Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon play aging screen stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in the new FX series Feud

By Patrick Gomez
March 10, 2017 03:25 PM
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At 67 years old, Jessica Lange is seemingly in the prime of her career — but she knows that’s not common in Hollywood.

“Women are viewed as a commodity more so than male actors,” Lange tells PEOPLE. “At a certain age women are no longer considered a viable or a valuable part of the community — even if that’s when they may feel like they’re at the top of their game. And that’s not just in Hollywood.”

Lange is currently exploring those themes in her latest TV series, Feud, in which she stars as aging screen legend Joan Crawford alongside Susan Sarandon as Crawford’s decades-long rival, Bette Davis.

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Susan Sarandon (left) and Jessica Lange in character for Feud.

“All of those gals who had these amazing parts found themselves high and dry later when they were older because there weren’t that many people who were writing them,” Sarandon, 70, says of the female stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. “There are so many tragic stories of women who were so beautiful and couldn’t figure out a way to age within the system.”

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  • For more from Lange and Sarandon — including their thoughts on Davis and Crawford’s real-life feud — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

Sarandon believes her on-screen inspiration was more successful than most aging actresses because she was never considered a traditional beauty.

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“Bette was never considered beautiful. From the very first moment she went to Hollywood, she overheard someone say, ‘Who would want to have her in the picture?’ They tried to bleach her hair and do things to her, but she was just the odd woman out,” says Sarandon. “But that meant she had an advantage because she uglified herself even when she was younger. It’s easier to be a character actor and age and continue to work. I think I’ve benefited from being a character actor in the same way.”

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Bette Davis (left) and Joan Crawford at a promo shoot for 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
| Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Sarandon and Lange both emphasize how important it is that women are creating, producing and directing their own projects, but are also grateful to producers like Feud‘s Ryan Murphy for continuing to tell stories that celebrate women of all ages.

“I think if Joan and Bette were alive, they would raise a glass to Jessica and Susan,” he says. “Bette and Joan have been frozen in amber in our culture for a long time as characters and I think what we worked so hard at doing was painting full, complete portraits of these women. Their story deserved to be told in that way.”

Feud airs Sundays (10 p.m. ET) on FX.