Warner, the rude, crude, and misogynistic, yet at times bitingly funny Warner Brothers studio head may not have appeared on the silver screen, but his antics helped shape much of the real-life drama surrounding the film. And isn’t the villain always the best character in any drama?
Just ask Stanley Tucci, who brings Warner to life in Feud.
“To play somebody as, kind of despicable as Jack Warner is, it’s a great pleasure,” Tucci said. “It’s just such an interesting story. It’s just so tragic, but it’s also really funny the way it’s presented, and both these women were incredibly funny, particularly Bette Davis.”
Though Tucci was unfamiliar with the rivalry between Davis and Crawford before signing on for Feud, the Devil Wears Prada star and Oscar nominee said the project was an “easy yes,” especially with creator, producer and writer Murphy at the helm.
“He’s really fun,” Tucci said of working with Murphy for the first time. “His scripts are so good, they’re chock full of great moments and great dialogue, and it’s really great because you get to play around a lot. Ryan has such a good, sort of caustic sense of humor, and it’s just awfully fun to do.”
If ‘caustic sense of humor’ also brings Warner to mind, then perhaps Tucci’s research into the man behind the movie magic paid off. To get Warner’s voice and mannerisms down to a T, Tucci said he consulted all the books, images, and films featuring Warner he could find.
“I was able to find just a couple of things. But then there’s him trying to give a speech to the camera,” Tucci explained of a key piece of research. “I guess it would’ve played before a film or something like that, like a sort of trailer kind of before a film explaining all the upcoming projects that they had at Warner Brothers, and it’s all the outtakes of him trying to do this thing directly to camera. And it’s really funny, and it really helped me understand the way he looks, the way he moves a little bit…it was very helpful to watch that stuff. Because he had a very good sense of humor, but he was, by all accounts, he was really not a nice guy. And I watched interviews with older actors who worked with him, and just said he was really not a nice person. He’s complicated, he’s duplicitous. I just find that really, really interesting.”
Such multi-faceted layers of Warner’s character, Tucci said, plus his co-stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, resulted in a “really, really fun experience” for the actor.
“It’s stuff that you can really sink your teeth into, and those roles like that, and pieces like that, are very hard to find, stuff that has real meat to it, real drama to it, real pathos to it,” Tucci said. “And also real humor. And that’s what Ryan is so so so so good at, and you have these fully developed characters that you can really bite into.”
And though season one has yet to premiere, FX has already announced a season two of Feud about Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Knowing that Murphy tends to re-use actors in his different projects (Lange included, who also appears on American Horror Story), is there any chance we’ll see Tucci head across the pond?
“He better [cast me]!” Tucci said with a laugh. “I hope so.”