Wendie Malick on Playing a Complex and Neurotic Character in Lifetime's "Deranged Granny"

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Cover image for  article: Wendie Malick on Playing a Complex and Neurotic Character in Lifetime's "Deranged Granny"

The effervescent Wendie Malick returns to television this weekend in the Lifetime premiere of Deranged Granny, possibly one the greatest titles in the network's history. Malick (pictured at top with Ventura) stars as Barbara, a mother desperate to reconnect with her estranged son Ethan (Josh Ventura), after he remarries and gains insta-grandkids.

After initially being kept at a distance, Barbara manages to infiltrate the new family, but when her devious nature begins to raise red flags, it's soon apparent she'll do anything to keep the kids in her life. For Malick, taking on the grandma role, given she usually plays against age, was a great way to show age isn't everything. "You know when you say 'grandmother' you immediately think of the little old lady with grey hair who bakes," she laughed when MediaVillage spoke to her exclusively.

"But there's an awful lot of my peers who are grandmothers, I'm not as I didn't have kids, but women my age who have and still bring it. They may have had kids at a pretty young age and now they've got grandchildren, but they're still vibrant and attractive women."

Malick tells me there was never talk of portraying the character as a stereotypical grandmother. "I guess it's not going to be a surprise that this woman is a little out of control," she laughed of the title. "But when they asked me to do this, they wanted me as me, so it never came up and they didn't want me aged in any way. It's not that iconic little old lady thing.

"Initially, it was called Grandma Dearest, which kind of let you know they were going down that Mommie Dearest road. It's been a long time since I've done a thriller/quasi horror movie and that intrigued me. I liked the director (Jennifer Liao) and I thought this could be a really interesting ride. We had a blast and I always like to find things a little outside of my wheelhouse, just to keep [it] interesting.

"I think with this character, she just loves too much," she continued. "I've known people who get completely obsessed with others, in that they move into a rather dark area of stalking, opposed to devotion. I feel my character was just so obsessed with these kids that nothing could stand in her way. She adores her son and loves those grandchildren, but just don't let anyone get in the way of her access to all of the above."

In playing a Deranged Granny, Malick admits she did look for the redeeming qualities of a person whose sense of reality goes awry. "People all have flaws," she explained. "What was interesting to me was finding out what happens if those flaws become the dominant feature of someone's life. I love playing complex and sometimes neurotic characters, as they've sort of been my M.O. for a long time and most of the characters I seem to play have some serious character flaws – it's what makes them interesting.

"I was never the ingenue," she added. "I just never looked like one. Maybe because I was always too tall, dark, and intimidating or something. It's always much more fun to play people who are complex because almost everyone you know is. We all have our baggage and our stuff, good points, and bad points. People are complicated and we can all relate to the more extreme."

In an industry often criticized for ageism, Malick has remained relevant. She effectively used her vast career experience while playing Victoria Chase in the TV Land comedy series Hot in Cleveland, (an aging soap star forced to come to terms with being relegated to play older roles) and feels fortunate to be where she is. "I don't know what I would do if I wasn't an actor," she shared. "I love it so much and it's kind of what I'm good at. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger, but I sucked at science, so this was the way to go. There have been dry spells in my career, and I think one of them was before I moved into that sort of middle-aged area, but it was tricky. I survived and when things got slow in television or film, I'd do a play, which I also love to do."

She offered great advice for career longevity admitting, "I've been really fortunate. I have a lot of friends who are amazingly talented but maybe didn't have the same opportunities I did. I make the most of every one of them and always tell people, 'Whenever you're on a set, bring it! Bring it every day no matter what you're doing and don't ever phone it in.' It's such a privilege to get to do the thing you love."

During the pandemic, Malick has managed to keep career momentum. She's done some Zoom plays, a movie filmed entirely on Zoom entitled Talking and Listening, as well as maintaining her animated voice-over commitments to the show The Owl House for Disney (albeit from her make-shift studio closet). She managed to adopt a new dog (Phoebe) and spend some time in her east coast hometown of Buffalo with family. "I love the northeast, I miss it," she said in closing. "Being there this last time, it was like an Indian summer and absolutely beautiful. I get back often, but I forgot how beautiful New York State is and it's just beginning to turn, so it's going to be a very showy fall."

Deranged Granny is telecast Saturday, September 12 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.

Photos courtesy of Lifetime.

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