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The six-episode drama follows a dementia-ridden man given one last, bittersweet chance at clarity
Ptolemy Grey is a man in decline who’s about to get a new lease on life—temporarily, anyway. As played by the legendary Samuel L. Jackson in streamer Apple TV+’s six-episode drama, Grey is a 93-year-old widower living in a roach-infested Atlanta apartment who has rapidly advancing dementia, which has now reached a point where he can no longer distinguish past from present.
Having periodic visions of his beloved wife Sensia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Bosch) and childhood mentor Coydog (Damon Gupta, Black Lightning)—both deceased—his mental deterioration demands a caregiver, who arrives in the form of teenaged family friend Robyn (Dominique Fishback, The Deuce).
But his physician Dr. Rubin (Walton Goggins, Justified) has a solution: a vaccine that will restore his faculties and memories for a short time. Soon, Ptolemy’s wits are sharper than ever and he realizes he has urgent business to settle: finding the man who killed his nephew Reggie (Omar Benson Miller). But that’s just the beginning of our hero’s painful, cathartic journey.
The series, which is based on the 2010 novel by Walter Mosley (who is also the showrunner here), features a tour-de-force performance by Jackson, and the Oscar-nominated actor says his own family history unfortunately gave him plenty of material to draw upon in playing Ptolemy.
I’m from a family where I felt like I was surrounded by Alzheimer’s… says Jackson, who also serves as an executive producer. And I watched them change, deteriorate and become different people over the years. And being able to tell their story or listening to them and understanding that things in their past are more their present than what’s going on in their everyday life and understanding how to convey that to people. And giving an audience an opportunity to know that they aren’t the only people who watch their loved ones deteriorate that way.
Matching up with Jackson in most scenes is Fishback, who gives as good as she gets in the role of Robyn. Jackson first saw her playing a teen drug dealer in the New Orleans-set 2020 crime actioner Project Power and immediately knew she was right for this show.
And indeed, the actress says that their rapport was instantaneous.
From the beginning, I knew that Sam really wanted me to do it, she explains. So I thought that was really important because one of the first stories that Sam told me was about his family and how much Alzheimer’s had affected him. So I knew it was really important. I think he has a really raw sense of humour and I’m from Brooklyn, so I think that we’ve been able to vibe off of that and kind of know why we were doing it.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey debuts Friday, March 11th on Apple TV+