'Hellcats': Gail O'Grady runs with a young crowd

gail-ogrady-july-2009-gi.jpgWhen she's not being mother to school-age son Michael, Gail O'Grady is a den mother of sorts to a bevy of young beauties on The CW Tuesday cheerleading drama "Hellcats," which returned last week with new episodes.

Through her co-stars, O'Grady has been introduced to the music of Florence and the Machine and updated her tech skills -- more or less.

"I can check emails," she tells Zap2it, "but I'm not exactly in this century right now. [The girls] have always got something new and advanced. They help me probably with music and keeping me a little younger, I guess. Not that I'm an old bat, but as I said, it's a very young cast."

O'Grady plays Wanda Perkins, an irresponsible former party girl who works at the campus pub at the university where her daughter, Marti ( Aly Michalka), is studying pre-law on a cheerleading scholarship.

In the Tuesday, April 19, episode, fans learned that Marti's father, musician Rex, was also a drug addict that abandoned his family when Marti was three (but didn't die, as her mother had told her, perhaps opening the possibility of a guest star at some point).

"I like her spirit," says O'Grady of Wanda. "I like that she's not a quitter. She's always trying to find a better way to -- I shouldn't say it -- skin a cat. I just like that she has a good spirit. She hasn't let life beat her down, and even though she might drink a little bit too much, she's always looking at the bright side."

It's a complicated mother-daughter relationship.

"It's gone back and forth," says O'Grady. "One moment, Marti is the adult, the parent, the next moment, Wanda's the adult and parent. When it first started, it seemed that Wanda was more needy and pulling on Marti a little too much, to the point where Marti had to get away.

"But they go back and forth between who's the parent and who's the child."

In last week's episode, Marti's search for her father's past led her to a record store, where she got some help from clerk Dierdre, played by Michalka's sister and bandmate in 78violet, AJ Michalka.

For O'Grady, this means just one more Michalka to love.

"Aly and I are pretty close," she says, "and Aly's sister, AJ, has a recurring role on the show. She is, like Aly, just one of the coolest people on the planet. I love these girls. Their mom did a really good job. They're smart, and they're funny and full, I think, well beyond their years."

O'Grady says she "holds her breath" when she sees the elaborate and risky cheerleading numbers on the show, and she even has a bit of cheer history of her own.

"I was a cheerleader in junior high," she says. "I tried out for cheerleading in my freshman/sophomore year of high school. I didn't make it, and I thought it was going to destroy my life.

"Oh, gosh, how did I survive not making cheerleading? I don't know. I think I played tennis instead."

Wanda may not have the future that Aly does, but that's OK with her.

"At least, for Wanda," says O'Grady, "she wanted more for her daughter, but she also wants to tag along with her. She wants to be part of it, but some of it she doesn't understand, because she has given her a hard time about being a hoity-toity lawyer.

"She, deep down, like any parent, wants more for her child."

O'Grady says that Wanda also has ambitions for herself.

"Instead of just running the bar, she wanted the manage the bar," she says. "She got that. Then she'd always wanted to be a party planner. She's also exploring different careers and trying to make things better for herself, too. She's not just settling on cleaning up the bar."

But don't expect O'Grady to feel the need to add bartending to her own skill set.

"I can look busy [in the bar]," she says. "I can dry some glasses and put a bottle away."
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