Directed by Michael Sucsy, who co-authored the teleplay with Patricia Rozema, HBO's "Grey Gardens" utilizes the original 1975 Maysles brothers documentary as a framing device for the new film that traces the lives of the Beale women from the 1930s through the mid 1970s when the documentary was filmed and released in theatres.
The Maysles' documentary also served as inspiration for the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical Grey Gardens, penned by Michael Korie, Scott Frankel and Doug Wright. Actresses Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson both won Tony Awards for the work. The musical, which also traces the early years of the Beale women through the 1970s, has become a popular work for regional theatres.
For the HBO non-musical film, Drew Barrymore stars as Little Edie Beale, with Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange as Big Edie Beale. The film also stars Tony nominee Malcolm Gets as George Gould Strong, Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ken Howard as Phelan Beale, as well as Arye Gross and Justin Louis, as Albert and David Maysles, respectively.
The HBO film of "Grey Gardens" begins with Little Edie as an 18-year-old debutante in the 1930s through her years as a struggling actress in Manhattan in the 1950s and her subsequent return to Grey Gardens at the insistence of her father. The film also captures the family following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the 1960s and ultimately, depicts Big Edie and Little Edie in the 1970s when the now dilapidated Grey Gardens has become overrun with cats and raccoons. It is at this moment that the Maysles brothers arrive to shoot their historic documentary for six weeks in the summer of 1973.
"Big Edie and Little Edie are very difficult women to inhabit. The challenge to get them right sets the bar very high," said director and screenwriter Sucsy in a statement. "Both Drew and Jessica not only met, but exceeded, my expectations. With the hours and hours spent with dialect lessons, and singing lessons and the hours they spent in makeup every day, they just completely threw themselves into preparing for these roles. And the supporting actors – Jeanne and Daniel and Ken. To see actors come in and breathe life into these characters that are based on real people has been such a thrill. "To see other people dedicate themselves as hard to this project as I've been working on it was overwhelmingly gratifying," he continued. "To see the crew come together to make the whole process as accurate as possible…the painstaking detail of the art department and the wardrobe department, the authentic sets and costumes, the details from the doorknobs to the moldings to the number of stairs to the number of diamond paned windows to the size of house…the outfits for the Edies, the props, the jewelry, all that…it is truly fantastic."
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