TDW Exclusive: Dawson’s Creek Star Mary Beth Peil on Playing Grams

10 11 2009

In honor of today’s release of Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series, I’ve rounded up some key cast and crew to reflect on the monumental series.  If you followed my coverage of the Paley Center panel, you probably noticed a certain lady was MIA: Mary Beth Peil, better known as the one and only Grams.

I was lucky enough to track her down.  In our interview below, Peil discusses her favorite parts of playing grandmother to Michelle William’s Jen and shares memories of her time at Northwestern University, where we each attended college.

Enjoy the first part of TDW’s stroll down memory creek…

TeenDramaWhore: You started out as an opera singer and then moved on to theater.  What attracted you to a serialized drama about teenagers?

Mary Beth Peil: My life as an opera singer had NOTHING to do with a teen drama other than the fact that, having left opera in my early 40s, I was working very hard to prove myself as a legitimate actress and musical theatre performer. When the audition came along I went with the attitude of  “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

TDW: Do you think you share any qualities with Grams?

Peil: Age-wise I am closer to Grams NOW than when we started. I always thought of Grams as in her late 60s, early 70s. When we started the show, I was 57. I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter as opposed to Grams with Jen’s mom. BUT I DO LEARN something new everyday it seems…from my kids and young granddaughters. Being able to work with young actors all the time is a wonderful way to keep learning … AND give advice when asked for it.

TDW: Why do you think Grams was the one to teach the greatest lessons and have the wisest sayings?  (My favorite is probably “Love is the hardest of woods.”)

Peil: Oh I love that line! When I was shooting FRINGE with Josh [Jackson, Pacey],  he brought out that line as one of his favorites. Grams was really the only GROWNUP. It seemed that everyone’s PARENTS were going through their own adolescence angst/identity crisis etc. and I think [creator Kevin Williamson] wisely tapped into the “PRIMAL Tribal Elder” syndrome which our society seems to fight or ignore.

TDW: Grams had a pretty progressive love life for her age. Which parts of that did you think were realistic and which not so much?

Peil: Again…I think society dictates that she was progressive for her age. But I think being surrounded by all those raging hormones and libidos had a subliminal affect on her. Made her see herself in the mirror a little differently each day and as time went on begin to realize there was something missing in her life. I think the only thing TRULY UNrealistic about it was the availability of single straight age-appropriate MEN!!!!

TDW: They touched on this a little bit at the Paley Center panel and I’m wondering what your take is.  Fans would’ve been devastated had Grams died during the show, just as they were when Mitch did.  Why do you think it was so important that she even outlived her own granddaughter?

Peil: Another life lesson for everyone…the only thing you can expect  is the UNexpected. Parents are supposed to go first  BUT it doesn’t always turn out that way. AND of course it gave Kevin the opportunity to write some of his best stuff for the last episode.

TDW: Your Grams voice isn’t actually your natural one.  What inspired the voice and what was it like having to do it so often?

Peil: It just CAME at the audition. Her name was GRAMS so I knew that she was older than me. The first time I said  “Jennifer!!!”…it all fell into place. They wanted a hint of Cape Cod  but not too much. It was like part of my costume…that voice…part of putting gray in my hair…that voice…GRAMS.

TDW: As you mentioned, earlier this year, you reunited with Joshua Jackson on the set of Fringe.  What was that like?  Are you in touch with any of the other cast or crew?

Peil: When I arrived for a fitting the day before I was to shoot, Josh came through the office where I was waiting and all the
staff was peeking out of cubbies and from behind desks to see what would happen when he saw me. He did not disappoint.
He is such an OPEN Unaffected person…he literally jumped up and down with joy like I was his favorite Christmas present. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. We had done a reading together a couple of years ago. And it was sheer delight to work with him on set and to see what a splendid actor and MAN he has become.  I shot a film in Wilmington (THE LIST) and reunited with many of the wonderful crew. The DAWSON’S crew was just HEAVEN! Salt of the earth types…happy to be living and working in coastal NC.
I saw Katie [Holmes, Joey] in ALL MY SONS on Broadway and was so proud of her. Have occasional emails, conversations with James [Van Der Beek, Dawson]. But Michelle is  my ANGEL! I have unconditional love and respect for her. For her choices in her personal life and her professional life

TDW: Finish this sentence: When I look back on Dawson’s Creek, I think ….

Peil: I’m a big believer in the Gods and Goddesses of TIMING and the CREEK came into my life at the PERFECT time. I am deeply grateful for all that I learned (about being on camera regularly) AND for my beautiful Upper West Side apartment which we call the “HOUSE THAT DAWSON BUILT.”

TDW: Will we see more of you on The Good Wife?

Peil: I think so…am shooting a wonderful episode right now. Hoping Jackie has more to do as we go along through the season.  It is a wonderful show…cast, crew, producers AND WRITERS !

TDW: Lastly: I’m a Northwestern graduate as well, and I’m wondering if you’ve been back to the campus since you went there and what reflections you have of your time there.

Peil: Yes, I have been back. Shortly after graduation I was appearing at the Opera house in Chicago so I came up to Evanston to visit. They were just starting the lakefront development. In the early 80s I was back again with Chicago Opera Theatre and 4 years later I was there with KING AND I and went up and was knocked out by the changes. And then recently I was doing a play at Steppenwolf and came up and literally did not recognize the place. I was a Music Major and it took some doing to even FIND that big old white elephant of a building. I had a wonderful rich time at NU…  a solid liberal arts education, the BEST preparation for a career in Opera AND one year of acting with the legendary Alvina Krauss. She let me take her class because she was an Opera fan..and I think she knew even back then that I was a singing ACTRESS as opposed to an acting SINGER. Even life in the Sorority house has given me life long friends.  How lovely that you too are an Alum….quite an impressive group of folks, eh???

