A version of this story about Christina Pickles first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
‘When you’re old you have to be funny,” said Christina Pickles, who at the age of 83 has landed her seventh Emmy nomination, and her first in 23 years, for Season 2 of the comedic web series “Break a Hip.” “I figured that out quite a long time ago.”
The British-born, U.S.-based actress wasn’t always known for being funny: Her first five Emmy nominations came in the 1980s for the seminal hospital show “St. Elsewhere,” in which her performance as nurse Helen Rosenthal kept sending her to the ceremony “with my little speech that I never got to give.”
She landed a sixth nomination in 1995 for her recurring guest spot on an iconic show from a different era, “Friends,” where she played the mother to Courteney Cox and David Schwimmer’s characters. (She didn’t win then, either.)
And now she’s back, playing a demanding has-been star in the web series from writer-director Cameron Watson, who spent time as a young actor working for an older British actress.
“We were having lunch one day, and I said, ‘We should do a web series,'” Pickles said. “And Cameron said, ‘Good idea, and I know what it should be.’ He had a movie script he had written based it on his experience as a young man, working with this bitch with a heart of gold.”
The web-series form, she said, is one that appeals to her. “It’s creative, and people have a lot to say,” she said. “It felt like the old days when you started, and you were part of the creative experience as a young actor. Nowadays everybody starts controlling it, so this was an extraordinary experience.”
She also found that the character was one she could relate to. “I grew up in England, and people there are pretty difficult,” she said. “They never say what they mean, and when they do it comes out harsh.
“But the character was also a lot like my mother: always saying the wrong thing and trying to push people around. And I think the meaner, the more desperate she is, the better. There’s a human being underneath there, but I have to not play it so much.”
The show’s second season will get “meaner and tougher and more desperate,” she promised. “It’s exciting to make something that relates to people now,” she added. “She lives in an apartment in Hollywood with a Murphy bed — she has no friends and she’s lonely and sad and feisty. And there are a lot of people like that, who feel loneliness and despair but cover it up.
“The show is based on human values, and I love that we can say all that and still be funny.”
As for her return to the Emmys decades after she was first there, Pickles said she had a simple goal: “To try and have a good time, which of course is impossible. Try to enjoy it and be in the moment, and it is nice to see your friends there — if you’re dressed properly and can relax.”
She smiled. “I think toward the end of my run as an Emmy nominee, I started to dress better. At the beginning I was overdressed and uncomfortable.”
Watch a video interview with Christina Pickles above. To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.