Elizabeth Perkins Plays the Widow of the Year

“The perils of being a wealthy widow,” actress Elizabeth Perkins purrs as Constance Papadopoulos in the Season 2 premiere of Minx, reacting to an investment pitch. This sentiment could easily have come from Perkins’s other current wealthy widow role, Isabel Minnows, in Apple TV+’s murder mystery comedy, The Afterparty.

Not that the two roles are carbon copies of each other, and the scene-stealing turns in each series are far from seeing double. In both instances, Perkins taps into each character’s confidence and insecurities, adding to the growing list of memorable TV roles over the last years.

Whether playing a judgemental neighbor on Weeds or a poker-faced streaming executive talking in buzzwords on Barry, the three-time Emmy nominee is one of the industry’s most reliable character actors. She captures a sincerity in women like Constance and Isabel, so that they are richly drawn beyond their wealth. Without this committed approach, these characters could easily read as caricatures. And regardless of the genre—as The Afterparty effortlessly highlights—Perkins is equally adept at delivering caustic lines, raw vulnerability, and pearls of wisdom.

Timing-wise, the scheduling of these two roles to be airing at the same time is a coincidence, as The Afterparty was originally slated for April, and Minx had to find a new home after HBO Max (before it was just Max) unceremoniously put it out to pasture mere days from completing filming of its second season. Starz leaped to the rescue, and now we’re seeing double Perkins—a summer TV win.

Tickled by the taboo

Constance and Isabel each face unique challenges in the world around them. In Minx, the former shipping titan has reentered the business world, thanks to a titillating offer from Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson) at Bottom Dollar Publications. Minx magazine and its founder Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond) are part of this package deal, a match made in heaven early in the season.

“I have always been tickled by the taboo,” Constance cheekily admits when saying yes to financing a publisher that specializes in pornographic titles. Freedom of sexual expression is baked into her introduction when she hires temporarily out-of-work Minx art director Richie (Oscar Montoya) to take a series of photographs with a naked (and well-endowed) life model, so it isn’t surprising that this opportunity entices her. She is equally at home on the red carpet at the Deep Throat screening as she is singing Doug’s praises for pulling her out of “premature retirement and hosting this historic event.”

At a time of great liberation for women, Constance has always been ahead of the curve. As the six-month time jump in this season’s third episode reveals, her involvement in Bottom Dollar has been incredibly lucrative. But she is also not a hands-off benefactor, which could prove divisive to the team down the road. Constance is no stranger to business battles, as she was forced out of the thriving shipping company she built while her husband was sick and had to dodge assassination attempts. Perkins nails the born-survivor attributes, and her role as an independent woman was cemented long before Joyce brought Minx into the world.

Meanwhile, the veteran actress takes on a different wealthy widow archetype in The Afterparty, playing the quintessential WASP mother-in-law who instantly dislikes the woman her son wants to marry. Isabel’s stately home and its beautiful grounds are hosting a wedding she doesn’t want to go ahead with, and she is unafraid to voice her passive-aggressive opinions. Purposely getting Grace’s (Poppy Liu) name wrong—including on the napkins—is one repeat thread, no matter who is recounting the events leading to the groom Edgar’s (Zach Woods) early demise. Each episode of The Afterparty takes on the tone of a different entertainment genre. Whether it is a rom-com, regency drama, hard-boiled noir, Wes Anderson movie, or heist, Isabel is a cold, aloof presence; the light of suspicion shines directly on her.

It doesn’t help that her initial reaction to Edgar’s death is muted—other than accusing Grace of doing the deed—and her behavior before and after the apparent crime is also bizarre. The brilliance of The Afterparty is taking a Rashomon approach to the whodunnit with the “mind movie” setup, and Isabel’s antagonistic baseline is easy to adapt to the different narratives. Disdain oozes from every pore, and her penchant for booze is a crutch. This is far from a happy home, and adopted daughter Hannah (Anna Konkle) notes “having a frigid mother and absent father” (even before his death) brought her closer to Edgar. She tells Hannah to “get over it” after observing her daughter’s sadness, showing the extent of her maternal concern.

