Thinking back, Piper Perabo says her breakout roll in the 2000 hit film Coyote Ugly—iconic for both its ripped t-shirts and bar-top moves—showcased a type of drive that feels similar to her own experience.
“I worked in a bar when I first got to New York, so I know you gotta get your hustle on when you start out,” says Perabo on the phone from Nashville. She cites other women, like freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also started out as a bartender, and reflects that her 2000 character, Violet Sanford, was at the beginning of a big life. “When you’re young, and you have a dream, you have to work really hard, and they’re not always going to pay you at the beginning to do the thing you’re really passionate about. so it requires having multiple jobs to figure out how to support yourself while you go after your dreams.”
In real life, chasing those dreams landed Perabo credits for The Prestige, Because I Said So and Cheaper by the Dozen as well as starring roles in TV’s Covert Affairs, Notorious and Netflix’s latest series, Turn Up Charlie, alongside Idris Elba. In the new series, which starts streaming on March 15, Perabo plays Sara, a world-renowned DJ. Attempting to balance her jet-setting career with the desire to be there for her young daughter, Sara hires Charlie (Elba), a family friend and washed-up DJ trying to get back in the game, as a nanny. And of course, hijinks ensue.
“It’s a drama, but it has a lot of laughs and a lot of heart in it—and I think people could use that right now,” says Perabo.
The actor is referring to the horrendous news cycle we’re all trapped in. Hearing the infamous Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump was a glass-shattering moment for Perabo. “I felt like I must be so naïve, I must be living in a country that I don’t understand,” she said at the Annual Women Rule Summit in December. “All of a sudden, I felt alone and confused.”
In response, she joined forced with other activists and learned from them, attending marches and demonstrations all over the country. In September 2018, she was arrested and charged for disorderly conduct at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and once released, penned a powerful essay for CNN urging readers to take action.
“I was always drawn to playing strong women,” she says. And clearly, she’s demonstrating that strength IRL, too.
Catching up with Perabo by phone, we got all the deets on her new Netflix series, recent activism and what it would take for her to consider a Coyote Ugly reboot or sequel—and trust, you will want to read her answer.
The appeal of Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie? Idris Elba and a relatable storyline
There were two things: I’m a huge fan of Idris [Elba] so when I heard he was going to do television, I wanted to find out what was going on. And then, what I liked about their team is, although we’re not all famous DJs married to movie stars, a lot of women can relate to having a full-time career and also trying to balance kids and family with that. So, I thought, it’s a look at an aspect that a lot of women can relate to in Sara, but in sort of an aspirational, fun way.
Balancing work and family is tough, Piper Perabo gets it
I think most working women—probably most working men too, although that’s not my experience—[find that] the demands of a job sometimes get overwhelming and then you realize you missed an important moment with your family. It’s kind of painful and you’re disappointed in yourself that maybe you didn’t structure your priorities in the right way, because once you miss a moment like [when Sara misses her daughter’s first day of school because of work], that’s never going to come again.
When people get upset that you miss something, I really think it’s that they think that you don’t care as much about them. If you show them that you do care, they’ll be more understanding when you can’t make a certain date. What I sort of learned is, if you love your job and you love what you do, and you’re taking care of people, they will forgive you. Yeah, you’re never going to see that first day of school again—which is like, ugh—but the important thing is that you love your kid and you’re doing the best you can.
Some milestones you can see coming from a mile away, like graduation or a birthday or a holiday. You know they’re coming so you can try and plan for them. But it’s the unexpected ones that are so challenging because, especially with a job like mine, sometimes I’m on a different continent so it can be really hard to get away, although I try really hard.
I can sleep pretty well on a plane. I found, early in my career, when I would miss something with my family, I regretted it, so now I’ll do all I can—even if it means it’s an 18-hour flight there, I’m there for 6 hours and I turn around and fly all the way back to work. If I can figure it out, I’d rather do that—but it’s not always possible. So, that’s what I mean about trying to let the people in your life, whether it’s your family or your family of choice, know on regular days that you care about them, so that if you can’t make everything, they understand.
Piper Perabo’s real-life activism influences what roles she plays
I’ve always been drawn to strong, smart, driven female roles, but now that activism has become such a part of my life, between the Women’s March, Time’s Up, Me Too and these movements that are moving forward women’s rights and women’s equality, I think about it even more clearly because I’ve spent time around activists and these causes and I hear them articulate equality in a way that makes it clearer to me. So, when I’m reading a script, things stand out to me that are kind of left over from the old way of doing things.
For instance, I got a script and my husband was like, “How was it?” and I was like, “Well, it doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test.” [In that case], I don’t know how much farther we can go because if you haven’t even heard of that, if you don’t even know how to cross those boundaries, the chance that your story is going to get into the modern world in a way that I find reflective of a world I’d like to see, are pretty small.
Speaking of strong women, what would Piper Perabo’s Coyote Ugly character Violent Sanford be like today?
Because LeAnn Rimes is in that movie, I always sort of hope that Violet Sanford would become someone like her, you know what I mean? Like a really grounded, well-respected songwriter and musician who has a big, full life going on.
So, would Piper Perabo consider doing a Coyote Ugly remake or sequel?
Um, I’d have to read the script and see if it passes the Bechtel test, but I wouldn’t count it out.
What would a Coyote Ugly remake look like today?
I think, in that moment, in the 90s, there was this idea of “stiletto feminism” happening. I was 21 when I made that that film, so I don’t think I understood all the ramifications of that idea. Feminism has marched forward since then. What I like about Coyote Ugly is that it’s a woman-owned business, and there are women there who have dreams; you know, one woman wants to be a lawyer, one woman wants to be a musician. I think that’s what makes Coyote Ugly sort of universal, but I think we could rethink other parts of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.