Zoe Perry and her mom Laurie Metcalf have played the same character in 'The Big Bang Theory' and 'Young Sheldon'
After meeting as theater students in Illinois, Metcalf and Perry wed in 1983. In September of that same year, they welcomed their first and only child together, daughter Zoe. Though Metcalf and Perry divorced in 1986, their passion for the arts influenced their daughter’s future career path in Hollywood.
Perry and Metcalf both got their start in the theater before pivoting to careers in television and film. Metcalf is best known for her long-standing role as Jackie Harris in Roseanne and its spinoff, The Conners, as well as for portraying Marion McPherson in Lady Bird. Meanwhile, Perry is recognized for his roles as Inspector Harvey Leek in Nash Bridges and Cyrus Beene in Scandal.
Despite her parents’ successful careers in Hollywood, Zoe’s own pursuit of acting didn’t happen until she was in college. She began in the theater before moving to New York, where she appeared in several small TV roles. Her most recognized role comes from portraying Mary Cooper in Young Sheldon, a role that her mom originated in The Big Bang Theory.
She cites her childhood exposure to the Steppenwolf Theater Company and the set of Roseanne with her parents as a driving force behind her ultimate career path. She told Entertainment Tonight in June 2018, “I was just so grateful that that passion they have for theater translated to me, because I always loved seeing it. Growing up and to be able to do it now is such a pleasure as well.”
From their days in the theater to their award-winning performances on-screen, here’s everything to know about Zoe Perry’s parents, Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Perry.
Her parents met through the theater
While Metcalf was studying at Illinois State University — where she earned her bachelor of arts in theater in 1976 — she met fellow theater students Perry, Terry Kinney and Gary Sinise in addition to John Malkovich, Glenne Headly and Joan Allen, according to The New York Times.
In 1974, Perry, Kinney and Sinise co-founded the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company. They began performing in a church in Highland Park before moving their productions to a nearby space in Immaculate Conception Catholic School, per the organization's website.
Perry, Kinney and Sinise went on to recruit more actors as founding members, including Metcalf, Moira Harris and Malkovich. Over the next decade, the group earned national and international attention for their plays, earning their first of 10 Tony Awards in 1985.
She is the only daughter of Metcalf and Perry
Metcalf and Perry wed in 1983 and divorced in 1986 when Zoe was only 2. The former couple eventually moved on to their second marriages and expanded their families.
The actress married her second husband, fellow Roseanne costar Matt Roth, in 2005. She and Roth welcomed three children together before their divorce was finalized in 2014. Metcalf gave birth to their first child together, son Will Theron Roth, in 1993. Their second child, daughter Mae Akins Roth, was welcomed via surrogate in 2005. They also fostered their third child, son Donovan Roth, in 2006 and eventually adopted him.
Perry married his second wife, Linda Lowy, in 1989. The couple share one child, daughter Leah Perry.
Despite the couple splitting up after three years of marriage and moving on with different partners, Zoe commends her parents and stepparents for remaining supportive and keeping the families close.
She told the New York Post in April 2008, “My stepmom reminded me of a conversation she had with my mom early on, who said, ‘Well, we’re a family,’ and that generosity sort of bred. So I have four amazing parents who support me!”
Metcalf described her relationship with Lowy as “solid and strong,” adding, “There’s not really a term for it, but I love her, so I call her my sister-in-law.”
Metcalf and Perry are celebrated actors
From Steppenwolf Theatre Company to television and the silver screen, Metcalf and Perry have forged storied careers in Hollywood as actors.
After spending nearly 20 years of his career at the theater company, Perry began to focus on acting in TV and film roles. One of his most memorable characters was Bryce Hunter in Wild Things, and he also made appearances in The West Wing, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break and Inventing Anna.
Metcalf spent the early years of her career in theater as well, including Steppenwolf productions, one of which brought her to New York for an off-Broadway production of Balm in Gilead. She went on to appear in film and television, including a short-lived stint as a feature player on Saturday Night Live for a single episode in 1981.
After a string of movie roles, Metcalf rose to prominence for starring in Roseanne, earning her several Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. She portrayed Jackie Harris for all 10 seasons of the original show and reprised her role for its spinoff, The Conners.
In 2018, Metcalf received an Academy Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird. In addition to her Tony Award nods for her roles in Hillary and Clinton, Misery, The Other Place and November, she won best actress in a play for her performance in A Doll’s House, Part 2 and best featured actress in a play for Three Tall Women.
Zoe spent time with her parents on set as a child
As a child, Zoe got a firsthand account of her mom’s career and would often visit her on set while she was filming Roseanne. Zoe even portrayed the younger version of Metcalf's character in flashbacks.
Metcalf recalled during an interview with Entertainment Tonight how her daughter spent time in the wardrobe department at the show and often played with Michael Fishman, who portrayed the character D.J. Conner.
