Tea for 2

Posted on 15 Apr 2009 at 5:50pm
By Lawrence Ferber Contributing Writer

Fat suits and gay worship: Barrymore pours herself into Little Edie


MOMMIE, DEAREST: The Bouvier Beales, (Barrymore, left and Lange.)

SATURDAY IN THE ‘GARDENS’
"Grey Gardens" airs
April 18 at 7 p.m.
on HBO.
Fat suits and gay worship: Barrymore pours herself into Little Edie

Apron strings thicker than steel cable bound together the mother-daughter pair of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale. The eccentric relatives of Jackie O and subjects of "Grey Gardens," a 1975 documentary bearing the name of their decrepit East Hampton, New York mansion, are resurrected in HBO’s biopic of the same title.

Directed by Michael Sucsy, "Grey Gardens" stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

With the help of old-age prosthetics, birdseed fatsuits and false teeth, Barrymore (who lobbied intensely for the part) eerily transforms herself into Little Edie.

Thanks to the Beales’ relatives and friends (Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie in 2002), she had access to troves of Little Edie’s journals, letters and photographs. She also worked intensely on nailing Edie’s voice and mannerisms.

"She had such a particular shuffle with her hips, and her knees and her legs," Barrymore explains. "I had the fat suit on, so that also always helps me. And the way she holds her fingers, the way she twists safety pins while she is speaking to someone. The way she pulls at little things in her stockings. She cannot stop her fingers from moving. And I studied for a year, five days a week, with a woman named Liz Himelstein for the dialect."

Throughout the production, Barrymore ultimately remained in character and avoided talking to or interacting with anyone other than Lange and Stucsy.

"I had to be only her," Barrymore adds. "The discipline of what I did to be as authentic as I possibly could was definitely something that made me, like, mentally unstable. It is definitely only the best work I could possibly have done. And only positivity came from that strict box I put myself in to play her."

Barrymore also worked hard on embodying the many, and often conflicting, aspects of Little Edie’s personality.

"I always believed that Edie is a walking contradiction," she says. "She’s a recluse, but she’s a born entertainer. She bitched and moaned about ‘getting out of this house’ every day of her life, yet the door wasn’t locked. She lived for her mother’s love and approval, but would take the underhanded comments, frustrations and all that came with her. She wanted nothing but love, but rejected it at the same time."

Like the Broadway musical, Stucsy’s "Grey Gardens" features the character of George "Gould" Strong, who frequently accompanied Big Edie at the piano. The script originally included passages that alluded to Gould’s homosexuality — allegedly, he had made a pass at one of Little Edie’s brothers (there were two).

Gould wasn’t the only LGBT person in the Beales’ lives, especially once the documentary made a splash and elevated Little Edie to a gay icon. She lived in Manhattan from 1980-83, and fulfilled her dream of performing in a one-woman cabaret show (16 performances’ worth), and gays surrounded her socially.

"Gay guys would befriend her and she would see them as gentlemen callers," Sucsy says. "But she knew they were gay. There was one guy who was sick and she whispered to somebody else, ‘it’s AIDS.’ He actually wasn’t sick with AIDS, but the point is, although she pretended to see him as a gentlemen caller, she knew very much that he wasn’t actually interested in her, but it was part of her fantasy."

Apron strings thicker than steel cable bound together the mother-daughter pair of "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale. The eccentric relatives of Jackie O and subjects of "Grey Gardens," a 1975 documentary bearing the name of their decrepit East Hampton, New York mansion, are resurrected in HBO’s biopic of the same title.

Directed by Michael Sucsy, "Grey Gardens" stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

With the help of old-age prosthetics, birdseed fatsuits and false teeth, Barrymore (who lobbied intensely for the part) eerily transforms herself into Little Edie.

Thanks to the Beales’ relatives and friends (Big Edie died in 1977, Little Edie in 2002), she had access to troves of Little Edie’s journals, letters and photographs. She also worked intensely on nailing Edie’s voice and mannerisms.

"She had such a particular shuffle with her hips, and her knees and her legs," Barrymore explains. "I had the fat suit on, so that also always helps me. And the way she holds her fingers, the way she twists safety pins while she is speaking to someone. The way she pulls at little things in her stockings. She cannot stop her fingers from moving. And I studied for a year, five days a week, with a woman named Liz Himelstein for the dialect."

Throughout the production, Barrymore ultimately remained in character and avoided talking to or interacting with anyone other than Lange and Stucsy.

"I had to be only her," Barrymore adds. "The discipline of what I did to be as authentic as I possibly could was definitely something that made me, like, mentally unstable. It is definitely only the best work I could possibly have done. And only positivity came from that strict box I put myself in to play her."

Barrymore also worked hard on embodying the many, and often conflicting, aspects of Little Edie’s personality.

"I always believed that Edie is a walking contradiction," she says. "She’s a recluse, but she’s a born entertainer. She bitched and moaned about ‘getting out of this house’ every day of her life, yet the door wasn’t locked. She lived for her mother’s love and approval, but would take the underhanded comments, frustrations and all that came with her. She wanted nothing but love, but rejected it at the same time."

Like the Broadway musical, Stucsy’s "Grey Gardens" features the character of George "Gould" Strong, who frequently accompanied Big Edie at the piano. The script originally included passages that alluded to Gould’s homosexuality — allegedly, he had made a pass at one of Little Edie’s brothers (there were two).

Gould wasn’t the only LGBT person in the Beales’ lives, especially once the documentary made a splash and elevated Little Edie to a gay icon. She lived in Manhattan from 1980-83, and fulfilled her dream of performing in a one-woman cabaret show (16 performances’ worth), and gays surrounded her socially.

"Gay guys would befriend her and she would see them as gentlemen callers," Sucsy says. "But she knew they were gay. There was one guy who was sick and she whispered to somebody else, ‘it’s AIDS.’ He actually wasn’t sick with AIDS, but the point is, although she pretended to see him as a gentlemen caller, she knew very much that he wasn’t actually interested in her, but it was part of her fantasy."



‘SHEER GENIUS’ PROPOSES A TOAST
On Saturday, Dallas hair engineer and "Sheer Genius" star Daniel Lewis, pictured, will add some sparkle to the 11th annual Toast To Life fundraiser. More than 800 are expected to attend the yummy wingding, which will feature culinary delights and free-flowing wines and spirits.

The stuff-your-face "Savor. Sip. Support!" gala raises money for Resource Center of Dallas.

There’s also an auction. Items on the block include a five-day jaunt to Telluride Gay Ski Week for two; a two-night trip to San Francisco at the The Ritz-Carlton for two, art lessons to learn the craft of painting nudes and a week at a private home in Provincetown.

— Daniel A. Kusner

FIG-Fashion Industry Gallery, 1807 Ross Ave.  April 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $100. 214-528-0144


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2009.

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