Piper Perabo never appears shy in front of the camera, and the energy and enthusiasm this actress has can’t be prepared for.
The 33-year-old is best known for her role in the 2000 film "Coyote Ugly." Since then she has played several blockbuster characters including Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt’s eldest daughter in "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," Diane Keaton’s sexy, cheeky daughter in "Because I Said So" and Hugh Jackman’s love interest in "The Prestige." Recently, Blast got a chance to sit down with Perabo to talk about the path that led her to acting.
Strangely the actress (or perhaps I should say actor — "I’m not a believer in going like, â€˜I’m an actress,’" Perabo said. "I don’t like to gender specify my profession.") didn’t watch many movies or TV shows until recently. Instead she went to ballets and museums or out for walks.
"I spent so much time acting that I justâ€¦" Perabo trailed off with a shrug. However, recently she has made a promise to herself to start watching more films.
Perabo always knew she wanted to be an actress. She was directing plays in her family’s living room with kids from the neighborhood when she was only seven years old.
Perabo went to her first audition while she was still attending Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. A former classmate living in New York City had an audition, and Perabo tagged along out of curiosity. The casting director spotted Perabo and informed her they’d be ready for her in 10 minutes. Flustered, Perabo informed the director she was only there to observe the process; but at the director’s insistence, Perabo scurried into the nearest stairwell and prepared for her first film audition. She didn’t get the part.
But the opportunity was not a waste. When the casting director learned Perabo was not represented by anyone, she made some calls and one manager agreed to meet with Perabo.
"I dressed so inappropriately," Perabo said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at her foolish younger self. "I don’t know, I guess I was trying to look cool. Now I know that’s not at important as trying to look professional."
Despite her outfit, Perabo went back to Ohio University for senior year with a manager.
Perabo still has some really good friends from college. Some of her best times were doing dumb, silly things with them, including a memorable night during which a guy friend peed out a window and got his "thing" stuck in the window.
Always creative, Perabo once hosted a party called "Bring a Bottle, Not a Date." Perabo giggled at the memory. "Oh, man! It was awesome."
One of Perabo’s favorite and most useful classes at OU was Outdoor Survival. "I don’t know what possessed me to take it," Perabo said. "I was a senior and needed a credit, and I was like, â€˜Huh, that could be exciting.’"
The class involved researching plants, purification of water and learning other survival techniques. For the final, students were left alone outside for 24 hours with only what they could fit in a Band-Aid box.
"It was fucking awesome!" Perabo exclaimed. She said experiences like that have been invaluable to her career. Outdoor Survival taught her to pay attention to details and look at things from a different perspective. Perabo compared the experience to method acting, saying it taught her how to approach characters.
During her senior year, Perabo went on every audition she could get. "I’d borrow money from one friend; get another friend to drive me to Columbus, where I would then take a bus to New York. Seventeen. Hours. One-way," Perabo enunciated, sounding thoroughly exhausted just remembering the journey. The first audition Perabo did on these trips was for "That â€˜70s Show."
In 1998, Perabo graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre. Then it was off to New York where she got a job as a cocktail waitress and couch surfed. She got her first movie only a month after moving to New York.
"It was really lucky," Perabo said. "I happened to be in the right place, right time. It doesn’t usually happen like that." It took Perabo eight auditions to get the part. "They kept bringing me back, going â€˜Don’t you have any experience? Couldn’t we just see a Skittles commercial or something?’"
Perabo describes the moviemaking process with charming frankness. She lives in a hotel, gets up before the sun and is shuttled to the filming location in a van.
"You go into hair and makeup after you eat your breakfast, standing in the cold with a bunch of truck drivers," Perabo said, chipping away at the glamorous image of Hollywood. "That’s all who’s there — makeup, actors, truck drivers. There’s no champagne and gorgeous guys; it’s just like, â€˜Hey! Hang out with those truck drivers and have your sandwich — in the dark.’"
Hair and makeup takes about two hours, Perabo said. So every morning she’s stuck sitting in front of a mirror, looking at herself while people buzz around and poke at her. "It’s interesting to have your ego so ravaged that early in the morning," Perabo joked.
Then it’s rehearsal, more makeup and finally filming starts. After the 16-hour workday ends, Perabo is driven home. So how does Perabo cope with the stress of these long days? Yoga, which can be a source for meditation techniques. Perabo takes her trusty yoga mat with her on every job. She works out when she wakes up, before she goes to sleep and sometimes in between. She also tries to get eight hours of sleep every night.
"When I’m working, I don’t go out," Perabo said. "I’m really not all that fun."
