Apple TV+’s drama series ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’ follows the namesake character Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year-old man investigating the murder of his great-nephew Reggie while suffering from dementia. When Grey’s isolated life becomes darker upon Reggie’s death, his niece’s best friend’s daughter Robyn comes to live with him.
Robyn’s arrival brings a ray of hope and vigor to Grey’s life as he begins his adventure to find the killer of his great-nephew. As a character, Ptolemy Grey is incredibly soul-stirring. Naturally, admirers of the character and the show must be curious whether Grey has a real-life counterpart. Let’s find out!
Is Ptolemy Grey Based on a Real Person?
Ptolemy Grey is partially based on a real person. The character is the protagonist of Walter Mosley’s eponymous novel, which serves as the source text for the miniseries. Even though the character’s eventful life and the principal storyline are fictional, Mosley was highly inspired by the life of his mother to conceive Ptolemy Grey’s dementia. “[…] my mother went through dementia for many years but in the last three or four it was very, very serious and that’s the way my mother was. She would turn on the television and she had to keep it on because she could never figure out how to turn it back on,” Mosley said in an interview given to NPR.
With dementia as the foundational element, Mosley created Ptolemy Grey and his moving life with fictional details. The fictitious storylines of the murder investigation and the intricate relationship with Robyn were used for the characterization of Grey. The creation of those storylines was also influenced by Mosley’s mother.
“What I saw in my mom’s eyes and in some of her expressions, was her saying, ‘I want to understand it; I want to understand what you’re saying; I want to enter into a dialogue with you; I want things to be the way they were.’ That’s the crux of the novel: What would you do to have things the way they were?” the author said to NPR. The essence of the novel, which is incorporated into the show, also defines Grey impeccably. In the novel and the show, Grey is in a pursuit to restore his life to that earlier point in life where he doesn’t need to struggle to remember and understand something or someone.
The characterization of Ptolemy Grey is seemingly Faustian as well. Rather than his soul, Grey is trading his body to regain memory from Dr. Rubin, whom the former refers to as Satan. Like Faust, Grey is prepared to trade or limit his life for memory (rather than eternal knowledge). In a way, Grey’s memory acts as the eternal knowledge for the 91-year-old man in his search for Coydog’s treasure and Reggie’s killer. The references of Satan/Devil that Grey makes in front of Dr. Rubin indicate the possible influence of the legend of Faust in the formation of Grey.
As an actor, Samuel L. Jackson’s interpretation and portrayal of Ptolemy Grey is also influenced by a real-life person, who is none other than his mother. Due to dementia, Jackson’s mother didn’t recognize him as her son for a decade before her death in 2012. Such an experience influenced Jackson to portray Grey authentically and to do justice to the depths of the character. Ptolemy Grey is a character that was formed with a considerable share of fiction and significant inspiration from real life. Mosley integrated the two elements to offer a memorable and admirable character.