Kathleen Rose Perkins on Playing a Grieving Single Mother to a Superpowered Teen

Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This may follow the story of a young woman who discovers that she has superpowers while also dealing with the ordinary challenges and pressures of being, well, a teenager, but the Jonathan Entwistle and Christy Hall created series is about far more than teen angst and crazy superpowers. It’s also, at its center, about grief and trauma as well as the impact of loss both individually and on families. In the series, that includes not just Sophia Lillis’ Sydney, but her mother, Maggie.

Played by Kathleen Rose Perkins, who has appeared in a wide array of film and television roles but may be best known for playing Carol Rance on Showtime’s Episodes, Maggie is a working class single mother trying to take care of her two children while also keeping her own life afloat in the face of the traumatic loss of her husband, who died by suicide prior to the events of I Am Not Okay With This. That loss is in many ways a central component of the series and ComicBook.com recently had a chance to chat with Perkins about how the show approaches grief and trauma, as well as how it impacts Maggie’s relationship with her daughter as well as how the show reflects some of the real-life concerns of families and loved ones dealing with loss.

Keep reading for our complete conversation with Perkins and be sure to let us know your thoughts on I Am Not Okay With This in the comments below.

ComicBook.com: One of the central emotional elements of I Am Not Okay With This is the death and suicide of Sydney’s father, Maggie’s husband, which is something you don’t often see as an emotional anchor in shows like this. One of the things we get to see is how Sydney processes this trauma, but we don’t get to see quite as much of it from Maggie’s perspective. How would you say Maggie is dealing with things?

Kathleen Rose Perkins: Oh, I think she’s bottling it up and in a bit of denial. She’s just not facing any of her grief, which I think is really interesting that they chose the parent to do that because it’s usually the parent who’s trying to engage with the child and be there for them in a time of loss. And they’re the mature one. They’re the one that’s better at it. But in this show, I really appreciated that they showed Maggie completely not wanting to engage and just head down doing her work. Probably addicted to work a bit. And then when she wasn’t at work, she would drink alcohol. So there was a lot of just basically distracting herself from dealing with the grief over the loss of her husband.

And also she’s probably got tremendous guilt. I mean people who are survivors of people who commit suicide, they go through a lot of different emotions and one of them is the guilt of being the survivor. So, and also what did I do? Did I drive him to it? All that stuff is really painful to deal with. So I think Maggie just isn’t dealing with it.

Absolutely. And I think it’s important that the show actually shows that side of things.

I think so too. And I think that they did…. Yeah, you’re right. It is mainly told from the standpoint of… It’s Sydney’s story definitely. And we’re all spokes and she’s the hub of the wheel and we’re all reacting to her and dealing with her. But I do think it touches upon everybody’s life and their experience, especially when you look at what Wyatt Oleff’s character family is going through at his home. And then also with how Aidan’s character the little brother, my son, is how he’s dealing with it too is… They touch upon it for everybody. But yeah, you’re right. It’s Sydney’s story ultimately.

Speaking of Sydney and it being her story, how do you think the grief and trauma of losing someone so close to them has actually directly impacted the one-on-one Maggie Sydney relationship?

Yeah. Well, so when I got the call to audition for it, one of the scenes in the audition was the scene in the very first episode where I come home late at night and she was sitting there watching TV and she tells me that she was called down to the principal’s office and she got a diary and she’s got… The counselor’s office, sorry. And that she starts to open up to Maggie and says just something really traumatic. She says “Sometimes I feel like the people I love don’t love me back.” And Maggie, which I think was my favorite line, and I know it’s a terrible thing to say to a young person but she says “Sometimes maybe you’re aiming too high, hun.” It’s just a brutal line.

And I think that encapsulates the majority of their relationship through the course of the first season that she basically just doesn’t want to engage with her daughter, but also she wants to instruct her daughter to lower her standards. Because I think that that is what Maggie is trying to follow that piece of advice herself. She’s trying to give that piece of advice to herself in a way saying, “You know what, if you just lower your standards, don’t expect too much and you can get through life relatively unscathed.” Again, that’s her trying to deal with the trauma and just not facing all the emotions that she’s feeling. So I find that quite interesting that again, she’s the adult who’s supposed to be helping out the child and the only way that she can help her out is to say, “I don’t know, just basically don’t expect too much and maybe you’ll get by okay.”

That’s just terrible advice. But a lot of adults do that, especially when they’re dealing with their own stuff. So I thought that was quite interesting and that’s the reason why I really wanted to play the part because it’s just something you hadn’t seen in an adult before and a young adult type of a show. You haven’t seen the adult not wanting to engage with the child.

kathleen rose perkins i am not okay with this 1
(Photo: David Muller)

Was there anything special or specific that you did in order to prepare as an actor for the role of Maggie considering all these pieces of grief, mental health, and trauma, and how they’re so central to that, since it is a unique take in a young adult-oriented show?

Yeah. Well, that’s a good question because I’m nothing like Maggie. I would rather talk about my feelings and I cry a lot and I like to… I just don’t, I’m not like Maggie at all. So it was a challenge to not emote until it was called for, essentially I get to be emotional, but it’s not until later on. And so I think the one thing that I do really have in common with Maggie is that I like to work. I like to busy myself with tasks and just doing stuff.

