Michael J. Lee interviews Emily Perkins
A modern-day, teen comedy incarnation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, She’s the Man stars Amanda Bynes as a girl who masquerades as her twin brother in order to get onto the boys’ soccer team after the girls’ program has been cut. The innocent deception quickly unleashes a tangled and comical web of relationships as each character seems to get struck down by crises of love and identity, one by one.
In this interview, Emily answers a few questions related to her character Eunice, the nerdy but lovable bookworm who humorously pops up on several occasions to deliver loads of unbridled (and sometimes unnerving) passion. Emily’s signature outlook and phrase-turning remind us why, after all this time, she remains one of our all-time favorite interviewees.
Michael J. Lee: Let’s kick this off with one of the movie’s recurring, burning questions: Do you like cheese?
Emily Perkins: According to my mom’s records, “cheese” was in fact my first discernable word. I’m not sure if it referred to the dairy product or to my precocious love of the camera, but either way, what a ham.
Michael J. Lee: If we were to search Eunice’s basement, would we find a 15-foot pit, a bottle of lotion, a sewing machine, and a suit made out of human skin?
Emily Perkins: A suit of Kentucky Fried Chicken skin maybe, for her lover to gnash and nibble from her own trembling, supine flesh. And more likely on the front lawn than in a needlessly-veiled-from-the-public-eye pit.
Michael J. Lee: Your Ginger Snaps: Unleashed co-star Tatiana Maslany had some problems with the braces she wore for her role. Having donned a whole mess of mouth-wire and headgear to play Eunice, do you now have any similar horror stories?
Emily Perkins: I kinda got in the habit while shooting of running my tongue across the front of the headgear mouth wire, I guess because it felt like such a foreign body–you know, like worrying a bandaid or scab or something–and I think I may have horrified a few crew or cast members who I may have been gazing at totally inadvertently at the time. No tongue injuries though, I was careful.
Michael J. Lee: Apparently, Eunice is quite the science whiz. In school, were you ever involved in a lab experiment that turned disastrous or disgusting?
Emily Perkins: I went to a rather posh all-girls private school in Vancouver, and for us, the science lab was sort of an arena for proving your grit and detachment from femininity, maybe since there were no boys around to perform such rituals on the proverbial playground, and science is strongly gendered. So anyhow, we liked to have contests to see how much of a chemical you could eat. They were all pretty safe due to strict regulations, except the lead. I remember, too, one time when we were dissecting sheep hearts, I attached the large vein to the tap, turned on the water, and squeezed the heart so that the water passed through the ventricles and jetted out an artery. Fashioned a kind of squirt gun. Got my best friend in the eye, too. She was mad, but that is my definition of Fun With Science.
Michael J. Lee: Growing up, did you participate in sports?
Emily Perkins: Hmmm…I was more into fine arts than sports, like the art of forging your mother’s signature on get-out-of-gym-class-free notes.
Michael J. Lee: Eunice plays the part of fortune teller at a local fair. What’s your favorite feature at a typical carnival or fair?
Emily Perkins: Rings of Fire that are mummified in duct tape and sound like nails on a chalkboard, run by a guy who looks like Christopher Walken with waist length hair. Those really get the adrenaline pumping. And mini-donuts. Yum.
Michael J. Lee: She’s the Man is based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. What is your favorite story from The Bard?
Emily Perkins: Hamlet is my favorite. I’d love to be in a version with a mostly female cast, and see how the gender difference would change the story. I’d want to play Horationa, and give a reading where the whole ghost thing is meant as a white lie told out of misguided kindness to a grief-stricken friend. I think all the lines were written with this interpretation in mind. Then Hamletta’s hesitation and inaction would not be constructed as weakness, but as logical and necessary caution, or perhaps as an internalized patriarchal response to intuition. I think it would be absolutely fascinating in so many ways.
Michael J. Lee: I remember reading that Lucille Ball said comedy isn’t pretty–sometimes you really have to lose your ego and be willing to look the fool. With Eunice, you’re playing a character that has to get laughs at both her actions and her appearance. Was it intimidating to undergo the physical transformation and sort of be the butt of the joke like that?
Emily Perkins: [laughs] If only my ego, which is most politely described as “Rubenesque,” were so easily humbled. I actually believe that the laughs a character like Eunice might get are of the highest and warmest order. I mean, most people can only identify so far with all those impossibly gorgeous types. When someone laughs at Eunice, they are recognizing their own nerdy, vulnerable, throbbing, teenage aspect, and that’s the magic of comedy–suddenly it’s okay to engage with and have fun with that part of yourself. Doesn’t mean you’re going to go home and whip out the glasses and the headgear, but for a few moments, even you are just a tiny bit more whole and comfortable with yourself.
Michael J. Lee: Who are some of your favorite comedy sidekicks in film and television?
Emily Perkins: I love Don Knotts and all comedy sidekicks who are a little dim and paranoid–who are always misinterpreting the situation just enough to make a real mess. Don is the predecessor of characters like George Costanza. You can’t help identifying with them [and] their belligerent insistence that they have the definitive version of the truth in the face of all evidence to the contrary. That said, I also love characters like Alice Kramden of The Honeymooners, the deadpan-sarcastic type who sees through everything, and is endlessly enduring because beneath the surface, her heart is as big as her brain.
Michael J. Lee: What’s the backstory behind that cupcake Eunice is inexplicably holding at the end of the movie? Store-bought or home-baked?
Emily Perkins: I shudder to think the cupcake is homemade by Eunice. God only knows what kind of love potions she may have injected. But she’s definitely been clutching it in her perspiring little paw for a good eight hours by the time the sun comes up.
Michael J. Lee: How do you feel about all the fan support and buzz surrounding your She’s the Man role that was happening before the film even came out?
Emily Perkins: It’s amazing, especially because this film is so unlike the Ginger Snaps horror films I am known for. The characters couldn’t be more different. To me, that means people value my work as an actress, versus being attracted to one particular character I have played. That is so rewarding, and a huge thanks to my supporters.
Michael J. Lee: Thanks again for all your time, Emily.
Emily Perkins: Thanks a lot, Michael.