As embattled “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” director Robert Aldrich, actor Alfred Molina faced off with Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis, Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford and Stanley Tucci’s studio head, Jack Warner, in some of “Feud’s” most crackling scenes.
But the on-camera antagonism did not seep behind the scenes, the British actor said when he stopped by The Times’ video studio. It was a “very harmonious” set, and the cast and crew had a history. As did he — with Tucci and Jackie Hoffman, who played Mamacita.
Molina was given the opportunity to shed light on the old-school generation of Hollywood directors.
“He belongs to a generation of men in the film business who were allowed to behave any way they want to. They certainly weren’t answerable to any women in positions of authority,” Molina said. “His generation had a level of entitlement and privilege that they probably weren’t even aware of because it would have never occurred to them to think in terms of privilege and entitlement.”
The engaging actor pointed to Aldrich’s own bad behavior as well as him turning down his assistant Pauline’s (Alison Wright) revolutionary request to direct the film she had written. To varying degrees, Aldrich, Davis and Crawford had successful careers after “Baby Jane” and remain important figures in the history of the industry and to some degree cautionary tales.
“I think Joan Crawford has always been somewhat underestimated as an actor. She suffered probably in the same way that young actresses do now where they become, in a sense, victims of their beauty — kind of trapped in this beautiful ghetto where no one’s going to take you seriously outside of that because the way you look is so much the part of what makes you interesting or what people perceive is the best part of you. Bette not so much because she was never quite the conventional beauty.”
That particular idea is highlighted by a conversation between Crawford and Davis in the FX series, in which they each say being beautiful and talented was never enough.
“That is the dilemma actresses are constantly fighting against. So for all the groundwork that’s been made for all the changes we’ve seen here and there — more women directors, women writers — that’s all wonderful. But I think one of the points of ‘Feud’ is that nothing has changed that much.”
As for his own career, Molina has enjoyed years of steady success with appearances on stage, television and film. He’s been in classic films such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Chocolat” and appeared in “Law & Order: LA,” “Robot Chicken” and “Drunk History” — often as foreigners or Americans.
“I just said yes to everything,” Molina explained of his genre-exploring career. His former agent once told him that his strength lies in being “ethnically ambiguous.” His Spanish and Italian ancestry and ear for accents contributed to his longevity.
“I wasn’t precious about [roles]. I went for things because it sounded interesting. It paid the bills. It got a couple of kids through college,” he said.
Watch Molina’s full interview, in which he shares the key to nailing an American accent and the parallels between “Baby Jane” and “Get Out,” below.
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