"I knew it wasn't something I would be talented enough to step into a few weeks before (shooting)," Barrymore says. "I'm like a valley girl who is in opposition to Edie, so I knew I had to take a lot of time to become her, learn her mannerisms, change my facial structure to make it like hers. I just wanted to be her."
So did Lange. To embody Big Edie, a society wife who loved being the star attraction by belting out tunes at parties, Lange did something she feared: She sang.
Lange likens the experience to "pulling hen's teeth. I've never sung before. So much of (Big Edie's) self-identity is tied up with being a great singer.
"To understand the spine of the character, you're either going to have to take a cheap shot and let someone else do it, or you're going to have to try it yourself."
Their roles reverse as Barrymore becomes the proud matriarch. "She did so well. I know what she was going through. I'm the worst singer on the planet, and the last three movies I've been in, I sang," she says. "I cried when I heard her. I was so happy for her. The whole point of these women is —"
"— they didn't shy away from things," Lange finishes.
As unexpected as Barrymore and Lange's friendship might seem, it comes across as heartfelt — and touchy-feely, much like their appearance at this year's Golden Globes. The two couldn't be more opposite. Barrymore, who has dated actor Justin Long, runs her own production company and just directed her first film, the fall release "Whip It!" Lange, who is in a long-term relationship with playwright/actor Sam Shepard, is a mother of three who loves taking pictures and released the book 50 Photographs last year. For this interview, Barrymore is glam in a black and white Narciso Rodriguez frock, while Lange goes low-key in jeans and a fuchsia jacket.
They hug gently when they first see each other, so they won't aggravate Lange's injuries. "Normally, I like to touch a lot," Barrymore says.
"No hurting!" jokes Lange, who has her right arm in a sling. "It's not just the collarbone. It's the scapula and ribs and everything."
The actresses had never met before filming but bonded while spending time near the actual Grey Gardens estate — which has been refurbished — before shooting started. Their connection, Lange says, was "quite immediate."
Adds Barrymore: "You can't fake that kind of intimacy and chemistry and desire to be in each other's company. If we didn't have that kind of love, this movie would not have worked, period. This is a love story. So thank God we loved each other."
Sense of isolation
Barrymore and Lange shot the film in Toronto, where a replica of Grey Gardens' façade was built. They spent four to six hours a day having their makeup and prosthetics applied.
"For me, it was a disaster from the beginning," says Lange. "My face, my whole structure, is so different from Big Edie. She had such a long, narrow face and this aquiline nose. I could never look exactly like her."
Barrymore turns to Lange: "Yeah, but you don't look like you at all."
Replies Lange: "Well, that's good."
Both women had the same goal.
"We just cared so much about looking as authentic as we could," Barrymore says. "I had 13 (prosthetic) pieces. She has 13 pieces, a neck, teeth. We had contacts. We had noses. I still love the beanbag boobs."
Lange: "They hung down to my waist."
Barrymore: "I used to play with them."