(Editor’s note: This interview contains minor spoilers for “High Desert.”)that’s not an exaggeration bernadette peters is a living legend. Although she’s probably best known for her work in theater, she’s been nominated for seven Tony Awards (and won two) for shows like go to the park with george on sunday, song and dance, annie pick up your gunand Gypsy. SHe also had a successful career on screen.Peters has been nominated for four Emmy Awards for Allie McBeal and Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist And won the Golden Globe Award for the film pennies from the sky.
There’s a good chance you’ve met Bernadette Peters before, but probably not. high desert is a new dark comedy starring Patricia Arquette Plays Peggy Newman, a former drug addict who tries to change her life by becoming a private eye. The show actually called on Peters to do double duty, playing both Peggy’s late mother, Rosalynn, and her haughty alter ego, Ginger, who Peggy asked to play her mother in a theatrical production to help her recover.
I spoke with Peters about the show’s portrayal of grief, working in the wild setting of Pioneer Town, acting alongside the two Arquettes, and the next step in her career.
COLLIDER: You said in an interview that you always have to find a way to connect with your characters, even if they initially feel a little distant from you. How did you discover your connection with Rosalyn?
Bernadette Peters: Well, you know, I met Patricia Arquette and fell in love with her. So it was easy to play her mother, be her support system, her soul mate and love her. She’s such a great actress, all you have to do is look her in the eyes – look into those beautiful blue eyes – and be with her. She’s right here in the moment, and it’s great to be able to work with another actor. This is a great gift.
You can definitely feel that chemistry. She’s not the only Arquette you work with on this show. You also work with her daughter, Harlow, which is a really fun scene. Can you talk about that experience?
Peters: That’s great. Harlow plays her young mother, an excellent up-and-coming actress. It feels great. You know, she auditioned for the part—she wasn’t just given the role. She was auditioning for the part, she got it, and she was another great Arquette, and another great actress. It was exciting to be able to be with her.
You play an actor in a play. I’m curious as to what it’s like to play an actor role as an actor because I’ve always found it meta.
Peters: So much fun. I had a great time. I’m very happy about that because she’s a very self-centered person. She was a TV actress in the ’70s — Ginger Fox, that’s her name, and she was literally a daytime actress. She once had a line cut from a movie, and she was sure it was because the actress felt intimidated by her. So Peggy convinces her that her career isn’t over because she’s her mother’s double. She made her come to Pioneer Town, where she gave her a script, and—unbeknownst to Ginger—she was playing her mother. She gave her a script to act on. Peggy tries to express her grief in the script she co-wrote with the actress who looks like her mother but has absolutely no personality of her mother. These are very interesting scenes.
Speaking of Pioneer Town, I’m curious what it’s like to perform in that setting. It looks like a lot of fun and a lot of wacky stuff going on. Can you talk about shooting in that environment?
Peters: Yes. First off, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Pioneer Town.
Neither do I!
Peters: But obviously there is. It’s funny that we wear these pioneer clothes and corsets and hats, but we’re not pioneer women. We’re actually modern women, just wearing these costumes, because she asked me to go out there and try to work with her — the script she wrote. You find the whole thing kind of weird. Now, the people who work there, a lot of the time they’re in character unless you have personal scenes. It’s a weird juxtaposition of them moving around, and it’s fun.
Rosalyn had a unique parenting style, and I think we really see through flashbacks how that shaped Peggy. I’m curious if you’ve thought about Roslyn’s own parents, and how her childhood shaped her, to provide a backstory for her.
Peters: I know some of Rosalyn’s husband’s stories and what’s in them. I get all the info from the writers, you know. I think Peggy and Rosalyn bonded when the father left the family. Peggy, at that moment, I wanted to start taking care of Roslyn, which is why she was closer to Peggy than anyone else. Peggy lives with her. Peggy lives with Roslyn. So the other kids have found their way in life and they’re all okay, which is why — when Rosalyn dies — Peggy is a mess and trying to get back on her feet.
I feel like their energy and Peggy mourning her mother is the heart and heart of the show. One of my favorite lines, and one that I think will stick with me for a long time, is when Peggy asks where her mother went after she died, and she says, “It’s like trying to tell the unborn What a baby life is like.” What a beautiful line.
Can you talk about how the show explores ideas of grief and mourning?
Peters: That’s the beauty of the show, because it’s irreverent, and she’s dealing with her drug addiction, and she’s becoming a private eye, which is kind of crazy. But she’s a con artist, which kind of fits her character, because the private eye has to pull off some deception. However, when her mother dies, that’s the heart of the show — dealing with loss and grief. It kept flashing on her and flashing on her again. I think, at that moment, she drops LSD, and then her mother looks like a ghost to her. she is there. She said, “Where have you been? How are you doing there?” I said, “I really can’t explain” but the best part was her mother was still there with her. Her mother remains her support system. Trying to tell an unborn baby what life is like – it’s really a lot. (laugh)
So, besides the craziness and irreverence, there’s a lot of beauty in this show, and at the heart of the show is the immense love and loss she has. You know, it’s also about trying to overcome obstacles — even if those obstacles are your own. Peggy puts them there herself, but moving on, she’s like, “I’m a private eye now.” Anyway, even with a left shift, at least you’re moving. At least you’re moving. I think it gives hope to people in this crazy world, to move forward.
You’ve had such an incredible career and played so many different roles in so many different styles. I’m curious if there’s anything you haven’t done that you really want to explore.
Peters: Every time I plan—I want to do this, I want to do that—it never works out. It seems like the universe just brought me what I should do next time, I’m lucky and I love what I do. Rarely have I been unsatisfied. So I choose carefully because of this. I want to do it, and I love doing it. I’m going to London next, I’m doing a Sondheim show in the West End. I’ve never run on the West End. So I just see what the universe brings me next.it brings me high desert.
high desert Available on Apple TV+.