BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — In a career that has spanned movies, talk shows and voice-over work, Rosie O’Donnell is about to launch a whole new chapter this fall.
She’s playing Tutu, the co-star of “SMILF,” a Showtime series created by indie-movie star Frankie Shaw (“Mr. Robot”). It’s about a young woman (Shaw) and her Irish-to-the-bones mother (O’Donnell) in South Boston, where both navigate men, sex, addiction, mental illness and single motherhood. This will be O’Donnell’s first starring role on a prime-time series, although she recently had a recurring role on Freeform’s “The Fosters.”
Shaw won the 2015 Short Film Jury Award at Sundance for the semi-autobiographical short that will be expanded into the 10-episode run launching this fall. She plays single mom Bridgette, who’s trying to figure out her life, while crowded by an “unconventional” mom with a penchant for loud opinionating.
Which seems like a good segue for O’Donnell’s character, Tutu. Appearing at the TV Critics’ press tour to explain why she wanted this gig and what to expect, the Commack native said that when she met Shaw at the request of her agent, “I was just absolutely shocked by her talent and the message and the kind of feminist perspective that she had in a very universal way.
“I was really thrilled to be a 55-year-old woman and see a 30-year-old woman being able to make brilliant art in an eight-minute form,” she added. “It was all that any 55-year-old feminist would ever wish for; it was like a dream come true. I said, ‘I’ll do anything that she needs or wants if she’ll have me,’ and she said yes.”
To figure out the role of Tutu, O’Donnell said she consumed “a couple of bottles of wine” with Shaw’s own mother in Boston. “They’re working-class Irish people, and that’s who I was growing up, and that’s who you remain. It felt familiar, loving and really authentic.
“I liked her [mother] very much. I saw her vulnerability. I saw her self-doubt, and I also saw her pride in her daughter, whether or not she’s able to express it.”