Perry Mattfeld on ‘In the Dark’ & the Challenges of Bringing Her Complex Character to Life

     April 4, 2019

In The CW series In the Dark, 20-something Murphy (Perry Mattfeld) is a hard-living, hard-drinking blind woman who turns her back on maintaining her responsibilities and figuring out any life goals, in favor of her disaffected attitude and penchant for casual sex. Even though her parents (Derek WebsterKathleen York), who own a guide dog school, are trying to help give her direction, her room and best friend Jess (Brooke Markham) tries to be supportive, and her trusty guide dog Pretzel is 100% loyal, Murphy just wants someone to believe her when she stumbles upon the lifeless body of the teenager (Thamela Mpumlwana) who saved her from a violent mugging and becomes determined to find the truth, no matter the risk.  

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Perry Mattfeld talked about the appeal of this very complicated and at times unlikeable character, the biggest challenges with playing Murphy, keeping the blindness as authentic as possible, having a canine co-star, the relationships in Murphy’s life, the murder mystery element, and how she hopes viewers will feel about Murphy, by the end of the season. 

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Image via The CW

Collider:  How did you come to be a part of this show? 

PERRY MATTFELD:  I had heard buzz about it, during pilot season last year, that it was special and different. And so, when I finally got the script, I usually can gauge my interest or connection to a project by how well or how quickly I’m able to read it. If I struggle with my first read-through, and I have to keep going back to try to understand who’s who, then that’s not usually a good sign for me, upon my first read. But when I read In the Dark for the first time, not only did I fly through it, I laughed out loud, I got teary-eyed, I had warm fuzzies, and I felt every range of emotion. I just thought it was so different and unique, and I appreciated the really sarcastic, witty humor. The role of Murphy is an actor’s dream. It’s emotional and mental, and then there’s the physical aspect, as well. I was dying to just get to try it.  

At the same time, it seems like all of that would be nerve-wracking. What were you most nervous about, when it came to playing this character? 

MATTFELD:  Right away, not only did I realize how much I didn’t know, but I also knew that I had a responsibility, playing a character with blindness. That was challenging enough, but what I found most challenging was just how difficult Murphy is. At times, she can be unlikeable. She’s bold, and she’s harsh. And I needed to make sure that the audience has an intimate relationship with her, that not all of the other characters get to see. Who she really is and the genuineness in her soul, which is the reason that so many people love her, the audience needs to be able to see that, and they need to be able to root for her, love her, and grow with her. While it’s so enjoyable to watch her fail, we had to find that fine line of people wanting her to figure it out and learning to love her. That was something I had to fine tune. 

As the person who knows this character better than anyone, except for maybe the writers, do you personally root for her to get herself together and have her life be less of a mess, or is it just too fun to keep playing her this way? 

MATTFELD:  It’s funny because, as we continued to shoot the series, I felt like I got to know Murphy so well that, before even reading the script, if someone was telling me about a scene that they heard was gonna be in the next episode, I knew exactly how she would react and what classic thing she would say. She makes jokes, all the time, to overcompensate and push away. It’s an avoidance mechanism until it’s just not funny anymore. It’s a lot to carry for one person, but I enjoy all of the layers of her. That’s what’s so special about this character. She’s a never-ending, layered character of so many things that we get to discover, not only in this season, but going forward to Season 2. 

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Image via The CW

What have you grown to appreciate about Murphy, the longer that you’ve played the character? Are there things that you’ve grown to appreciate because you understand her more now?  

MATTFELD:  What I think people are gonna love so much about the show is how refreshing it is to see these characters exposed, in this way. It’s such a raw, vulnerable show. For me, as Perry, I was stripped of make-up, and there are no wigs, or anything like that. None of us are really made up. It’s just a character-driven show about these people in their raw form, and their relationships. And so, for me as Perry to be embodying Murphy, and being so bold while physically so vulnerable was freeing. I grew a lot, being encouraged to be that bold while having a face free of make-up and grease in my hair. It’s just real, and I really appreciated that. So many people are gonna appreciate seeing a woman like that, at the forefront.  

Because you’re playing a character who’s blind, I would imagine that it’s a big priority to get that as accurate as possible. What did you do, and what do you continue to do, to ensure that aspect of her is as realistic as it can be? 

MATTFELD:  Because of the plot and the subject, they took advantage of the opportunity to surround the show with as much authenticity as possible. It’s a drama, but we have authenticity, behind-the-scenes, that is directly represented on camera. The show is loosely based on and inspired by our blind consultant, Lorri Bernson, so I spent a lot of time with her, in her house. It became a research project for me. I spent a lot of time with her, just watching her get ready for bed, do her morning routine, and cook in her kitchen. I learned how she uses her iPhone on the audio settings. I learned how to use a guide dog, and worked with her guide dog. I learned how to use a cane. And then, on top of that, I get to work with my co-star, Calle [Walton]. Having her as a resource was wonderful, and Lorri was there, on set, to help us with blocking. The director would explain what he wanted for blocking, and then I’ve have Lorri move through the space and watch her, and try to mimic exactly how she moved. 

What’s it like to also have a canine co-star, and to develop that relationship with the dog? 