Come back Sunday for another exclusive Dawson’s Creek interview!

TDW Interview Index

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Exclusive: Dawson’s Creek Actor and NU Professor David Downs

30 07 2009

The back-story: I never had David Downs as a professor while I attended Northwestern University, but the one time we shared a room together, I instantly recognized him.  We were at the 2006 Stage and Screen Writers Panel, where successful alumni come back to give advice to undergrads. We were both there to see Greg Berlanti, a writer and executive producer for Dawson’s Creek.  As I chatted with both of them, it became clear where I knew Professor Downs from–Dawson’s Creek episodes! (Just for fun: here are two photos from that day.)

Downs starred in five episodes as Mr. Kasdan, a teacher at Capeside High.  He also appeared in five episodes of Everwood, another show by Berlanti, and one of Scrubs (Downs taught both Berlanti and Zach Braff).  I recently interviewed him about his role on Dawson’s Creek, as well as his knowledge about the television and acting industries in general.  I hope you’ll agree that he provides a unique perspective.

TeenDramaWhore: What classes do you teach at Northwestern? What are the biggest lessons about the entertainment industry you want students to take away from them?

David Downs: I’m retired. I taught the three-year acting course at NU.  Truly, the entertainment industry never entered into the classwork. I was teaching acting.  For theatre.  We worked on great drama from the Greeks to the present.

TDW: You’ve been the professor for well-known Hollywood players such as Greg Berlanti and Zach Braff. You even got a special thanks in Garden State.  Are you able to easily identify students with bright futures like theirs?

Downs: Believe it or not, I never spent any energy trying to discern who might make a celebrity path in the entertainment industry.  I was always focused on acting, on learning what great drama and great theatre had to teach students–whether or not those students pursued performance in their post-class lives.

TDW: Dawson’s Creek fans will recognize you from the show as Mr. Kasdan, a teacher at Capeside High.  How did that work, considering Northwestern is in Chicago and DC filmed in Wilmington?  Did you audition for the role, or did it stem from a connection you had?

Downs: In the summer of 2001, Greg Berlanti invited me to stay with him in LA to write a play.  One evening he looked up from a script he was working on and he said, “Wanna be in Dawson’s Creek?”  The studio saw the episode and decided to include me in other episodes that season.  During the year, I flew to Wilmington from Evanston (Illinois) for a few days each time I had an episode.  It was a great experience.

TDW: In your role, you had a few memorable scenes with Joshua Jackson (Pacey) and Katie Holmes (Joey).  Do you recall what they were like?  Did you forsee their careers exploding (especially of late) the way they have?

Downs: Katie was the first of the regulars whom I met.  I went into the make-up and hair trailer and there she was.  She was lovely and gracious and unassuming and welcoming.  Joshua was a great jokester and yet was always professional when the camera was rolling.  I also loved scenes with Michelle Williams [Jen].  These were hard-working young people thrown quickly into celebrity.  I think filming in Wilmington helped to keep them sane and grounded.

TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the cast?

Downs: No.  but a recent alum, Meghan Markle, was just cast as a new regular for the upcoming season of Fringe.  I gave her a photo taken of me and Joshua in 2001.  It would be fun to visit with him and her sometime.

TDW: Teen dramas have come a long way since the Dawson’s Creek era.  Are you familiar with the newer shows like Gossip Girl and the 90210 remake?  Do you see changes in the genre?

Downs: Aha.  I haven’t seen any of GG or 90210.

TDW: Will we catch you on-screen again any time soon?

Downs: Hah!  I always get email from friends who catch me on a rerun of Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy.  I don’t audition but every once in a while I’ll get that call, Wanna be on my show? and I always say yes. So you never know.

YouTube Clips with David Downs: Self Reliance and  The Graduate.

Don’t forget–come back this Sunday for another exclusive interview!






My Autographed OTH Backpack!

11 03 2009

Every year my school, Northwestern University, holds a huge charity event called Dance Marathon.  Aside from dancing for 30 hours straight to raise awareness about a specific cause (this year it was for Project Kindle), there are other events such as a silent auction.

On Saturday I was stunned into bliss when I saw one particular item up for bid: an autographed One Tree Hill backpack, donated courtesy of one Hilarie Burton!

There was only one bid at that time–a measley $20–and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me from winning it!  Fifty bucks later, this piece of memorabilia was all mine!

No idea how they got Hilarie to donate it, or why all the main characters signed except Sophia Bush, but I couldn’t be happier!

Check it out for yourself…





News Roundup: 90210, The O.C., One Tree Hill and More

9 01 2009
  • Tori Spelling’s deal is officially complete.
  • Willa Holland (Kaitlin, The O.C.) is starring in a new film called Genova.
  • Stephen Colletti (Chase, One Tree Hill) is in Taylor Swift’s new video for her song White Horse.
  • Bryan Greenberg (Jake, One Tree Hill) and Chris Pratt (Che, The O.C.) are in Bride Wars, which opens today.
  • The director of Shrek The Musical also directed episodes of Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill (and graduated from my school, Northwestern University!).







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