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Elizabeth Perkins, Dog Rescuer and Sitcom Star

The star explains the boomerang-kids comedy 'The Moodys' and her passion for pooches

Actress Elizabeth Perkins

Kharen Hill/FOX

Why did film, TV, and Broadway star Elizabeth Perkins choose to costar with Denis Leary on The Moodys, the 2019 comic miniseries that's returning for Season 2 (Fox, April 1 at 9 p.m. ET)? “He's wicked, he's hysterical,” says Perkins, who tells AARP how she knew sight unseen that she'd get along with Leary, what's sustained her in 35-plus years in show business and, perhaps most importantly, why she is so passionate about rescuing dogs.

The Moodys features a family of adults and grown kids back together under one roof. This is the pandemic reality for many people right now.

I know. A lot of my friends are experiencing it, too. In the case of The Moodys we also have one who never left. You envision your kids coming back as this wonderful thing, and we're all going to get along — but you've become so used to being an empty nester that after two weeks, you're just sort of over it.

What's your own situation?

We have four children between my husband and me. We've been empty nesters for seven, eight years. It's fantastic. You do miss them, let's be honest. You romanticize them coming back, and then they're there, and all the food's being eaten, the place is a mess, wet towels on the floor, they're driving your car and not putting gas in it — all the stuff that bothered you before, when they were still in high school. They suddenly become obnoxious children with each other as well.

Elizabeth's rescue dogs wearing santa clause jackets

Courtesy Elizabeth Perkins

Elizabeth's rescue dogs Dudley (left) and L'il Pete (right).

How was working with Denis Leary?

Denis and I grew up about 40 miles apart, so I sort of knew what kind of guy he was. Our high schools played football with each other. I've always been a huge fan of his sarcasm. So I knew I was going to get along with him. I get Denis. It's the reason I decided to do the show.

This was your return to work after quarantine. How did that feel?

I feel really blessed to be able to shoot a comedy in the middle of all this lockdown-COVID-election-weather-pandemic craziness. I'm not shooting some nihilistic drama where the human race has been killed off, I'm up here in Montreal making a comedy with Denis Leary. We played The Moodys as post-pandemic: The pandemic has just ended and people are starting to get back to normal. Everyone needs that right now.

Did your dogs miss you?

My dogs went through a depression when I left. It's been really tragic. We're thinking of doing a short film based on a dog's perspective of having humans home all the time: Are humans ever going to leave? They're probably exhausted. I can't wait to get home. Not just for my dogs, I haven't seen my husband in almost three months, the longest we've been separated. There's a quarantine protocol, so he'd have to be here a month before I could even see him.

What kind of dogs do you have?

They're complete mutts. I'm a little dog rescuer. Dudley is about 4 and is 10 pounds, and L'il Pete, 3, is probably a cross between a wire-haired terrier and maybe a Chihuahua. He's a little guy with a skull deformation and encephalitis — can't walk up or down stairs and you can't really pick him up because he has vertigo. He's my special needs little boy and literally the sweetest dog that ever walked on the planet. They're like brothers. I had two rescue dogs before that: Buster and Lulu. I go for the personality, not the breed. I would never buy a dog because I know how many we're putting to sleep every month in L.A. County. I'm a big, big fan of rescue.

Perkins Facts

Elizabeth Perkins visits the Build Series

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Age: 60

In the beginning: Born in Queens, N.Y., raised in Colrain, on the Massachusetts/Vermont border.

Current Projects: TV: The Moodys (April 1, Fox), This is Us (NBC), Truth Be Told (Apple TV+)

Greatest Hits: TV: Sharp Objects, Weeds. Movies: Big; Miracle on 34th Street; He Said, She Said; Avalon; The Flintstones; About Last Night

Broadway Debut: Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, 1994

Home life: Married to cinematographer Julio Macat; one daughter, three stepsons, two rescue dogs

Did you have dogs growing up?

