Naomi Watts Says Smoking in ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’ Was ‘Horrible With a Capital H’

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, FX
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Suffering for their art is something actors have always had to do.

Naomi Watts, who executive produces and stars in FX’s Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (Wednesdays beginning Jan. 31), puffed away on cigarette after cigarette while portraying wealthy socialite Babe Paley.

Set in the 1960s and ’70s, Feud: Capote vs. The Swans is based on Laurence Leamer’s Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, chronicling the In Cold Blood author’s time among The Swans — including Paley, Slim Keith (Diane Lane), C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny), Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald), Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart) and Ann Woodward (Demi Moore) — and how a thinly veiled exposé he published shattered their trust and led to his exile.

Given the time period and the jet-setting subjects, there is a tremendous amount of cigarette smoking depicted in the series. Fortunately, second-hand smoke won’t affect viewers. The Feud cast and crew were not as fortunate.

“It was horrible, with a capital H,” Watts tells us. “If I didn’t drink enough water, I would find myself getting a cracking migraine about halfway through the day.”

Smoking, once considered glamorous, was commonplace in the ’60s and ’70s before its serious health risks were understood. Smoking in offices, airplanes, restaurants and even hospitals was permitted. Paley is even seen in Feud smoking during her cancer treatments.

“My character had double lung cancer, so I had to smoke and smoke and smoke,” Watts says. “I mean, I must have smoked 200 cigarettes a week. It was horrible. And the smell for everyone was grotesque, and it really interferes with your vocal capabilities as well.”

Paley died of lung cancer in 1978 at age 63. Lung cancer also claimed Keith’s life in 1990 at age 72. Capote’s drug use, heavy drinking and chain smoking no doubt contributed to the vascular disease that hastened his liver failure and death in 1984 at age 59.

“Everyone hated it. But it was necessary,” Watts says. “You can’t alter an era just to be easier on the viewer. You have to give in to the period and how people behaved. Some of the things they did and said are shocking to us now. But it had to be told that way, with that kind of authenticity.”

1974 (50 Years Ago)
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1974 (50 Years Ago)

January 2024

In this time capsule issue of ReMIND Magazine we look back 50 years ago to 1974!

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