From co-creators Idris Elba and Gary Reich, the eight-episode, half-hour Netflix comedy series Turn Up Charlie follows struggling DJ and eternal bachelor Charlie (Elba), who realizes that he needs to do something for cash while he’s waiting to get his dream career back on track. When he decides to reluctantly become the manny for the precocious problem-child daughter (Frankie Hervey) of his famous movie star best friend (JJ Feild) and his wife (Piper Perabo), a hugely successful DJ with a career that Charlie would love to have, he gets way more than he ever could have ever bargained for.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Piper Perabo talked about how this TV series was pitched to her, the appeal of playing a successful DJ, developing the natural dynamic between their characters, working with such a talented young actress playing her daughter, and why she’d love to revisit this character for more episodes. She also talked about her upcoming projects, making Coyote Ugly nearly 20 years ago, and that she’d like to produce.
PIPER PERABO: I had heard that Idris [Elba] was going to do another TV series, and I’m a huge fan of his. When I asked what it was about, I didn’t know that he is also a DJ in real life. They told me that it’s a passion of his, and one of his big passions, and that the part was this career-driven, international DJ, who’s trying to balance having a family with a really full-on creative career. I feel like that’s something that a lot of women can relate to. This is the aspirational version, where you’re married to a movie star and you live in a beautiful house in London. Being a DJ, maybe not everyone has experienced that, but I think a lot of women can relate to that really full plate of wanting to do a great job with your job, and also with your family. How do you balance that, and give your integrity to both? I thought it was really relevant and really fun to do, and I’ve never gotten to play a super cool DJ before. I thought that was rad. The first time I got up to DJ in front of a crowd, I was really nervous. It’s scary. If you screw up, the whole party gets mad, and everyone is staring at you. Don’t screw up, no matter what.
When you try to explain this show to people, and you tell that that it’s Idris Elba, it’s a comedy, and that he’s a manny while he’s trying to get his DJ career back off the ground, people look at you a little strangely. Did you have any curious thoughts about how this would all work?
PERABO: Yeah. I did a movie with [Robert] De Niro two years before he did the first Meet the Parents. I feel like I really understand wanting to try new things because you can get boxed into something. Everyone saw Idris as Stringer Bell in The Wire, and when you love an actor playing a certain kind of part, you feel like they only want you to do that, forever, for the rest of the time, and you never get to do anything else great again. I remember when De Niro did Meet the Parents, I was like, “Wait, a comedy?! De Niro is gonna do a movie with Ben Stiller?! Really?! What’s that gonna be like?” Idris has kids himself, and he’s also tried to balance that life of a really full-time career with kids and family. It’s a drama with comedy in it, as opposed to a straight comedy, and that’s the kind of thing that a serious actor has a shot at because you can see the ridiculousness in the situations in your life. It’s about the tone and the show, itself. And we shot this show in the UK, and I think that I’m the only American in it. At the end of the day, when you get home from work, and you’ve had your supper and put the dishes in the dishwasher, and then you’ve watched the news, Netflix has a lot of Peaky Blinders and Ozark, and really heavy, one-hour drama. What’s really cool is to have something on Netflix that’s a half-hour, and it’s a drama, but it’s lighter. At this moment, in America, we could use a little light-hearted family moment. I think that’s needed, at times like this.
When I talked to Idris Elba about this show, he talked about how you really helped him with the comedy aspect of it because it’s something that he felt you were more experienced with and naturally really good at. Was that dynamic between you guys immediate?
PERABO: Yeah, I think so. I didn’t know how to DJ, and he does, so I was like, “Can I come to your studio and learn how to DJ?” He said, “Okay.” He got a female DJ to come teach me how to spin, and I would also spend hours in his music studio. He and I got to know each other, through that process. I would also go see him spin at shows and sit backstage with him. He and I would sit together and watch other DJs work. We got to hang out before we really started making it. With comedy, a lot of it is about being comfortable with someone, and being comfortable enough that you can be confident to go for it, in the moment. He has that confidence, obviously. He’s sparkling with confidence. So, spending time with someone really helps in getting the comedy tight.
