Is High Desert’s Peggy Newman Based on a Real Investigator?

Starring Patricia Arquette in the lead role, Apple TV+’s ‘High Desert’ follows the story of Peggy, an addict who becomes a private investigator. After her mother’s death, she tries to build a new life for herself, but things from her past threaten to hold her back. She struggles to keep a distance from the disruptive stuff in her life while trying to solve a case that could bring in a lot of cash for her.

Played with wit and humor by Arquette, Peggy is a complicated character. On the surface, she seems to be flying by life, but deep down, she is dealing with grief and guilt. All of this makes her a very real and relatable person.

Arquette’s Personal Touch to Peggy

While the story of ‘High Desert’ is entirely fictional, the inspiration behind Peggy Newman’s character comes from co-creator Nancy Fichman’s sister. In an interview with the Desert Sun, Fichman revealed that her sister, Marjorie, had also struggled with drug addiction, and much like Peggy, she tried to find ways to better herself. While considering her career prospects, she wondered if she could become a private investigator.

“She did have this idea one day that she wanted to be a PI. Although knowing she wouldn’t do it, I thought she’d be very well suited for that because drug addicts have a tremendous radar. They can get to the heart of a problem in a person, and she can see people who are similar to her and understands bulls— and lies. I thought it was a great idea for a show,” Fichman said.

When Arquette came on board to play Peggy, she brought her own experiences to the table, especially when it comes to knowing the people who have struggled with drug addiction. “I had also known a lot of addicts growing up who died and who had wonderful, beautiful, incredible qualities. They were brilliant people, but they would steal your guitar when you turned around,” she told The LA Times.

She also focused on Peggy’s grief of losing her mother and connected with her losses. “Though the series was fun to do, it was also sad. I’d lost my sister Alexis, who’d always kind of gathered these broken bird people. And I’d lost my mom, [so] there was a lot of crossover. That deeper stuff was there. We wanted to celebrate all these people we loved even though we knew they were disasters,” the Oscar winner added.

She also highlighted that Peggy’s addiction in the show looks at the issue differently than it has usually been depicted. It’s not a character flaw but an illness and should be treated compassionately. “It’s painful to love somebody who’s a drug addict, and your life does become more and more messy as you go along when that’s your choice. But again, we had loved and lost people like that. And the great loss is all their genius, and all of their beauty and their sweethearts and all of the things that you lose when you lose them,” she added.

Through her portrayal of Peggy, Arquette creates this complex but lovable character who always seems to fall into some trouble. She sees Peggy as “one of these people that’s living in this fringe world of the desert. It’s where a lot of people end up gravitating, people who look at life a little differently.” For Fichman, this was similar to the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, who always ends up walking out of a situation intact, no matter how dangerous or lethal it might seem to the viewer. In any case, Peggy remains deeply rooted in reality, with the writers and the actor infusing her with the details and experiences that develop her into a person who feels real, despite being fictional.

Read More: Is High Desert Based on a True Story?