Zoe also remembered spending time with her parents while they were heavily involved in the theater, including moments at Steppenwolf Theater Company during her formative years.
“When I was younger, I was living in that green room and accompanying them to all the different theaters that they worked at,” she told ET. “So, that has always remained a nostalgic place for me and also one of great admiration."
She has followed in her parents' footsteps
With both of her parents having decades-long careers as actors on film, stage and television, Zoe was predestined to find herself on-screen. However, her parents said that they had an “unwritten pact” that she wouldn’t pursue acting as a career until she was an adult. Metcalf told PEOPLE in September 2017, “I didn’t want her to have to deal with the stress.”
After spending time on the set of Roseanne with her mom, Metcalf told Entertainment Tonight that she thought Zoe had “caught the acting bug,” but she and Perry “didn’t think it would be a good idea for a kid that young.”
“We just felt that it might be too stressful for a kid that age that was pretty shy and quiet,” she explained. “We didn't want to put her in a position where she had a role and had all this responsibility all of a sudden. She was fine with that.”
Zoe admitted that she was too shy to act before she became an adult, but after transferring from Boston University to Northwestern University, she began acting as a means of making new friends, according to a January 2013 interview with Broadway Buzz.
Instead of using her parents’ connections in Chicago and Los Angeles, Zoe went to New York in pursuit of a career in theater. She landed minor roles on TV, including Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but ultimately got homesick and returned to L.A., where she started pursuing the theater again.
Over the years, she’s made one-off appearances on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and has had recurring roles on The Family and Scandal. She is best known today for her portrayal of Mary Cooper on Young Sheldon.
Metcalf has always been “such an inspiration” for Zoe
When asked by Entertainment Tonight how their mother-daughter dynamic affected their acting choices, Zoe praised her mom for "always been such an inspiration" for staying dedicated to her craft, no matter the project.
"She's always been such a good example of having a really strong work ethic and taking pride and value in the work that she does," she said.
Metcalf attributed her daughter’s perspective to her childhood — seeing the work that went into her parents’ careers — and not “all the perks” that come along with Hollywood.
Zoe agreed, adding, “That was such a benefit of having her and dad, and being around a lot of the Steppenwolf actors, because they all came for the passion of the work.”
Zoe and Laurie made history playing the same character
In a rare occurrence in Hollywood, the mother-daughter duo have portrayed the same character — Mary Cooper, mother of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon. Metcalf originated the character on the original run of the sitcom from 2007 to 2018, portraying Jim Parsons’ mom. Zoe took on the role in 2017 and currently plays actor Iain Armitage’s mother in the spinoff prequel series.
She told Glamour in September 2017 that she was “very nervous” to “potentially be filling shoes — rather large shoes — of my mother's.”
Metcalf reflected on the rare coincidence in a February 2018 interview with The Washington Post, telling the outlet, “This can’t ever have happened in the history of anything, playing the same character decades apart, and we’re mother and daughter.”
Despite her mom originating the role in the first series, Zoe told the Toronto Star in September 2017 that she had to go through the traditional audition process.
“I had to audition like everybody else,” she explained. “I didn’t go in there thinking, ‘I’ve got this.’ I always think, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice but probably won’t happen.’ Which is frankly how I went into this one. So it’s pretty marvelous that I have the opportunity.”
As for whether Metcalf had any advice for her daughter, Zoe told The Hollywood Reporter in December 2017 that her mom was “too good and empathetic an actor to give another actor any notes.”
“She’s been really supportive through the whole thing and I feel lucky that I get to share this with her in that way,” Zoe added. “At the end of the day, she’s a parent and she’s happy to see that her kids are OK.”
Zoe has acted with her parents on TV and on stage
Throughout their careers, Metcalf and Perry have acted alongside their daughter.
From December 2012 to March 2013, Metcalf and Zoe starred in The Other Place on Broadway. Perry also shared the stage with Zoe in a revival of Anna Christie, where she portrayed the titular character, and Perry fittingly played her father.
A few years later, they worked side-by-side on Scandal, where Zoe portrayed the role of Samantha, a foe to her father’s character in the drama. In an April 2017 interview with PEOPLE, Zoe praised the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, for keeping her in mind for the role.
“I was so lucky that Shonda is just the most incredible woman and thought of me for [this part], and here I am getting to act with just my favorite actors,” Zoe explained. “My dad, obviously. Joe Morton, who is so incredible. I’ve gotten to work with just the best people around.”
Perry described the experience as a “great joy” and said that Rhimes had gotten the idea to cast Zoe in the role more than a year and a half after she saw the duo perform in the local theater production of Anna Christie.
When it came to working with his daughter, Perry had to hold himself back from outwardly being a proud dad.
“During Anna Christie, the biggest challenge I had was working with my daughter, and sort of not stopping and asking an audience member for a camera to record the moment,” he explained. “I just go, ‘Can you believe her?’ She’s doing so great.”
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