Behind the scenes with the wounded women of ‘Feud: Capote vs. the Swans’

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A black-and-white illustration of the women in "Feud."
The women who shared secrets with Truman Capote in “Feud.”
(Illustration by Jaya Nicely For The Times)

“I knew there were great actresses of these ages who were going to surprise everybody,” says three-time Emmy-winning casting director Alexa L. Fogel of assembling seven icons for Ryan Murphy and Jon Robin Baitz’s “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans,” based on Laurence Leamer’s bestseller “Capote’s Women.” “One of Ryan’s true gifts is that he sees what people are capable of and has the ability to make it happen.”

The Envelope interviewed the flock of feathered friends splashing around Tom Hollander’s titular Capote in the FX limited series.

Diane Lane as Slim Keith sits perfectly straight in a chair in front of a fire for "Feud."
Diane Lane plays Slim Keith.
(Pari Dukovic / FX)

Why did you want this role?

Calista Flockhart (Lee Radziwill): I really wanted to be in a Ryan Murphy show. Ryan has such a clear and specific vision. He is enormously talented. He is also a lot of fun. And interesting. And singular.

Diane Lane (Nancy “Slim” Keith): When Ryan Murphy essentially cold-called me and said Jon Robin Baitz was the writer, I realized how exposed I had already been to his talent, his gifts, his passion for truly interior and external world-building writing. I thought, “This is such a gift!” It was one of those offers you can’t refuse.

Demi Moore (Ann Woodward): I don’t think Ann Woodward was ever really fully accepted as a swan. She’s such a tragic character. And yet, in a way, held the guts and the heart of the whole betrayal.

Chloë Sevigny (C.Z. Guest): I rarely have an opportunity to play someone who is this refined. … Also, she reminded me a lot of my mother, who has a lot of restraint. She’s holding on to a lot of old-fashioned values. She really believes in mystery and manners, and she always wants to see me in films that have more of those kinds of attributes.

Naomi Watts (Babe Paley): I did a deep dive into Babe and saw this wonderfully complex character: a woman who was in a marriage that was causing her a great deal of pain but who still managed to be so graceful and dignified.

Molly Ringwald wears a flowing red dress and stands in an ornate room
Molly Ringwald as Joanne Carson.
(Pari Dukovic / FX)

What did you know of Capote and his swans prior to jumping in?

Flockhart: I knew very little. I had a vague notion of some sort of juicy scandal. I was surprised to learn of all the heartache that was involved.

Jessica Lange (Capote’s mother, Lillie Mae Faulk): Well, I knew of Capote, certainly. I’d read his work. But I didn’t know about the swans. That’s not something that ever interested me — the high society of New York City at that time.

Molly Ringwald (Joanne Carson): I was very familiar with the story of the swans, [the restaurant] La Côte Basque, all of those women and the feud. I always wondered, “Why isn’t somebody making this movie?” When I heard Ryan was going to make it, I was really excited just to be able to see it. And then when I was approached to be in it, even better!

Truman Capote smokes while his mother, in a ballgown behind him, smiles at him in "Feud: Capote vs. the Swans."
Jessica Lange plays Lillie Mae Faulk, Truman Capote’s (Tom Hollander) mother.

What was the greatest joy of this project?

Flockhart: Working with such great talent, starting with [director] Gus Van Sant. I mean, come on.

Lane: The feeling that we were in this play together, because as it went on and we were joining each other at the table so often in La Côte Basque, it felt like a theater set for us in the sense of, “Well, this is today’s performance.” Have you ever seen birds in a cage when they start sharing their little seeds with each other? Beak to beak, almost like a kiss. That’s how we felt. That’s how I felt, anyway. Lovebirds in a cage.

Lange: Certainly, working with Tom, who was wonderful. Filming here in New York was great. And also, shooting the Black and White Ball. That was a lot of fun. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to play with any of the other actresses.

Calista Flockhart wears a leopard-print jacket as Lee Radziwill.
Calista Flockhart plays Lee Radziwill.
(Pari Dukovic / FX)

The greatest challenge?

Flockhart: It was challenging working with Robbie [Baitz]. He made me laugh too hard and too much, and I would forget to focus. Very unprofessional.


Lange: Playing someone who exists only in Capote’s mind. I mean, his mother was a real person, but there wasn’t a lot written about her. In this piece, she’s a ghost. And playing a ghost — I’ve done that before — isn’t the easiest thing. [Laughs]

Watts: The smoking was tough. She was a heavy smoker, so it felt like I smoked 200 herbal cigarettes a day on set! I had to learn how to speak with fake teeth, which felt very strange and added to the difficulty in finding the character’s voice. Also, I wore colored contacts for the role, and that created a barrier for me.

Chloe Sevigny looking serious as C.Z. Guest.
Chloë Sevigny plays C.Z. Guest.
(Pari Dukovic/FX)

What was your most difficult scene to shoot?

Moore: [Truman and Ann] outside in the freezing cold when he’s by the water’s edge, and I’m in the veil in that kind of ghostly apparition. It being so stylized, and it being so cold that snot was running down my face. That was difficult on a physical level. On an emotional level, the scene where I crashed the party, because it felt so painful. The discomfort of being with your son and being outwardly rejected.

Ringwald: Trying to pull Truman out of the swimming pool. … When somebody is playing unconscious, they really can’t help you at all. I was literally trying to drag him out with all my clothes on, all this hair that’s not mine [laughs] that got really heavy when it was wet.

Sevigny: There was a scene where I don’t say anything. Truman is reading a tribute to Babe, and then I have to start breaking down. That was really emotional because it was actually the anniversary of the day I had lost a friend, so I was already feeling very heightened emotionally about friendships and loss.

Demi Moore sits at a bar as Ann Woodward.
Demi Moore plays Ann Woodward.
(Pari Dukovic / FX)

Are any of the figures portrayed someone you’d want to know today?

Flockhart: Oh, God. No one. Let’s keep it a voyeuristic experience. Much better to just watch these characters on [TV] … than having to actually deal with them in real life.

Moore: It would’ve been interesting and intriguing to know all of them. … These were really powerful women of their time, even though there were cultural limitations on their full expression. They really ruled New York.

Ringwald: As a writer myself and somebody who has always been a bookish person and a fan of [Capote], I would’ve just loved to have sat with him and talked about writing and process and his books and the characters.

Sevigny: I mean, of course, James Baldwin, in a second. … He’s always been a hero of mine. He had such an amazing voice as a writer and as a person. He had so much to say and so much we can still learn from him. He also just seemed like f— fun.

Naomi Watts, as Babe Paley, reclines on a chaise longue.
Naomi Watts stars as Babe Paley.
(Pari Dukovic / FX)

Thoughts on the late Treat Williams not being able to witness the series’ impact?

Watts: He was just so grateful about getting a role like this at this point in his life — as we all were — and so he really threw himself into it. It’s heartbreaking that he’s not getting to witness all the wonderful accolades, because he worked so hard, and it shows in his stellar performance.