Piper Perabo is best known for playing sweet songwriter Violet Sandford in hit film Coyote Ugly but 20 years on from its release she is almost unrecognisable in her new TV series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.
Set in the late 1930s in Los Angeles, the show follows a murder investigation while exploring Mexican-American folklore and racial and social tension of the era. It isn’t a spin-off of the original Penny Dreadful exactly, but a “spiritual descendant”.
Perabo’s character Linda Craft is the wife of Dr Peter Kraft (Rory Kinnear), who leads a German-American pro-Nazi group, and she is desperately unhappy with her restrictive suburban life.
“The cool thing about Linda is she’s really mean and a racist and full of self-loathing and a drunk, and I don’t usually get to play characters that are so diabolical and cut-throat, so I loved the opportunity to try,” Perabo told 9Entertainment.
Despite Linda’s dark nature, the down-to-earth 43-year-old had no trouble getting herself into Linda’s headspace because she understood why the character behaved that way.
“When I’m playing characters who have very little empathy for others it’s easy because their motives are so clear,” she said.
Much of the preparation for playing Linda came down to her look and physicality, Perabo said.
“I really wanted the physical constraints of all the undergarments to be correct. Women [in that period], their hair was very formal, the undergarments are really structured, even the nails are long, so you’re sort of constrained in all these different ways.
“Plus Linda’s constantly chain smoking and drunk, so it’s a lot of physical work to prepare for her, then once you’ve got that down you can sort of let it fly.”
While Penny Dreadful: City of Angels explores a fascinating period of Los Angeles’ history, it is still a Penny Dreadful series, which means there are plenty of supernatural elements. In this case, Magda (Natalie Dormer) is a demoness who shape-shifts into various characters as she attempts to unleash the evil within humans.
And that led to an entertaining ride not just for Perabo’s character but the actress herself.
“Linda in no way believes in any of that stuff and so when she will encounter it, it’s going to be pretty interesting to see,” she teased. “I like stories of the supernatural when they are encountered by people who don’t believe. I think that’s when your mind expands to a whole new paradigm, it’s fun to watch a character shift.”
Currently based in Los Angeles where she was working at the time the US shelter-in-place order came into effect because of the coronavirus pandemic, Perabo has been keeping herself busy watching TV and films. She’s also been enjoying one-off play readings featuring big name actors, which people can purchase tickets to and watch live on Zoom.
“I think it’s an interesting way to still have events that we all talk about and share even when we’re in this shelter in place mode.”
Another Zoom trend since coronavirus restrictions began is casts from popular shows and movies reuniting online. So far there have been catch ups with actors from The Goonies, Back to the Future, The Nanny, Chuck, The Office and Community.
Could we see the Coyote Ugly cast do a virtual reunion, given the film is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year?
“Believe it or not, I haven’t even thought of it,” Perabo said. “Those girls are usually up for anything so maybe I should give them a call and see if they want to do it. Yeah, that’d be fun.”
When Perabo reflects on making the movie, which became a box office sensation with a chart-topping soundtrack that’s beloved to this day, she is most grateful for the friends she made on set.
“I was kind of in over my head when I made it, I was so young and I’d only done two films before it so I sort of didn’t know what I was doing. But it’s really the people from the movie that I loved, Adam Garcia and I are still friends and in touch, and I kept in touch with a lot of people we made that movie with.”
And when you’re not watching Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, it might be time to give Coyote Ugly another viewing. The film has a hopeful message and features plenty of packed bar scenes for anyone longing for a taste of the nightlife right now.
“That story of a young person with a dream who takes a big leap is something we can all relate to,” Perabo explained. “So even if the songs we’re dancing to are 20 years old, people can relate to that dream, and especially now when we’re shelter in place and everybody misses going to the bars it’s the perfect movie.”
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels now streaming on Stan. New episodes weekly.
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