Peri Gilpin brings the charm and hustle to Old Guy a new six-part series on YouTube from Five Sisters Productions. Gilpin was submitted for an Outstanding Actress Emmy in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for her work as force-of-nature talent agent Winnie. The Sisters’ father Roger Burton plays a fifties film and TV star who decides to reignite his career at 80. Winnie’s job is to find him hm jobs, but even she can’t vanquish the stereotypes much as she’d like to. The series is twenty minutes all told, perfect for the attention span challenged and those requiring good laughs. I spoke with Gilpin from her home in Los Angeles.
By Anne Brodie
This is a strong show, well-conceived with great characters, Harry, and Winnie. When did you realise it was for you?
Immediately! I had known two of the five sisters of Five Sisters Productions for a long time and I heard stories about their parents for years, always funny and charming stories. Their father Roger was head of the psychology department at University of Buffalo then he came to LA and pursued acting again in retirement. So, they told me about this whole thing, about him getting all these jobs, he was on fire. He played a cadaver! So, when I read it, I knew it was funny and I thought they nailed it.
Winnie’s forthcoming and very quick on her feet and blunt, she tells him to expect to play cadavers, senile, impotent, etc.
Winnie was brilliant, loving, and forthcoming in order to do her job. But she has a heart like Broadway Danny Rose. She loves her clients and she has to be honest with them, she’s not producing, and she can’t put them in things so she’s looking for jobs for him. If they want to work this is what happens. That’s how elderly people are used, but not always, we had the Golden Girls, and there was Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. But it’s not always like that especially when you’re breaking in at 80.
Winnie reminds me of Roz in so many ways.
Of course, with her forthrightness and it is me playing those parts, but I also felt it was like them. They wrote some great one-liners for Winnie. I loved doing one-liners so much on Frasier.
Winne wears these tight, fitted skirts and high heels so there’s all this physical comedy, because she’s so animated but kind of constrained.
That was spontaneous. I just brought everything from my closet, I can’t throw anything away, I can’t recycle anything, nothing can leave my presence, so I have a problem with that. So, you put it together the way you want to, she’s eclectic and always in a hurry, but I feel she’s herself. I’m sure some of it was directed. She sees herself as part of showbiz, maybe she’d been an actor at one point, and she likes to express herself in what she wears.
Another question about age. Elders are an important demographic but so rarely seen, the one you mentioned earlier, on mainstream TV. We all love old people. Why not more shows?
John Mahoney was old enough to be Frasier’s great character and that was a great role too. I think honestly that’s the demographic that spends the most money. Now with television, the way we watch TV is changing dramatically all the time. There’s Grace & Frankie and it’s popular, look who’s doing it! That show is amazing. I think it’s great to see representation for all generation. It enriches our lives. We forget that young people resist the idea of older people meddling in their lives but if there are no older people interested or meddling, they are lost. It’s a misconception in the industry. It’s about resistance. That could be the conflict it’s a great thing to explore. I really love Roger and Gabrielle. They come from a generation I admire so much. I love their ability to be content. Its inspiring.
I think TV commercials are increasingly elder-friendly these days.
My mother had along running commercial. It was a commercial for Depends, adult diapers. It was a funny commercial and cracked me up because it was about how when you’re older if someone hugs you, you might pee a bit. But with Depends you go to a wedding and you can hug everyone, and you wet your pants, diapers on or not. (helpless laughter)
The Five Sisters made the series in 2014 but didn’t release it until now. Why is that?
Part of it was because their mom Gabrielle got sick, immediately after the shoot with pancreatic cancer, so they were nursing their mom, then their dad died right after. There was a lot going on.
You’ve worked nonstop over the years and created a rich body of work. Has it been satisfying? I am really glad I chose this career. I knew at eight that I wanted to be an actress and all my friends from then knew that and they all say now I was so lucky I knew so young what I wanted, focused and went for it. I see that in my daughter who is sixteen. My mum was a schoolteacher until I was eight. Then she stopped teaching and started acting. So that’s when I decided I wanted to act. My mum said “But you’re too shy! You don’t even like people looking at you!”.