So I really just tried to tap into that every time I was in a scene, I tried to busy myself with work whether it be collecting the laundry or making coffee or wiping down the counter. I was always doing something and engaged in an action. Even if I was drinking wine, I was doing that before I was communicating or engaging with someone, specifically my daughter. So, I tried to try to tap into the aspect of task doing because that’s what I have in common with this character.

One of the things I really love about this series is how rooted it is in normal people. Specifically with Maggie, she’s a working class, single mom, really trying to do her best for her family, considering everything that they’re going through. And it’s something that’s really identifiable I think for a lot of viewers, even young people can see their own families reflected in that to an extent. How did you approach building the Maggie character as you present her on screen?

Well, I don’t have kids so I’m not exactly sure what it’s like. But I do have friends that have kids and some of them are entering the teenage years. And so I’ve often sat across from especially a mother, a good friend of ours, is a mother of teenagers. We drink wine together because that’s how she unwinds. And I just listened to her and what she had to say. And one of the most interesting things that she told me, which I’ll never ever forget, is that she said it’s a one-way street. All you do with these children is you give and give and give and they just take and take and take. And I think that I know that Maggie barks orders at Sydney, but she has to rely on her because she’s a single mother.

She doesn’t have… Her husband is gone. She’s the only one running the show and she’s got to be at work all the time. So she’s got to rely on her daughter to run the household in some aspects, and Sydney hates that because she just wants to be a kid and it’s really trying. I can’t imagine what that’s like. And the one thing that I learned from playing this part is I think it was smart that I didn’t have kids because I don’t think I have the patience to be able to handle what it takes to raise a child especially on your own. I can’t imagine what that’s like.

So yeah, what I’ve heard since the show has launched is that a lot of children, a lot of kids think Maggie is a bitch and a lot of parents who have seen it have said, “Oh, I wanted to say some of those things to my kids so many times.” They can totally understand where she’s coming from and they applaud her badass, non-helicopter parent, just do the work type of parenting that she does. They applaud that and wish that they could install it to their own parenting. So I find it interesting that it’s a bit of a polarizing character depending on what age you are.

Absolutely. And Maggie’s relationship with Sydney is one that we also see develop over the course of the season in a very frank and honest portrayal of what can sometimes be that challenging parent-child, mother and daughter relationship. Speaking of putting that together, what was your favorite part about that mother-daughter relationship in the series?

Oh gosh. Well, I mean, so I really loved the first scene where I tell her to lower her standards, to not aim so high. I really did love that. But I also loved that partnered with the moment at the very end in the last episode where I get to do up… We get in very close proximity, which we never do in the whole series, we never get anywhere near each other or touch each other for that reason. So when I’m really in close contact with her in front of the mirror doing up her prom dress and the buttons and telling her a really sweet story about her dad and me at the end of the series. Those two moments were my favorite moments to play together because it was a total arc.

You can see the arc of the relationship going from one point to a completely different a 180 almost back to, Oh, these people. I see what they could be. I see that there could be this really loving relationship between these two women who probably have more in common with each other than they’d like to admit. I think Sydney always thinks that she was like her dad and a daddy’s girl. But I think that Sydney and Maggie, maybe if the series continues, maybe they can recognize the similarities that they share and become more like teammates rather than adversaries, which that’s my favorite. That was my favorite thing to play is Oh, we get the moment where we’re completely separate and enemies to each other.

And I’m often in flashbacks, I’m part of her anger that promotes her superpower when it comes out, when she gets angry. And so they use a lot of flashbacks of me, especially on the couch drinking wine. So throughout the course of the season, you see that I’m a point of contention for her. But that very end scene in the last episode was so sweet to me and it’s definitely more in my wheel house. I’m more of a warm person. So that was really nice for me to be able to play both sides of this character.

And speaking of Sydney’s powers, which are largely a secret, say for just a couple of people, neither of those people being Maggie, how do you think Maggie would react to knowing about Sydney’s powers?

Yeah, that’s such a good question. I mean, I’d prefer her to think that it was cool, but knowing Maggie, I don’t know that she would. I believe that she would probably most likely be bothered by it. Like, “Oh no, now this. On top of everything else, you can move things with your mind. Oh, shit. Okay.” It’s just one more thing that she’d have to deal with.

I’ve got to ask, especially since this is a show with super powers, if you personally were to have a super power, what would your super power be?

Yeah, so I mean I think this is, I love this question and it’s a party question that I often bring out. So I’ve done a lot of thought on it. Obviously, you want to be able to fly, but take that off the table. My super power would be, I could blink and in that blink have immediate expertise and knowledge of a skill.

Okay. That’s a cool power.

Yeah. So it would be basically my power would be immediate expertise. So I could just immediately know how to do heart surgery and immediately know how to fly a plane and immediately I just have to close my eyes. It’s like The Matrix a little bit, but I wouldn’t have to get plugged into the internet.

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