HBO’s Grey Gardens is perfection; Jessica Lange, Drew Barrymore and Bill Corso interview

“My Mother gave me a completely priceless life.”  – <EM>Little Edie Beale<BR></EM>“I went completely off the deep end.  It was awesome.” –<EM> Drew Barrymore, at the TCA 2009 winter press tour.</EM> <P></P> <P>Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore are two women who genuinely glow from within; each has a distinct beauty.  Vanity was put aside for the love of executive producer, director and writer Michael Sucsy’s visually arresting HBO project, “Grey Gardens.”   </P> <P>The actors allowed Oscar-winning makeup artist Bill Corso and his team to perfectly age them for their respective roles that took them from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.</P> <P>Drew portrays fey daughter Little Edie and Jessica is vivacious and musically infatuated Big Edie Bouvier Beale, the cousins (through the Bouvier lineage) of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  </P> <P>The Beale women fell on hard times post-depression era, exacerbated by Big Edie’s divorce (and waning trust fund) from her husband Phelan, who was disapproving and seemingly lonely in his marriage to the flamboyant Big Edie.  "You’re the mother of my children, not a showgirl," says Phelan, played by Ken Howard. </P> <P>It was cousin Jackie who helped them restore Grey Gardens in the Sixties, when she found out, through the newspapers, how bad her family had fallen.  Jeanne Tripplehorn is styled perfectly as Jacqueline in her Onassis years.</P> <P>The HBO film is a retelling of the making of brothers Albert and David Maysles 1975 documentary that revealed the lives of the reclusive duo living blissfully in complete squalor for decades in one of the finest pieces of East Hampton real estate.</P> <P>Jessica Lange spoke to Monsters and Critics at the recent TCA’s and revealed that she had an interesting array of stills to garner some insight into her character, Big Edie. “Drew and I had a treasure trove of still photographs to look at, descriptions of her (Big Edie) wedding in 1919, or the early twenties, and we were able to hear their distinct voices in later years and see their movements and sense of humor, and way with each other from the documentary…So it was easy for us to re-imagine the two of them 40 years earlier.  You had a sense of who they were and where they starting from.”</P> <P>A striking and a flamboyant performer, Little Edie dreamed of becoming a famous dancer while taking care of her mother, and Big Edie never cottoned to traditional society wife and fantasized of singing on the big stage while keeping her daughter close by her side. </P> <P>Drew Barrymore was also at the winter TCA’s, and shared her fears for the challenge of the role. “I was scared all the time. I felt sick to my stomach all the time.  I thought I was going to die.  I felt such a responsibility to the people involved in the documentary and hold her in such intense regard, such a loyalty…I tried to think of how she would feel.  I just felt intense responsibility to imitate her perfectly and just figure out what she would have sounded like at 17; how does it track? So, how do you do the gradation and I just charted it out thoroughly with my dialect coach and Michael and Jessica, and we just made sure we were all on the same page the whole time.”</P> <P>Filmmaker Michael Sucsy recreates the Maysles’ original documentary in a good portion of the HBO film.  His research was painstaking, contacting Big Edie’s grandchildren who possessed her diaries, pictures, poetry and of course anecdotes that helped him artfully recreate the antiqued curled edges and filmy lush life of Grey Gardens manor and its ethereal inhabitants.</P> <P>Drew also read Edie’s journals. “I thought, for people who really did love the documentary how fascinating it was for them to understand how these women became who they were, what the journey was, what the road was to get to what they know about them.  And then weirdly my journals started to look like Little Edie’s journals. I went completely off the deep end.  It was awesome.”</P> <P>There are many outstanding elements to this collaborative effort; notably the production design of Kalina Ivanov and her set decorator Norma Jean Sanders.  Costuming was spot on for each decade, designed with a great eye for detail by Catherine Marie Thomas.  </P> <P>Toronto, Ontario was the location for DP Mike Eley to work; he frames each shot with perfect instinct for capturing the long rays of a fading East Coast summer and shadowless granite-grey fall days.  Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis once told me a past interview that the “the light was just better in the north and back east” for shooting film, and it shows in Eley’s camera work.</P> <P>But the craft that stood out for me the most was the impeccable work of Oscar-winning artist Bill Corso, (taking the top award in 2005 for “Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) who along with his team make you believe you are witnessing a real age transformation sans CGI or computer gimmickry.