EXCLUSIVE: TV's Beloved Grandmother Mary Beth Peil Helps Bring 'Anastasia' to Broadway

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Photo: Getty Images

Betty White's got nothing on Mary Beth Peil, TV’s beloved grandmother from Dawson’s Creek and The Good Wife, who is busier than ever after wrapping up seven seasons on the latter as the ever-watchful and prudish Jackie Florrick and now doing double duty on stage with back-to-back Broadway productions. 

“It's thrilling, especially at my age,” Peil tells ET by phone. “There is no way to even dream -- as I get older, life gets better, as far as my professional life is concerned.”

“I am now closer to the age of Grams than I was 20 years ago,” the actress, now 76, says of playing the beloved grandmother to Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) on Dawson’s Creek. “People recognize me as Grams more now than they did then.”

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Last fall, the Tony Award nominee appeared in the Broadway revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Liev Schreiber. The play closed on Jan. 8, leaving her little free time before she shifted focus to the role of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in Anastasia, an adaptation of the 1997 Fox animated film about the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Peil will reprise her performance (originally voiced by Angela Lansbury in the film) from the show’s premiere last year in Hartford, Connecticut.

Surprisingly, Peil has only seen the now-classic family movie once -- and only just recently. “I saw it with my granddaughters to see how they react to it before I went to Hartford,” she admits. “It is quite different than the Broadway musical.”

Photo: Joan Marcus

The team behind the film’s original music, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, are back together for the musical. The stage version will include a handful of the core songs, including the Oscar-nominated “Journey to the Past,” while playwright Terrence McNally has expanded the story beyond that of the 1997 film.

“This has more of an edge than the typical [animated] musical because one foot is in actual historical reality and the other foot is in fantasy based on love,” Peil says of the story that mixes romance with a fair bit of Russian history, “which all of a sudden seems to be important” given the country’s recurring mentions in headlines.

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With opening night set for April 24 (previews start March 23) at the Broadhurst Theatre, Peil doesn’t have time for too much else -- unless Michelle and Robert King invite her to reprise her role as Jackie on The Good Fight, a spinoff of The Good Wife focused on Diane Lockhart (Christina Baranski) and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo).

“I can’t say a definite yes or no,” Peil says when asked whether she, like other confirmed Good Wife veterans, will appear on the CBS All Access series. “I can say, ‘I hope so.’” The franchise, which has drawn inspiration from real politics and even incorporated Hillary Clinton’s presidential run into its narrative, feels as relevant as ever. “Those writers are so brilliant,” Peil says, adding: “If you binge watched from the first episode to the last it would be very satisfying.

“If there is any way for Jackie to show up and find some trouble, they will find a way to make it happen,” she continues.