‘Mrs. Davis’ Star Betty Gilpin Was ‘Desperate’ to Be Part of the ‘Wacky’ Peacock Series

TheWrap magazine: Co-creator Damon Lindelof also unpacks the surprising origins of the wholly unique sci-fi show

Betty Gilpin and Jake McDorman in a still from "Mrs. Davis." (Greg Gayne/Peacock)

This story about “Mrs. Davis” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

The phrase “unlike anything else on TV” gets thrown around a lot. But in the case of “Mrs. Davis,” the words apply.

“Mrs. Davis” is unlike anything else on TV — currently or otherwise. It’s the story of Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), a strawberry jam-making nun who is attempting to bring down a malevolent artificial intelligence known as Mrs. Davis. And how will she force the end of this evil AI? By retrieving the Holy Grail, of course. (Yes, that Holy Grail.)

The fact that a show that lampoons the all-important algorithm is even airing on Peacock, a streaming platform, feels a little bit like, well, a miracle. The show had somewhat inauspicious beginnings. After Damon Lindelof finished work on “Watchmen” (which won 11 Emmys), he felt like maybe he could help “curate” someone else’s vision instead of starting from scratch. He had a stack of scripts, including one called “Mercy House” by “Big Bang Theory” writer Tara Hernandez. The script, according to Lindelof, was “about nuns in this weird post-apocalypse. They were taking care of kids who had dates stamped on the bottom of their feet. And when their dates arrived, the kids died. That should be very sad. But this script was actually kind of funny. And I was like, who the hell is Tara Hernandez?”

As Hernandez and Lindelof started working on the project, Hernandez offhandedly told Lindelof that she wished there was an app that could tell her what to do. “It was like, nuns over here; Siri telling us what to do over here. Is that a TV show? And the next thing we knew we were blowing up horses,” Lindelof said. That’s another thing that no other TV show has that “Mrs. Davis” does: exploding equine.

But who would play the nun crusading against artificial intelligence?

During the pandemic, Lindelof kept in touch with Gilpin, who starred in his controversial 2020 feature “The Hunt.” She would occasionally inquire about what he was noodling around with.

“I asked him what he was working on and told myself, like, I’m just a friend asking another friend what they’re working on. I’m not asking for me. But I totally was asking for me,” Gilpin said. When he told her it was a show called “Mrs. Davis,” Gilpin immediately thought, I need to play Mrs. Davis.

Instead, Gilpin remembered, he told her: “’There’s a wacky, badass nun character. Will you read the script?’ Like, I want to say ‘Yes,’ before I read the script, but I’ll pretend to be cool and aloof and read the script first.”

Gilpin admitted that she would have played a tree in the background if Lindelof and Hernandez had asked. She was shocked to find her character was front and center in the wild universe that was already so vivid in that first script. “It’s so entertaining and well written that you see it in your mind immediately,” Gilpin said. “And even though this show is a braid of 57 genres, I knew exactly what they were talking about and was desperate to be a part of the world that they were creating.”

“Mrs. Davis” does bop around. One week it’s singularly focused on a Hands on a Hard Body competition (with mystical medieval overtones), the next it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson-style family drama, and yet another week it’s a wacky, island-set science fiction show akin to Lindelof’s beloved “Lost.” Did we mention the band of “Fight Club”-quoting, cell phone-snapping Luddite alpha males? Or the stage magic?

If there’s one mystery left lingering after the first season, it’s whether “Mrs. Davis” will return for a second season. Adding to the confusion was Peacock’s decision to move the show from the Drama Series category to Limited Series for Emmy consideration. “We wanted to make sure that we made something that felt like it was complete,” Lindelof said. “That said, if the audience wants to spend more time with these characters, we just have to come up with an idea that’s worthy of making more.”

Gilpin is already on the case. “I bother both Damon and Tara constantly. I am pretty bad at pretending to be aloof,” she said. “I’m like, ‘When are we doing Season 2?’ I would do this job forever.”

Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.