Tonight’s episode of Castle throws the spotlight on Penny Johnson Jerald. In her third season playing Captain Victoria ‘Iron’ Gates, we also know and have loved her as level-headed Beverly on The Larry Sanders Show and villainous Sherry Palmer on 24. Penny joined BFTV on Thursday to chat about tonight’s episode, which involves Gates’ estranged sister, played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, and also includes Laurie Fortier.
How did the reveals about Gates’ backstory match up with what Penny had considered for her character? “I think it jumped ahead of what I thought it might be,” she told us. “It went right for the jugular. I’ve got a sister, and there’s some tension there, and what an episode to let it all out in!”
The episode details the murder of a Wall Street trader, who is also an informant for the U.S. Attorney’s office, bringing Gates’ sibling Elizabeth Weston (played by Salli) and her colleague Stephanie Goldmark (played by Laurie) into contention with Gates, Castle and Beckett. Asked about working with Salli and Laurie, Penny had nothing but kind words for the two actresses.
“Salli, what a wonderful person and a beautiful human being and an extraordinary actress,” she enthused. “She and I, we had immediate chemistry. [And] without makeup, we look alike. We have the same hair, the same body type, I think I’m a little taller than Salli. Which is good, because I am her older sister. We talked about backstory, and we did a lot of laughing, because we don’t do a lot of laughing in this episode.
“Both actresses, neither would ever break and we would try! They were just right there and in the moment,” Penny continued. “And off-camera, that’s when you know an actor is really generous, is when they’re not on camera and you are and they’re giving you everything. And that’s what I got from both of them.”
What stands out to Penny about the episode? “I feel like my voice is really there. The rhythms of my voice, what I would say. How I would talk differently to my sister as opposed to Beckett or Castle. I sound grounded in my voice, and that’s what I truly enjoyed.
“The direction was out of this world. It truly was,” she continued. “I had a female director, and before we started shooting this I went to Holly [Dale] and I said, ‘A lot of directors come here and they’re really cool with us doing what we do. But you have my permission to kick my butt.’ I don’t know why I said that to Holly, because that’s exactly what she did. She didn’t want it to just be Okay. She wanted it to be great. So everybody was invested. I truly was invested.”
Having three seasons of Castle under her belt, Penny has created another memorable TV character, the latest in a long line of them going back to Larry Sanders and Kasidy Yates Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Which of her many roles is she most likely to be recognized for?
“It depends on where I am and what I’m looking like. What kind of attitude that I portray,” she told us. “Because of social media I get immediate reaction. And so right now I have to say that it’s 24. And it’s 24 only because it’s being revisited. All of my Castle fans are now watching 24, trying to figure out, ‘Oh my gosh, she really was that awful woman on 24.’
“If I’m in a situation with families, communities like that, then it’s Castle,” she added. “And then you have your old faithful ones who are just Larry Sanders and Star Trek fans. They’ll just never die and I love them for it.”
Off-screen, you’re most likely to find her keeping in great shape, and helping others to do the same. “I am a physical fitness fanatic,” she explained. “And for people who are aging, as am I, there’s something for you out there. There’s a program that I do that I have developed for the last three and a half years. I put my celebrity aside when I’m working with [people]. I’m no longer called ‘sir’ when I’m working people out!”
You can find information about Penny’s fitness endeavors on Facebook. Castle airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC; you can visit the official website (abc.go.com/shows/castle). For more on Penny, be sure you’re following her on Twitter (@btwprod).