</P> <P>HBO and Michael Sucsy’s fine effort of "Grey Gardens" has Barrymore and Lange delivering vibrant performances at different stages of their characters’ lives. Corso and his team deftly, subtly take a teen to spinsterhood, and a woman in her prime to a bed-ridden ailing senior.</P> <P>Monsters and Critics caught up with Bill Corso, on location in Portland, Oregon for “Crowley,” working with Harrison Ford.  Mr. Corso answered our questions regarding the transformative artistry for this no-miss HBO project.</P> <P><STRONG>Please tell me about your amazing crew that helped you with this project.</STRONG> </P> <P>Bill Corso: I had a team of people helping generate the appliances which I sculpted, most notably Richie Alonzo and Christian Tinsley (Christian produced the appliances in a material he developed).</P> <P>Vivian Baker did all of Drew’s applications and supervised the prosthetics for me. Jenni Clark assisted Vivian and prepped all the appliances for both Jessica and Drew.  Linda Dowds did Jessica’s beauty makeups and ran the department for the rest of the characters, and assisted Sean Sansom on the prosthetic makeups for Jessica.  Jenny Arbour was Dept. Head of Hair and Nancy Warren was her key. </P> <P>I was so lucky to get all of these talented people to contribute their time for very little money. It works because it was a great collaboration between actors, artists and filmmakers.</P> <P>***image3:center***</P> <P><STRONG>Bill, please illuminate how you took Drew into her fifties and sixties, and what prosthetic items (including teeth) were used on Jessica Lange during these scenes?</STRONG> </P> <P>Bill Corso: Throughout the film, both actresses have false noses, teeth and contact lenses. During the 70’s portion of the film, both actresses are covered in paper-thin prosthetic appliances that add the necessary ageing with distorting the look of the actresses unrealistically. </P> <P>***image4:center***</P> <P><STRONG>When they were in their heyday-Drew as a debutante and Lange in full-bloom as a mature woman; what was the style of makeup in the Thirties and immediately afterward?</STRONG> </P> <P>Bill Corso: I’m going to defer this question to Vivian Baker, who was responsible for Drew’s daily application. </P> <P>Vivian Baker: Drew’s brows were softly rounded with a soft brown color for youth. Very little makeup (was used) to let her beautiful skin show through. Both women wore red lipstick for the time period. </P> <P><STRONG>Please share with me what products you used on Drew for her lips, base, eyes.</STRONG></P> <P>Vivian Baker:  I used Keyvn Aucoin eyebrow pencil, Serge Lutens lipstick #2 for the youngest look.  Clé de Peau base, Kanebo eyebrow pencil, and another Serge Lutens lipstick #3 for her young woman years. </P> <P>***image5:center***</P> <P><STRONG>As Drew matured into a young woman, how did you adjust her look and at what point does her visible aging start; is it with her hair loss after her New York City solo stay?</STRONG> </P> <P>Vivian Baker: The visible change begins after the hair loss. I changed the shape and color of the brows from the younger look. I added eyeshadow and mascara.   A more flawless complexion, the lips took on a different shape and the color of red lipstick changed to a warmer red. </P> <P><STRONG>So the reality of recluse living, lack of dental care, doctors and sun exposure will create havoc on skin.  Please tell me in detail how you aged their skin all over-including what you did to Drew’s face to add jowls, make fleshier, and how you applied the product to give  the look of sun damage and age.</STRONG> </P> <P>Bill Corso:  There were 13 separate facial appliances used on Drew’s face. Essentially they covered all of Drew’s real skin. The pieces, appliances were created out of a cutting-edge prosthetic material that was designed to be thin, translucent and quick to apply. </P> <P>The pieces were designed to overlap, which aided in seamless movement and painting</P> <P>Drew’s hair was pulled back and secured in a bald cap fashion so the scarves would hang correctly. Vivian then spattered several colors of Skin Illustrator – a liquid tattoo makeup – to create the freckled-skin damaged look. </P> <P>Eye-shadow and brows were added to finish the makeup along with the teeth and contact lens. Body appliances were also used to simulate heavy dimpled skin – the ladies called them ‘cheese’.</P> <P>***image6:center***</P> <P><STRONG>What film are you currently on?</STRONG> </P> <P>Bill Corso:  I just started a film with Harrison Ford called “Crowley” and Vivian just wrapped “Amelia” and “Betty Anne Waters” with Hilary Swank.</P> <P><STRONG>"Grey Gardens"– HBO, Sat. April 18, 8 p.m.</STRONG></P> <P> </P>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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