They kept to themselves, indulging in bouts of girl talk in between scene setups. Barrymore says she was so "freaked out" about getting Little Edie right that she refrained from speaking to the crew so they wouldn't hear her real voice.
"I cut myself off from the world because I wanted to understand what it was like to be isolated. The only person I had — the only person Edie would have had — was her," Barrymore says of Lange. "So I'd be knocking on her door at night with a bottle of wine, 'Hellooooo,' or we'd be dancing around the room. On set, we'd be cackling like hens in the corner."
They made a choice to play the Beales as real women, as opposed to local sideshow freaks. Lange's Big Edie clings to her home, even after her husband leaves her for another woman, because it's where she feels most comfortable. Barrymore's Little Edie pursues her dream of singing and dancing in Manhattan, but after her married lover dumps her, she comes home to her mother and their menagerie of felines. Her hair falls out. And she never leaves.
"We decided not to play these women like crazy. You can't play crazy. And I don't think either of us ever believed that they were," Lange says. "But some things are completely inexplicable, like how did they finally end up living the way they did?" (Big Edie died in 1977, and Little Edie died in 2002).
Indeed, the conditions of Grey Gardens were so foul that Onassis had to step in and pay for the cleanup after newspapers published photos and stories.
"These women did not bathe and they lived in squalor, with garbage up to their necks and with raccoon pee," Barrymore says. "If you've ever smelled raccoon pee, which we had the fortunate pleasure of doing on set, we couldn't make it through the shot. We're coughing and gagging. "
In every other aspect, though, Barrymore says she understood Little Edie. Playing a hermit who emerged as an unlikely icon after the documentary was released weighed on Barrymore.
"I knew if I didn't pull it off, there probably would be, at a minimum, death threats. When I saw the movie, I drove to the beach afterward and just sat there for hours listening to opera on my iPod," Barrymore says, looking at Lange. "I was there, every day, watching you — but watching you in the movie, I was so blown away by how wonderful and amazing and powerful you were."
Lange looks almost tearful. The two women smile at each other and exchange a kiss.
"Of course I felt the same. We both worked incredibly hard," Lange says. "We made these characters believable. Drew made my work better. It's as simple as that."