Molly Ringwald made her stage debut at just three years old in Truman Capote’s The Glass Harp. So her role as Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of Johnny Carson and one of Capote’s dearest friends, in Feud: Capote vs. The Swans is a bit of a full circle moment. While the most glamorous women of New York’s Upper East Side stage an all-out social war against Capote after he embarrasses them in a short story, Ringwald’s character remains his only friend. Of course, not only was Ringwald acquainted with Capote’s work, but those familiar with her breakthrough work in the ’80s know that she’s not unfamiliar with characters navigating the drama of social cliques.
While Feud promises to be chock full of drama, last week’s premiere event (held at the Museum of Modern Art, with an after-party at The Plaza) was anything but. Ringwald joined her fellow Swans in a show of coordinated black-and-white. Ringwald wore custom Rodarte for the red carpet, and then changed into a tux for the afters. Here, Ringwald talks her premiere fashion, preparing for the role, and what she thought of her former on-screen son’s edgy role in Saltburn.
The premiere and after-party looked like they had it all: drag queens, Real Housewives, and Debbie Harry. Did you have a good time?
It was quite a party. It was probably even more fun than the actual original Black & White Ball, which apparently was not all that much fun. I got to catch up with people that I got to work with. All of my scenes were pretty much with Tom [Hollander], but I get to see the other ladies during all the press events.
How did the decision for everyone to wear black and white come together?
It was on the invitation. It was strongly suggested.
And tell me a little bit about what you were wearing.
For the premiere at MoMA, I was wearing a custom Rodarte dress. I wanted to wear something that was very, very “Swan” and sort of major. They totally delivered on that. It was black velvet and had tulle on the bottom, and then this black and tulle cape. All of my jewelry was from Verdura. I’ve lusted after those cuffs forever, so I was really excited to be able to wear those. My second look was a tuxedo by a designer named Todd Thomas, who’s an old friend of mine. I met him originally when he did the looks on Cindy Sherman’s one and only feature film.
And the Rodarte was custom for you? Did you get to have a lot of input into the design?
Yeah, I did. Laura Mulvaney and I just texted back and forth. I sent things that I liked and what I was inspired by, and then she sent back some sketches and then we just kind of came up with it.
I know you had worked with Ryan Murphy previously on Monster, but I’m curious about how this project came your way.
I think Ryan’s known for working with a lot of the same actors, once he gets to know someone and sort of gets them, he likes to use them again. So he just offered this to me, asked me to do this, and I’m so happy to be part of the Murphy-verse as I call it. I mean, my experiences so far have been wonderful working with this caliber of actors. It makes you bring your A game.
Everyone knows a bit about Capote, but how familiar were you with this story beforehand?
Coincidentally enough, my very first play when I was three years old was a Truman Capote piece called The Grass Harp. I grew up and I read In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and pretty much anything and everything I could get my hands on. I had read “La Côte Basque 1965” [the short story that sets off this season’s feud], and I was very interested in the story. Those ladies were such fashion icons, and I’ve always been interested in vintage clothing. I was sort of waiting for somebody to make a movie about it. When I found out that Ryan was doing it, I was just excited that it was going to be made, and then even more excited when I was asked to be in it.
You get to play Joanne Carson. How did you familiarize yourself with her?
It was kind of hard. There was not a lot out there, as opposed to Babe or some of these other women. She wasn’t really that well-known, but there was one interview that she had done later, where she was talking about health foods—she was very into health foods and New Age-y stuff. I watched that a bunch of times. I did talk to people who knew her. Ultimately I was just playing an interpretation of her by our screenwriter, Jon Robin Baitz. I was playing her as somebody who just had unconditional love for Truman, which I really believe that she did. I think she really, really loved him. Maybe the only one in his life that did love him like that. I just tried to be truthful to that idea. I don’t look anything like Joanne actually, but I think Ryan has never cast people based on looks per se. It is more sort of an essence that he gets or feels or something.
Your breakthrough roles were about high school social cliques. Here you are in this miniseries about this ultimate social clique. Did you see any similarities there?
I definitely did see the similarities with middle school, because I have two middle schoolers right now. Hearing about everything that’s going on in school, it really does seem like the same thing. I feel like if you can make it through middle school, you can kind of make it through anything. It’s really where all of that begins. It does feel very sophomoric and kind of silly. I mean, we’re basically all just looking for a tribe, aren’t we?
Right. Maybe we never leave middle school behind.
It’s traumatic. I feel like there is a reason why all those high school movies I made really sort of still endure, because everybody kind of goes through the same trauma. There’s no escaping it.
Joanne is also kind of the outsider. Like you said, most of your scenes are with Tom.
Once she left Johnny, she kind of went from being in the Hollywood elite. When you’re Johnny Carson, you’re one of the most important people in Hollywood, and you have access to everything. Once you’re no longer a part of that, I think she did feel a bit like an outsider, and certainly, Truman did as well, so they bonded together on that as well.
Can you tell me about the costumes you got to wear?
They wanted Joanne to be a big contrast to these very New York, super structured pillbox hats. They wanted Joanne to have a different feeling. So I wear very colorful clothing. I’m in caftans. They wanted to have that sort of West Coast versus East Coast, so I’m representing West Coast in the show. I think in terms of my style, I would’ve been thrilled to be in the more structured New York stuff, but I think the clothes that I wear were more very truthful to Joanne.
You played Jacob Elordi’s mom in The Kissing Booth. I’m wondering if you’ve seen Saltburn.
I think Emerald Fennel is smart. I had talked to some people who were really shocked by it, so I think I was primed to be shocked too. I was pleasantly surprised that I thought it was fun. And I like Jacob Elordi. Of course, anybody who’s played my son, I sort of automatically am predisposed to like.