Perabo may not think she’s fun, but she sure is having some. Filming "The Prestige" with Hugh Jackman, she had an opportunity 90 percent of women in America would kill for.
The day they met, during the first scene they filmed, Perabo and Jackman were in bed together. Perabo explained that Jackman came from filming another scene where he put his head underwater.
"So his hair was all wet, and he’s got these suspenders on, and he’s like, â€˜I don’t think I’m gonna have my shirt on in this scene.’" Perabo shrugged nonchalantly imitating Jackman. "I was like, â€˜Okay.’ So he takes his shirt off." Perabo paused and raised a suggestive brow.
"Because he’s doing reshoots for Wolverine he has the Wolverine body, and his suspenders are hanging down, and we’re trying to figure out what side of the bed we’re going to be on, and I’m like, â€˜Are you gonna leave your suspenders on?’" Perabo smiled, already laughing at some joke. "He’s like, â€˜Yeah. Yeah. Then you’ll have something, you know, to hold on to.’" Perabo’s mouth dropped open and eyes went wide. "I was like, â€˜Oh my god! I can’t breathe!’" she screeched and jumped for a moment, then regained her composure and calmly said, "But of course all I said then was, â€˜Okay.’"
Perabo got to work with a hunk; so what about a diva? Perabo politely avoided the question, stating she’s not supposed to talk about that. Our suggestion — Ashton Kutcher? Perabo exploded into boisterous laughter. "Ashton Kutcher is kind of a diva," she chuckled. "You know I don’t even feel bad saying it because he was like a pain in my ass." Perabo and Kutcher played a couple in "Cheaper by the Dozen."
Perabo explained that before Kutcher started dating Demi Moore, Perabo was dating a guy who was about 40. Kutcher would tease her, asking, "What’s with your grandpa boyfriend?"
"And then he started dating Demi who was older than my boyfriend!" Perabo said, thrusting her hands in the air in exasperation. "Hypocrite!"
This spring Perabo fulfilled a childhood dream by starring in her first Broadway play, "Reasons to be Pretty."
"It was incredible. Incredible!" Perabo said. "I loved the play. It was raw and emotional and real fucked up."
The Lyceum Theatre, where Perabo performed, is the oldest continuously-running Broadway house. "Coming out of the stage door every night, walking through Times Square and seeing all the people on the subway felt like such a dream," Perabo said.
Perabo got more than a fulfilled dream on the Broadway stage. She also got her best Hollywood kiss from actor Steven Pasquale ("Rescue Me").
"I don’t know what was going on that night, but he kissed me, and literally I didn’t know the next line; I didn’t know what was going on, and I came off stage and was kinda like â€˜Wow,’" Perabo said.
After an exhilarating time on Broadway, Perabo has her hopes set on finding another job in theater, but for now she’s working in television.
Perabo is shooting a new television show called "Covert Affairs" from Producer Doug Liman, who produced the "Bourne" movies and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." In the new one hour USA drama, Perabo plays a CIA agent. When she got the job, Perabo was excited to learn about the CIA world. Perabo visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and spent a day with female officers.
"It was crazy." Perabo’s said excitedly. "There was this one lady who was my age, and she was wearing this killer red dress and has this blonde curly hair, and she was like, fit," Perabo said, filled with awe. "She’s like, â€˜I have three security detail that travel with me (in Iraq), and they all look native. I look like one of their trick girlfriends and the other two are security; and we look like we’re just there to party." Perabo laughed in disbelief. "It was so awesome!"
This lady in red isn’t the only one who can get Perabo worked up. She is by no means immune from the thrill of seeing a star. Perabo worked with Diane Keaton on "Because I Said So" and was invited to Keaton’s 60th birthday party.
"It was amazing," Perabo said. "I was like, â€˜Oh my god. I’m your friend, and I got you a birthday present.’" But what do you get an idol like Diane Keaton?
"Right! She’s so rich, and she’s so awesome and smart," Perabo said, sounding every bit like the admiring fan. Well, the girls who played Keaton’s daughters (Perabo, Lauren Graham and Mandy Moore) decided on a gift together. Perabo explained that Keaton always told them, "Just take it with a grain of salt and don’t be so nervous." Knowing Keaton loves to cook, the trio decided to get her a bunch of different kinds of salt.
"Jack Nicholson got her these beautiful French heels. And I’m like â€˜pishaw.’" Perabo waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever. We were just like here’s some salt. You’re awesome."
This delightful, hilarious actress is still living in New York and doing what she has always loved. Check her out in "Covert Affairs" on USA soon. No specific date has been given for the premiere episode yet, but the show is set to start off with a 90-minute pilot, followed by 11 one-hour episodes.