Age & Hometown: 29; Los Angeles, CA
Current Role: A Broadway debut juggling three intentionally ambiguous roles in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of The Other Place, a haunting drama about a woman suddenly affected by a mysterious illness.
Mother Always Knows Best: The only child of Steppenwolf Theatre Company members and TV stars Jeff Perry and Laurie Metcalf, Zoe Perry initially avoided following her celebrated parents into acting. “I definitely steered away from it growing up,” she recalls. “I loved going to the theater! My parents brought me to see a lot, and I was awe-inspired by it, but it intimidated me.” Perry and Metcalf divorced when Zoe was two years old, but all three moved to Los Angeles two years later when Metcalf was cast as Jackie Harris in the hit sitcom Roseanne. Zoe appeared on a few episodes as her mom's younger self, in flashback. “The biggest pleasure of that was I got to skip school,” she recalls with a laugh. “And on a Halloween episode, I got to eat a bunch of candy.” Other than those guest spots, Metcalf was adamant about not allowing her daughter to act professionally until she was old enough to decide for herself. “Even when we did Pot Mom together in Chicago when I was 15, it was a family affair,” she says. “We had friends and family in it, and at that point, I had no real ambition to pursue this.”
No Business Like Show Business: Perry turned to acting as a way to make friends when she entered Northwestern University. “I transferred [from Boston University] and I didn’t know anyone. I had no community,” she remembers. “I thought I might as well audition, and I was lucky enough to be cast in something. Once we were nearing graduation, my friends were like, ‘All right, let’s pursue this thing.’ I remember being like, ‘Wait, we can do that?’” Rather than use her parents' contacts in Chicago and L.A., Perry headed to New York, hoping to break in to theater, and landed small gigs on TV shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent. However, a case of homesickness soon led the young actress westward. “All my family was in L.A., so I went back home,” she says. “I started doing a lot more theater there, which was wonderful.” In 2010, Perry starred opposite Star Trek hunk Chris Pine in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. A year later, she flew to New York to see her mother play Juliana Smithton in MCC Theater’s off-Broadway debut of The Other Place.
A Comfortable Place: Like critics and audiences, Perry was “blown away” by Sharr White's drama and, of course, by Metcalf's star performance as a scientist experiencing a frightening loss of control. “It was one of those fleeting moments of theater where you’re so moved by something, and all of a sudden it’s gone,” she says. When MTC made plans to re-open the play at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Perry auditioned—with no input or influence from Metcalf. Now, she is sharing intensely emotional scenes with her real-life mother, a moving experience for them and the audience. “We’ve managed to not veer into any crazy family dysfunction,” she says of sharing the stage with her famous mom. “It’s wild in a way, because I think of this as the first time we’ve really gotten to work together, and it’s been so rewarding.” Perry, who’s staying in the East Village with her boyfriend, thinks she might stick around New York for a bit and continue to pursue theater. “I feel so lucky because the dream was always that I’d get to work here, and I’m doing it. It feels surreal but wonderful.”