Frankie Hervey is incredible, as your daughter Gabby. It seems like there are so many ways that could have gone wrong because so much is expected of her, on so many levels. What was she like to work with, and what was your relationship like, during the shoot?
PERABO: I was concerned about who the kid would be. Going back to Idris, he was really cool and patient with her, and not in a patronizing way or talking down to her. He really set the tone that we were going to all include her in our process. She was learning, and we all treated her like an equal, making sure that she also felt confident. He had a knack with her, which I think you can feel in the scenes. I’ve done movies with kids before, like the Cheaper by the Dozen movies. Some kids have an innate ability, when the camera rolls, to take a deep breath and not worry about it, and Frankie has that ability. She’s also so smart. You can see her watching rehearsal and learning, beyond just the rehearsal, with that given scene. She’s watching a hundred different things to soak them in. Even after the first couple weeks of filming, you could see her taking big leaps and strides, for how to work on a set. It was actually really cool to watch. And I think her accent is amazing.
PERABO: It’s amazing!
The end of the season is left a bit open, and we’re not really sure what’s to come for these characters. Is this a series and a character that you’d like to revisit? Have you had any conversations about doing any more episodes?
PERABO: It is a character that I would like to revisit because, first of all, I learned to DJ and now I think it’s so fun. I didn’t really know what the behind-the-scenes of that world was like, so I would like to explore that more. It’s such an international world that I think it creates a real open door for the show to go to a lot of cool places. I really like everybody on the show. A lot of times on a TV show, there’s more than one bad apple, but on this show Guz Khan who plays Idris’ friend, and Jade [Anouka], who plays my sound engineer, and Angela [Griffin], who plays my manager, and JJ [Feild], who plays my husband, are all really fun people. When we went to Ibiza, Spain, to shoot these huge club scenes, it was so fun. When you get a chance to play a character that you like, with people that are genuinely fun, and you go to amazing places, it’s a dream, so I would love to do it again. I was so glad, the way they wrote the ending, because I was like, “Now we can do it again.”
Since Idris Elba really is a DJ, now that you’ve learned how to DJ, have you tried to get him to let you do a show with him?
PERABO: He’s gonna DJ at Coachella soon, so I’m like, “I wonder if this is my in to Coachella?” But I want him to think I’m cool, so I’m not sure if I can be like, “Can you hook me up at Coachella?” I’ll just have to get a pass for the festival somewhere.
Do you know what’s up next for you?
PERABO: I have two movies coming out. One is called Spontaneous, which is an art house teen romance. Then, I have a big action movie, called Angel has Fallen, which is the third in the Olympus has Fallen series with [Gerard] Butler and Morgan Freeman. It’s been a fun year of getting to play a lot of different kinds of people, and just doing what I love.
PERABO: I think I’ve always looked for that, ,but what’s cool about television, right now, is that there are so many different platforms to make content. In the old days, I’m not sure we would’ve gotten to make a show like Turn Up Charlie. It’s a half-hour character study of a family, set in another country. There are so many places to tell new kinds of stories now that it’s really fun.
The first time that I remember seeing you was in Coyote Ugly, which wasn’t your first acting job, but it’s one that many people love. Next year marks 20 years since that movie came out, which seems insane. Are you surprised at the staying power that film seems to have had?
PERABO: I am. I was in a meeting [recently] and one of the producers was like, “I saw you in Coyote Ugly.” That’s like saying, “I knew you in high school.” I was so young, when we made that movie. I don’t know. It’s funny, what stays with people. I have that with actors that I love, when a performance of theirs just sticks with you, for whatever reason. Maybe it was what age you were, or that you liked the music, or whatever. For whatever reason, that movie sticks with people. I think it’s cool.