Without the acerbic, biting, spot-on commentary of Joan, Demi Moore’s toe-curlingly disapproving truth-teller of a best friend, 1986’s About Last Night would have been yet another forgettable hookup drama featuring the usual cookie-cutter sidekicks. But Elizabeth Perkins’ one-woman Greek chorus brought the crumbling relationship between Moore’s Debbie and Rob Lowe’s Danny into stark and comic relief. “You know, I bet your sex life is a real thrill. Two nights a week you’re on top. Two nights a week he’s on top. So what is it you do on sandwich night?” she quipped.
Thirty-five years later, the role hasn’t lost its luster.
“I would love to play Joan now. What is Joan doing? I don’t think she’d still be a teacher at all. Definitely not a kindergarten teacher. And if she is a teacher, she would be teaching at Smith,” says Perkins. “I don’t think she would have had the patience to stick with kindergartners. Oh, I loved her. And I love the fact that Ed Zwick, our director, just let me do whatever I wanted with it. It was never about me maybe having to tone it down a little bit.”
Perkins is back, headlining another comedy, this one funnier than any network sitcom has any right to be. It’s called The Moodys, airing Thursdays on Fox, and stars Denis Leary and Perkins as a cranky married couple who reunite with their three adult children in Chicago for the holidays. Think Christmas Vacation, but with gallows humor, middle-aged sex, and a son under house arrest.
Perkins talks to Fatherly about playing a sexual being, her instant connection with Denis Leary, and the big, huge lesson she learned from About Last Night.
Look at you, all glammed up! I’m jealous. I don’t think I’ve seen a hairdryer in person in going on 13 months.
I’m here with my gorgeous flowers that my husband bought me. I’m in LA. I have a lot of makeup on because I just did Watch What Happens Live. And they all wear a lot of makeup. It’s what you gotta do. I’m a huge fan of the Housewives. And I’m all caught up on New Jersey. I actually got a little preview of tonight’s episode before we filmed today. So it was really exciting because now I’m ahead of the curve.
Before we talk about your new show, let’s go back to About Last Night. I remember watching that and identifying so closely with Joan because I’d never seen such an unapologetically honest and unfiltered character in a major film before. And she didn’t even want the hot guy.
I don’t think Joan would have wanted Rob Lowe. I think she would have been really disgusted by him, actually. She was, frankly. It was my first film. I look back and it’s such a freeing time because I didn’t know anything — I had never been in front of a camera. I’d never done a TV commercial. I’d never even auditioned for a movie. It was very surprising when I got the part. And then I just sort of pretended like, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to do this.’ And I knew nothing. And I just kind of waded my way through.
There was so much attention going on with Rob and Demi when we were shooting. So that was just sort of like a real lesson in, ‘Oh, I don’t want that kind of thing.’ I don’t want that level of fame. That’s scary stuff.
That certainly hasn’t hurt your career. You and Denis have such an easy rapport on the show. I assume you knew each other?
We didn’t! In the middle of a pandemic, I got to go do a comedy with Denis Leary in Canada. When we got there, the city was shut down and they even had an 8 pm curfew. Both of us were like, how did we never meet each other before this? Because he and I grew up about 40 miles away from each other, he in central Massachusetts, and me in Western Massachusetts. I literally think our high schools played football against each other. We both have this sarcastic sense of humor. We love playing off each other, even when the camera’s not rolling.
Your on-screen relationship stands out because it doesn’t seem forced.
It comes from Denis and I both being in long-term marriages. I think Denis has been married for 35 years. We’ve been married for 27. You know what that feels like, and even though you fight, it has nothing to do with the status of the relationship. All couples fight and most people just bicker about the stupidest thing, but it actually becomes a form of comedy in our house. Every time I go into cook, he’s going to come into the kitchen without fail.
In reality, all families yell and all families get into disagreements and it doesn’t steal from the love. I would say without fail, at least one holiday out of the year, something goes wrong. Somebody brings up that thing they weren’t supposed to bring up that they brought up last year and the year before and the year before.
And you and Denis play a couple that’s still hot for each other.
Right, right. Denis and I are both playing our ages. Denis is not an older man pretending to be younger and I’m not a younger woman pretending to be older. I love that we’re portrayed as being sexually active. Like that’s something that as a woman, at my age, it tends to drop off in our culture. They don’t sort of acknowledging that women my age are still sexually active. I love the fact that we’re depicted as people that are still hot for each other, because that’s also a reality and it’s something we don’t see very often. We don’t necessarily want to talk about that, but that’s a reality.
It’s really nice to play somebody where that’s recognized and acknowledged because that’s my experience and that’s my experience with all my friends. After 40, they seem to stop writing women as sexual beings.