Patricia Arquette Breaks Down Her Chilling Next 'Act' — Plus, 3 More of Her Must-See Roles

Jim Halterman
Q&A Brownie Harris / Hulu

Mommy dearest, indeed. The first season of true-crime anthology series The Act retells the tragic story of attention-seeking single mom Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette, nearly unrecognizable), who moved to Missouri with her teen daughter, Gypsy (Joey King), in 2005. The young girl had a laundry list of afflictions, including epilepsy, asthma and muscular dystrophy, that left her in a wheelchair.

Or so Dee Dee claimed. Unbeknownst to others, including new neighbors Mel (Chloë Sevigny) and Lacey (AnnaSophia Robb), Gypsy was in perfect health — it was Dee Dee who had a problem. She suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness that drives caregivers to actually make someone ill or force them to believe they’re ill.

Roush Review: 'The Act' Is Riveting, Twisted & As Sick As It Sounds

Roush Review: 'The Act' Is Riveting, Twisted & As Sick As It Sounds

Patricia Arquette stars as demented mommy ogre Dee Dee Blanchard in Hulu's new true-crime anthology.

That’s where the title comes from, according to executive producer Nick Antosca: “It’s the act that [the Blanchards] put on for the world.” Alas, their stunning charade ends in murder. (The 2017 HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, available on Hulu, recounts the story as well.)

Arquette, who won critical acclaim and a Golden Globe for her recent role as prison break accomplice Tilly Mitchell on Escape at Dannemora, tells all about Dee Dee and why she likes playing “unpleasant” people.

Between Showtime’s Dannemora and The Act, you’ve been getting some meaty roles.

Patricia Arquette: I feel blown away. Everyone had told me the general rule is when you become 50, as a woman, [Hollywood] basically throws you into the trash pile. That hasn’t been the case, because I’ve been getting these amazing parts. I’m very stubborn at this moment in my life about wanting to play really complicated and unpleasant people, or people who aren’t necessarily likable. Actresses are confined to this “likability” thing all the time. Because of that, you play more boring characters.

Dee Dee certainly isn’t boring.

She’s clingy and worried and over-mothering. This is a really weird love affair between a woman and her daughter.

Speaking of, Mel begins to think there’s something off with the Blanchards. What’s Dee Dee’s take? Dee Dee sees herself as a much better person and a much better mother than her neighbors are. I think she sees herself as a completely committed mom whose whole life is about her daughter and that these other women are questionable.

How did you and Joey re-create Dee Dee and Gypsy’s odd bond? They sleep in the same bed! Well, it’s weird. We have this natural chemistry with one another, that kind of connection, closeness. It was a beautiful experience working with her. We had really intense scenes, and as young as she is [King is 19 years old], she can definitely deliver all the time.

'The Act': Patricia Arquette & Joey King 'Get at All the Emotions' in Hulu's True-Crime Anthology

'The Act': Patricia Arquette & Joey King 'Get at All the Emotions' in Hulu's True-Crime Anthology

The true-crime anthology tells the story of an unhinged mother and daughter.

Dee Dee controlled her daughter her entire life, but do you see Gypsy purely as a victim? There’s a scene where Gypsy encourages her mom to steal a necklace.

They had this weird dance and part of it was mutual manipulation. There’d be moments where Gypsy would choose to do something really childlike because that would appease Dee Dee. There are so many levels of betrayal and manipulation throughout.

In the first episode, Dee Dee shaves Gypsy’s head to make her appear sick. Were you really shaving Joey’s head in that moment?

No, I was cleaning off shaving cream. But Joey was getting her head shaved all the time [for the part], which is a real commitment. I was like, “Oh, I feel horrible for this girl!”

You filmed the upcoming Netflix comedy Otherhood between Dannemora and The Act. Was it a nice change of pace?

Dee Dee and Tilly were heavy people, intense people. So it was a good palate cleanser!

The Act, Series Premiere, Wednesday, March 20, Hulu

Stream the best of Arquette

Boardwalk Empire

Getting nicked was always a possibility on HBO’s 2010–14 Prohibition-era crime drama, which was fine with Arquette. “I want a cool death,” the actress, who played tough speakeasy owner Sally in Seasons 4 and 5, said in 2013. “Sally seems like she would go down kicking!” Arquette got her wish—Sally was eventually taken down by gunfire. Seasons 1–5 available on Hulu with the HBO add-on

Escape at Dannemora

(Christopher Saunders/SHOWTIME)

Arquette gained weight and wore fake teeth and brown contact lenses to play prison worker Tilly Mitchell in Showtime’s 2018 limited series about a 2015 Upstate New York prison break. All seven episodes available on Hulu with the Showtime add-on

Medium

(Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)

After Season 1 aired, Arquette won a lead actress Emmy for playing crime-solving psychic Allison DuBois on the 2005–11 drama. “People are still discovering that show,” Arquette says of the series, which ran first on NBC and then CBS. So, does she see a Medium revival in her future? “Never say never!” Seasons 1–7 available on Hulu