We lived on a farm, so we always had at least three or four dogs — always rescues. I was always rescuing, fostering. I think it's important for children to have animals in their lives, it teaches them compassion and empathy and how to care for something other than themselves.

Didn't you want to be a veterinarian, not an actress?

I was originally going to be a veterinarian. When I was in 9th grade I interned with a rural veterinarian; I helped him deliver calves. But I just didn't have the math skills. Veterinary science is harder than medicine for humans because you have so many different animal types. The math slayed me. It was not an option. There's still a part of me that's still, You should have worked with animals!

Instead you foster dogs?

One of my dear friends runs a rescue operation called Pet Orphans of Southern California. If there's a dog any of my friends finds, it's like, “We'll bring him to Elizabeth.” I've had many a dog come in and out of my house. I'm the one with bird feeders, peanuts for the squirrels — I'm that lady.

Have you had any favorite roles over the course of your career?

So many. I know it's not a great movie, but I loved playing Wilma Flintstone in The Flintstones. It was such a big budget movie at the time, and it was just so absurd going to work every day for six months with the Flintstone house and the Flintstone frying pan and the giant wig. I got to act with Elizabeth Taylor, so it was more like just going to play every day, nothing serious about it at all. We'd all be standing outside the sound stage as the Universal [tourist] tram went by, fully dressed in our Flintstones outfits — and that's just silly stupid fun, you know?

I loved doing Big [1988], because it was Tom Hanks and Penny Marshall — an iconic film that held up. Weeds [Showtime, 2005-2009] was great for me because I'd never played anybody like [Celia Hodes] before, evil and wicked and smart, but her own worst enemy and deeply troubled. I was allowed to just be as outrageous as I wanted to be.

How did you keep your career moving forward for more than 35 years?

I just take great work when it comes, regardless of how big or small it is. On This Is Us, I play Mandy Moore's mother. They asked me, “How would you feel about doing maybe one, two, three episodes a year?” I'm like, “That's good.” Sharp Objects [HBO, 2018] wasn't a large role, but it was just a great opportunity to work with Patricia Clarkson and Amy Adams.


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Is aging difficult in your line of work, especially as a woman?

I'm aging. You'll see someone post on social media something like, “Oh my God, she got old!” It's not like she did something wrong. We're supposed to; that's kind of the way the world works. I take care of myself, but it's not something I'm obsessive about because aging is just a fact of life.

What is something you do to take care of yourself?

Water. Vast amounts. I think as we become older we become naturally dehydrated, and your kidneys don't work as well, your liver doesn't work as well. Just keep piling on the water.

What advice kept you going in your career?

My acting teacher once said something to me that I always carried with me: “Remember when you're out there auditioning, nobody cares.'’ Because actors tend to take themselves really seriously, and the world revolves around them. It's not like people are walking around going, “What's Elizabeth Perkins doing today?” It was the best advice anyone gave me. I've always carried that attitude: I'm just lucky to be on board. It's really all just bulls--- anyway, this whole fame thing.

What did you learn from this pandemic?

My husband and I are like, “Wow, we just lost a year.” When you get older, the years are so precious. We've got to do that bucket list, see our friends more, spend more time with our family. I lost my stepfather and stepsister to COVID, and my mother-in-law from a stroke, and I hadn't seen her in four or five months. It sort of teaches you to appreciate the here and now, cause you don't realize what you have till it's gone. You realize you have to stop with all the work and throw a big Thanksgiving dinner. Hug everyone. The priorities have definitely shifted. I miss my kids like crazy.

Are you hoping to be a grandma?

Yeah. But I'd never want to put my kids under that kind of pressure, like, “When I am getting grandchildren?” I can't wait. Just give me the baby, go on a trip with your wife and I'll stay here with the baby. It's so great to be able to have a baby and be able to give it back.

Post-pandemic, what's on that bucket list?

I want to go to Scotland — the Highlands — and Northern Ireland.

 

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