A picture of Olivia Lovibond and Elizabeth Winstead in 'Minx'

Minx – Season 2 2023

Olivia Lovibond and Elizabeth Winstead in ‘Minx’

John Johnson/Starz

While we haven’t seen Isabel’s recollections of the events on the series yet (or know what the genre will be), her cutting comments, steely looks, and odd antics are attention-grabbing. After Isabel delivers an unhinged wedding toast, Zoë (Zoë Chao) asks, “I don’t know whether she’s lost her marbles or if she’s just being vindictive.” For what it is worth, Isabel follows up with, “No, don’t clap. I don’t need your pity,” so it seems like there is a level of self-awareness.

Perkins walks a thin line between insanity and cruelty, whether jumping on the trampoline before the wedding as if she is in a trance to staying in the house when guests arrive the day before. “She wanted to be here, but she was busy with silence and alcohol,” Edgar explains about his mother, who waves from the window. Perkins has strong hard-boiled dame energy to her, but also nails snooty regency mother, the parent in a rom-com who softens over time, and a distant Wes Anderson parent who struggles to communicate with her oddball children.

“Vigor and perspicacity”

The heist entry of The Afterparty taps into her sexuality, overlapping with how Minx doesn’t shy away from dialing up a middle-aged woman’s horniness. Perkins turn as a resident flirty town gossip (and lush) in 2018’s HBO masterpiece Sharp Objects is the connecting tissue between the two comedy characters. The adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel recently turned five (yeah, I can’t believe it either), and a recent rewatch revealed it still packs the same devastating punch. From the first moment we meet the slurring Jackie, she can’t get through the day without consuming her weight in booze. This role goes from playful drunk to haunted despair (and guilt) for the things she knows and says nothing about. Even though Perkins doesn’t get the lion’s share of screen time, she makes her minutes count.

A picture of John Cho, Anna Konkle, Zoë Chao, Poppy Liu, Ken Jeong and Elizabeth Perkins in 'The Afterparty'

John Cho, Anna Konkle, Zoë Chao, Poppy Liu, Ken Jeong and Elizabeth Perkins in ‘The Afterparty’

Colleen Hayes/Apple TV+

Small-town secrets eat the Sharp Objects characters alive in the present, whereas Minx shows a version of a free-thinking cosmopolitan in the ’70s. Here, Perkins takes on a commanding role as Joyce’s hero Constance. “Miss Prigger, if you’re going to be a boss, you really should know how to do the job of all the people working for you,” is her first piece of advice, and one we see her put into action in the third episode. Going from person to person in the Bottom Dollar office to grasp who does what is her way of exerting control.

“Do it with vigor and perspicacity” is another pearl of wisdom she delivers (and one I want to get stitched on a cushion). It is easy to be dazzled by Constance. Every inch of her highlights her affluent status, from her perfectly coiffed voluminous curls to the bold fabrics draped over her body. Perkins exudes power without the fragility lurking beneath the surface in The Afterparty.

Constance revels in boosting a platform that promotes female sexuality, but her rigidity regarding queer sexuality is troubling. It would be easy to make this character a paper cutout of a feminist trailblazer; thankfully, Minx creator Ellen Rapoport is more thoughtful than that, and Perkins is the kind of performer who can capture all shades of this character who fits the problematic queen archetype.

And while she could be mistaken for maternal in this mentorship role, her drive to succeed is fueled by success. She is on hand with a compliment when she has to take away some of Doug’s magazine titles (aka his toys), but don’t mistake her kind words for anything more than using her business common sense.

One of Constance’s skills is making everyone feel like she cares about what they are saying, contrasting her WASP matriarch roles that put characters on edge—including Mandy Moore’s This Is Us mom and covering the spectrum of scary and warm as Bash’s (Chris Lowell) mother Birdie Howard on GLOW, who freezes her son’s assets when she finds out he has spent it on the wrestling venture. An emotionally distant rich woman is hardly a new kind of TV character, but Perkins never makes this archetype feel like a repeat performance. Each of her characters have a personality and layers beyond the expected detached exterior—no matter how long she is on screen.

Over the last two decades, Perkins has predominantly taken small screen roles, and in a 2019 interview with The Guardian, she noted that TV had more range of parts for women of her age. She has carved a space in this arena, and this follow-up observation is still accurate four years later: “But I also think that people hire me based on what they know I’ll bring—I can read something and say: ‘I can make this into something interesting.’”

The actress backs up this observation with her compelling turns on both The Afterparty and Minx. There are no perils to being a wealthy widow when Elizabeth Perkins is playing the part.

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