MATTFELD:  She’s definitely the lead. She’s the star. There are a couple reasons why having not only animals in general, but having Levi, who plays Pretzel, as a part of the show. First of all, having real guide dogs on set, and being around them, was educating for our entire crew. That was something that was so special, to not only see guides working with their owners, but having them on camera, being around them, and learning about that. And then, showing up to work with dogs and puppies everywhere, you just can’t get a better work environment. And Levi, in particular, is such a good actress. In the pilot, Murphy is a little bit rough with her, so when we would cut, I would pull Levi aside, sit her down and say, “You’re so talented, and you bring so much to this role. We appreciate you. You’ve done so much character work. We need you.” She gets so much love. Having an animal there just made for a happy work environment. 

And it seems that would also keep everybody really honest because you can’t really fake emotion with a dog. 

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Image via The CW

MATTFELD:  Really honest. The guide dogs everywhere was educating and an honor. It was cool to have a lot of guide dog users on a big set like that, for the first time. 

This show also has a bit of a mystery angle to it, with what goes on with Tyson (Thamela Mpumlwana), and Murphy’s connection to him. Having one of the most important people in your life end up murdered would suck, in any circumstance, but being blind and being the only witness to it would make it pretty impossible. How challenging will that be for Murphy, when really all she wants to do is just find out what happened to her friend? 

MATTFELD:  In no way is she a detective. We joke about the fact that she can barely remember to plug in her phone. Some of my favorite parts of the show are seeing those flashbacks with her and Tyson, and what a beautiful, innocent, playful relationship they had. Those are some of the times when you see Murphy at her most free. So, when this event happens to her, it really shakes her. It’s one of the reasons that she realizes, in order to be taken seriously, she needs to pick up her life a little bit. 

Will we get resolution to that and learn what happened, by the end of the season? 

MATTFELD:  Without saying, it’ll be interesting to see who’s on Murphy’s side, and who’s not, in terms of who believes that something actually happened to Tyson. It’s pretty interesting to see who stands by her, and who doesn’t. 

I love the dynamic between Murphy and Jess (Brooke Markham) because it’s such a fun relationship. What’s it like to get to explore that dynamic, with that actress? 

MATTFELD:  Not only is she an incredible actress and partner to me, throughout the show, but she is truly my best friend, in real life. When we both were going through the audition process, before shooting the pilot, for one of the tests that we had towards the end of the process, there was a room full of maybe ten of us that they had narrowed it down to. Separately, Brooke and I both stepped outside of that room because we wanted to get some quiet time, and we didn’t know each other, but we both had the same idea to go sit outside, in order to focus, and get away from that group. She and I looked at each other and recognized that we had felt the same way, being in that room with everybody, and it was weird that just the two of us, without even talking to each other, both sat outside in silence because we didn’t know each other. That was the first moment where we realized that we were in sync and on the same page. Brooke was actually cast before me, and when I found out that she got it, I was thrilled. 

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Image via The CW

There’s also such an interesting dynamic between Murphy and Max (Casey Deidrick) because Murphy seems repulsed by people who actually like her. 

MATTFELD:  Yep. 

What is it about him that makes him different, and makes her want to try things that she isn’t normally willing to try? 

MATTFELD:  That was a really fun relationship, as well. I think part of why there’s this fire between them is because they’re both a challenge to each other. When he’s trying out his lines on her, Max says to Murphy, “Dang it, these have never not worked before.” He’s just like, “What’s going on with this girl?! She doesn’t need my help, and she doesn’t want my help.” There’s a challenge there. He’s persistent, and at the same time, he calls her out and gives it back to her. He says, “Maybe not everyone else is the problem. Maybe you’re the one that’s the problem.” They spar back and forth with each other, and while it has that challenging energy, it’s also a very fun, silly, and goofy relationship that they develop. It’s really fun to see where that goes.  

There are so many interesting relationships on this show, from her roommate to the guy she’s dating, to her mom, to the detective’s daughter, and that makes the show really different. 

MATTFELD:  That’s what I think is so strong about the show. We’ve said before that, at the root of it, it’s just a character-driven show about people, and there’s someone for everyone to relate to. On top of that, while you have this phenomenally written murder mystery going on, you get to understand why Murphy’s self-destruction affects all of these relationships around her. And anytime people hate her, there’s a beautiful, sweet, loyal dog. Pretzel represents everything that you hope Murphy grows towards. Pretzel is that loyalty, that help, and that consistency that she’s fighting and pushing away. That’s yet another relationship that grows, throughout the season. 

How do you hope viewers will feel about Murphy, by the end of the season? 

MATTFELD:  I hope that they learn to love her. I have fallen in love with Murphy. I think you get to learn and understand why she is the way she is, throughout the season. You get to understand why some of these relationships are so powerful and so deep. The relationship between her and her best friend, Jess, is one of my most favorite. There’s a beautiful love story, between friends, in that relationship. The writers are from so many different walks of life. We have 80% women in the writers’ room, and I saw that reflected in the relationships. One of the strongest relationships that you can have is between two girlfriends, in addition to the relationship between Jess and her girlfriend, so I love that we have that. I think people are gonna love that. I think people are gonna appreciate seeing a flawed anti-hero that’s celebrated. Our brilliant writer, Corrine [Kingsbury], has always said that she didn’t really relate to women that she watched on TV, growing up, so she wanted to break down that idea of what a perfect woman is, and just show a woman who is flawed and messy, and yet still is bold, confident and strong. That was definitely special for me to get to be in those shoes. I think people are gonna really love how celebrated Murphy is. 

In The Dark airs on Thursday nights on The CW. 

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