'High Desert' star Rupert Friend: Peggy, Guru Bob are con artists with big dreams

Rupert Friend (L) and Patricia Arquette star in "High Desert." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
1 of 5 | Rupert Friend (L) and Patricia Arquette star in "High Desert." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, June 20 (UPI) -- Homeland and Obi-Wan Kenobi alum Rupert Friend says Guru Bob, the character he portrays in the comedy, High Desert, has a lot in common with Patricia Arquette's anti-hero Peggy, even though they are far from friends.

"They both definitely have big dreams. They're both somewhere in between con artist and magician and trickster and thief," Friend told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"I don't know who's more on the gray side of the law, but neither of them is 100% on the straight and narrow," he added. "I'd like to see them maybe get to know each other under slightly less strenuous circumstances."

Directed by Emmy-winner Jay Roach and executive produced by Ben Stiller, the eight-episode, half-hour show wraps up its first season Wednesday on Apple TV+.


It follows Peggy, a drug addict and compulsive liar who works at the western-theme park Pioneer Town and decides to become a private investigator after the death of her mother Roslyn (Bernadette Peters), with whom she lived in the small desert town of Yucca Valley, Calif.

Guru Bob is one of the colorful characters with whom Peggy crosses paths in her latest line of work.

"Peggy's new career as a private investigator is quite annoying to Guru Bob. He was just fine being a guru and having acolytes and taking drugs and, suddenly, there is this woman poking around and meddling," Friend said.

When they first meet, Peggy crashes a soiree Bob is hosting at his home, at which he is trying to sell forged paintings to his guests.

"She just walks into his bedroom and locks herself in his bathroom," Friend laughed, referring to a scene in which Peggy brazenly raids Bob's medicine cabinet.

"For Guru Bob, that is the perfect introduction to who Peggy is. She does whatever she wants on her schedule to get her job done, however surreal that might appear to anyone else."

The actor thinks viewers will relate to Peggy because so many people know someone like her.


"People will, I hope, respond to Peggy's enthusiasm and optimism and, ultimately, her love for life. Even though she is, in many ways, in the middle of a personal tragedy, she doesn't let that put an end to her ambitions and her dreams and her desires," Friend said.

"She picks herself up, brushes herself off and gets on with it, even though catastrophe after catastrophe befalls her," he added. "She is indefatigable in some ways and I love that about her."

Friend found himself rooting for Peggy, despite that she terrorizes his character.

"I wanted her to succeed. I was like, 'I hope she gets everything she wants,'" he said.

Friend was initially drawn to "crazy" premise of the series, as well as the quirky character he was tasked to play.

"He began life professionally as a small-town TV news anchor, had an existential meltdown live on air, decided to drop out of that, drop acid and declared that everything was stupid and everyone decided he was a prophet," the actor said.

"He did not disabuse them of that and he took on the moniker of Guru Bob, even though he is no way a guru at all."

Friend credited Roach -- whose works include Trumbo, Recount, Game Change and Meet the Parents -- with bringing a tone to High Desert that vacillates between hilarious and heartbreaking.


"When you read a script like this, the tone is yet to be discovered because it comes really from the director and his or her choices as we make the thing," Friend said.

"We were so lucky to have Jay Roach directing all of them," he added.

"He's one of the funniest directors working, but also, if you watch his dramas, he's so profound. He's the perfect director for this and he led the charge on finding that tone."

Peters -- a Broadway legend who also starred in the TV shows Mozart in the Jungle and Smash -- signed on to play Peggy's late mom Roslyn in flashbacks, as well as Ginger, an actress Peggy enlists to play Roslyn in a play she wants to stage at Pioneer Town.

"Here I am sitting at my kitchen table going, 'This is the best thing I've read in how long!'" Peters said, recalling how she instantly wanted to be a part of High Desert.

"It was such a gift to work with Patricia and Rupert Friend and Matt Dillon. I did my scenes mostly with Patricia. I knew she was a brilliant dramatic actress, but I think people are going to be surprised by how funny she is. This is totally something different for her."


Peters described Peggy and Roslyn as "soulmates."

"She could do no wrong," the actress said of Roslyn's affection for her oldest child. "Her mother was there to support her through thick and thin, no matter what. They lived together and were very, very close."

Peggy was in a methadone program to kick her drug problems, but she spirals out of control when her mother dies.

"She's trying to get back on her feet," Peters said about where Peggy is when the show opens.

Although Rosalyn raised Peggy to be the free spirit that she is, she also has two other adult children -- Diane (Christine Taylor) and Stewart (Keir O'Donnell) -- who are much more grounded and successful.

"Diane and Stewart took care of themselves and, basically, Peggy took care of their mother," Peters said.

One poignant scene shows Rosalyn standing in front of her house flanked by her kids while her husband sits in a car with his new girlfriend, ready to leave the family.

"Peggy's 13 or 14 at the time and she runs out to the car and yells at the father," Peters said.


"His girlfriend is in the car wearing [Peggy's] mother's pearls and she pulls those pearls off the girl's neck, but then the mother comes out and is comforting Peggy, but I think in that moment they bonded forever."

The show may be irreverent, but it also "totally real," according to Peters.

"There's this underlying reality and heart about losing somebody, which is so beautiful," she said. "This is life."

The show also offers messages of hope and second chances.

"It's about overcoming obstacles, even if you put them there yourself," Peters said.

"Everybody just gets so stuck sometimes in life and it's so important to just make a move. Try to move, try to get unstuck, and even if you make a move and it's sideways, at least you've made a move."

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