frazer harrison/getty images
frazer harrison/getty images
Perry Mattfeld had aspirations of becoming a ballet dancer from the age of 5 and studied for the following 9 years under the guidance of Debbie Allen, who cast her in various productions such as Ms. Allen’s World Premiere Musical and Alex in Wonderland. By the age of 12, she was a fully-fledged employee of Mattel when she cast as Kirsten Larson and Kit Kittredge as part of Mattel’s American Girl Dolls musical theater troupe.
With some acting experience under her belt, she went on to appear in Disney’s The Wizards of Waverly Place (2009), Secret Diary of an American Cheerleader (2012), Escape from Polygamy (2013), Conan (2016), and Stitches (2017), before landing her first big break in a recurring role in Shameless (2017 to 2018).
In 2019, she made the leap to lead actress in the dramedy In The Dark. In it, Perry plays Murphy, an anti-social blind woman who grapples with alcoholism while undertaking a job she despises at a school for training guide dogs, run by her parents (Kathleen York and Derek Webster). Everything changes when her friend is murdered, and she plays amateur sleuth in finding out the killer.
Let’s talk about Murphy. Not only are you in the starring role but you’re playing a blind woman. Did you have any reservations about taking on such a huge challenge?
Well, it came at a really good time for me. I had just gone through a breakup that had really rocked me pretty bad, and just like many actors, I had four jobs: babysitting, dog walking, modeling, and my stint on Shameless had come to an end. Did you ever see Homecoming with Julia Roberts?
So, I was up for that. I’d gone all the way to the producer session. I was the creative pick but I didn’t get the role, which was very disappointing because I’d spent so much time already imagining myself with that cast and working on that show. However, they did invite me to be the female reader at the table read, and I felt so attached to that project at the time that I wanted to do it. So, I had to read the role that I didn’t get, which sucked, but at the lunch break at that table read I was told that I had gotten a test for In The Dark. So it was kind of interesting how it happened.
A blessing in disguise?
Well, it’s hard to trust that the reason a role isn’t yours is because another one is. When I read a pilot, I usually can gauge how interested I am in a project by how quickly I can read the script. If I have to go back over and over again it means I didn’t connect with it. With In The Dark, not only did I fly through it, I got emotional. I belly laughed out loud, and of course, knowing Ben Stiller and Michael Showalter were attached was obviously awesome for me. It made me trust that there was good taste in this.
What sort of research did you do in playing blind authentically?
Luckily the show is inspired by a real person named Laurie. The President of the CW, Mark Pedowitz, who has been so kind to me and is so endearing, had gone to a retreat with some of his co-workers and met this woman, who was sarcastic and funny and bold and so full of life and dialogue. And I think it was one of the first times he’d met someone with a disability or framed by a disability that was anything but a disability. So Laurie not only became our blind consultant for the show but one of our staff writers. We have a multitude of staff writers from the blind community on the show as well. So I spent a long time with her before the pilot. I videotaped everything. I watched her get ready for bed, make up her bed, make food in the kitchen, she explained to me the way her whole closet is organized. I watched her watch TV, I learned how she uses her phone with the audio settings, I watched her do her makeup, I really just obsessed over the physicality. I followed her while she used her guide dog. Murphy is so much more than physical but I wanted to at least try to understand the physical so that when we got on set and tried to tackle the emotional, I felt a little prepared. And she was on set, too, which helped.
What are the pressures of playing a real person, let alone having that person on set with you? Can you talk about how much help that is and on the other side, what sort of a hindrance does that present?
Well, she has taught me so much about this world. She’s become this second Mom to me, she calls me the daughter that she never had. It’s important for me as an actor to make sure I honor the blind community, and I realize what a responsibility I have there, but also make choices that are authentic to Murphy.
Working so closely with a dog, I hope for your sake that you’re a dog person?
I am such a dog person that I lifted up the lips of the dog that I worked with and I kissed his teeth. (laughter) I am so obsessed with dogs (laughs).
Has Murphy rubbed off on you in a way?
Yes. I was terrified in the beginning about playing the character, and just watching the first few episodes of Season Two, I think my hair is so greasy, like, “Oh my God, they just let me go on TV like that! It’s so greasy!” (laughs) I think being stripped of hair and makeup that I am used to doing to go on camera, but yet being given the voice of someone who is brave and unapologetic and vocal, was very empowering for me.
Let’s talk about you a little bit. What’s your background? How did you get into acting? Do you have anyone in your family who’s in the business? I know you started ballet very young.
I did start ballet very young. I grew up in Long Beach, California. My Mom is Hispanic, my Dad is just a big, tall white dude.(laughs) And there’s a grandma, or some great uncle or great aunt or someone who was an opera singer, but I don’t have any immediate family in the industry. So that was never something that was really encouraged. I was in ballet for a while, then I did community theater and my Mom had me take piano and singing lessons, just because I was performing on the more creative spectrum. I was 12 years old when a girlfriend’s mother asked my mom if she wanted to take me for an audition for the American Girl tour. And my Mom was like, “Well, Perry has never really done anything like that, but sure.” I ended up booking it as Kit and Kirsten for 3 years, a tour of the American Girl revue about these dolls coming to life. And I did 169 shows and that was my first professional job, as an employee of Mattel, at 12. (laughs)
Is it safe to assume that your aspirations lie more towards comedy?
I mean, I am 5' 11", my femurs are already extremely disproportionate, and I am gangly looking, so walking down the street is fun for me, because of how long I am. So I love comedy,.I find drama a little bit harder for me, but that’s part of why I think I have loved In The Dark so much because it’s pushed me in both areas.