The cast of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll stopped by Entertainment Weekly's San Diego Comic-Con photo studio yesterday. You can check out their photo in our gallery:
Photoshoots > EW 2015 Comic-Con Portraits
You have to wonder if maybe everything Denis Leary has done to date in his career was just a warmup to play the ultimate rock ’n’ roll maniac. As Johnny Rock in “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” which debuts Thursday on FX (10 p.m.), Leary becomes that guy — and he plays Johnny like a maniacal 22-minute drum solo. But there’s a twist here. The show quickly turns out to be not a solo, but a duet.
What makes it sing is the starburst of Elizabeth Gillies as Gigi, the precocious, sharp-tongued, street-smart daughter Johnny never knew he had. She explodes into his life wanting the fame and fortune he squandered - and she’s good enough to get it. And yes, we’re talking about that Elizabeth Gillies. The one who sang in “13” on Broadway when she was 15 and spent the last few years in hit Nickelodeon shows like “Victorious,” where she played Jade West.
"”It’s definitely a different role,” says Gillies, who turns 22 later this month. “But I don’t think it’s a total reset. In a lot of ways, Gigi is actually a sweeter character than Jade.”
Gillies isn’t the first actor from a teen comedy to resurface in a show like “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.” Their route just usually takes them through a few transitional shows, maybe a sitcom or a young adult drama.
“I skipped over the middle step entirely,” she says. “But I don’t think I needed it. I also don’t think Gigi will be too shocking.”
Most viewers will eventually agree. When we first meet her, though, she comes on like an R-rated tsunami, flattening everything in her path.
The backstory: Gigi’s mother knew Johnny in New York when he was the depraved lead singer of the dysfunctional, short-lived and now iconic punk-alt-rock band the Heathens, who broke up the day their first album was released. She returned to Ohio without telling Johnny she was in a family way, hoping her daughter would choose any life except Johnny’s. So when Gigi turns 21, naturally she hops the first ride to New York to find Johnny and become a rock star herself.
She doesn’t come to town with a bashful, hopeful look in her eye. She comes offering two things Johnny has completely run out of — money and a last shot at fame. She can sing. She needs Johnny to get back together with his old Heathens guitarist Flash (John Corbett) and write her some songs. So even though his “dad” skills are about on a par with his ability to turn down a line of cocaine, it’s an offer he can’t refuse.
“She’s trying to be the authority figure,” says Gillies. “She’s trying to be the adult for this guy who obviously needs one. Yet she really needs parenting herself. She’s very vulnerable.
“It’s great to play someone who seems so tough, but has that vulnerability. And Denis allowed me a lot of creative freedom in developing her, so that was also great.”
A surprising portion of the sometimes explicit dialogue in the fast-paced show was made up on the fly, Gillies says. “Denis encouraged that, and I was completely down with it,” she says. “Sometimes we went way off the reservation, and a lot of that ended up in the show.
“Denis and I have the same sense of humor. So we’d fire bullets at each other. He’d throw things at me and I’d throw them back just as quickly.”
As this suggests, Gillies says she didn’t spend a lot of time being intimidated on the set. “With Corbett, I did have to get past the ‘Sex and the City’ thing,” she admits. “I couldn’t go forward thinking about Aidan [Corbett’s role as Carrie Bradshaw's boyfriend] every five seconds.
“But once I got over that, the playing field leveled out pretty quickly. I’m the youngest one there by about 20 years, but most of my friends are older than me, so it wasn’t too big a stretch.”
Amusingly enough, Gillies’ personal taste in music arcs back earlier than the 57-year-old Leary’s. “Denis leans toward that ’80s New York scene,” she says. “I’m more into Woodstock-y rock. I listen to ’40s music and jazz, too.” The Heathens are straight from that New York ’80s scene, and Leary wrote the show’s first five songs, including the screaming title track.
But Gillies’ first number at a showcase is a ballad, and it's clear that when she performs with the reunited Heathens, it won’t just be reprising their old material. While Gigi isn’t a songwriter, the real-life Gillies is. She has recorded several of her own numbers in addition to a range of tunes that range from a reworking of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” to a duet of “Santa Baby” with her colleague and pal Ariana Grande.
She says she and Leary have talked about her writing songs for potential future seasons of “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.”
Moving forward with her own musical career is one of Gillies’ several long-term ambitions. She says she didn’t do much of anything outside the show while it was filming, “since it was pretty much nonstop for three months. . . . But now I have some time for other stuff.”
Further down the line, she’d like that other stuff to include writing producing and directing. “I like seeing how things are put together,” she says. “I’ve seen how much power you can have, and I’m definitely interested.”
In fact, she jokes, “Maybe I should just become Tina Fey. I’ll get right on that.”
She does say she’s had two great teachers in Leary and Dan Schneider, creator of “Victorious,” “iCarly” and several other Nick hits. “They work very differently, but they’re both geniuses,” she says. “Dan’s shows have a very well-crafted formula, which is exactly what they need, so you do them as scripted. Denis is a lot more laid-back.
“Of course, that’s also a reflection of the networks they’re on.”
At the very least, Gillies is optimistic that Gigi should minimize the chance she would be stereotyped in the future as just another former teen star. “This show requires a lot,” she says. “There’s comedy, drama, music. I’m so proud of this show, and I hope people who watch it will see that I can do more than one thing.”
As for the possibility some of her family, friends and fans may be a little taken aback by some of the things Gigi says and does, she expresses hope that anyone who stays with it will realize the heart of the show lies less in rock ’n’ roll excess and more in an unlikely connection between a disconnected father and daughter.
“I’m not sure some of my younger fans will be watching,” she says. “But a lot of the older ones will. Playing Gigi is like graduation.”
The cast of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll had a full day of press at San Diego Comic-Con yesterday and stopped by Sirius XM, among others. I've added 3 MQ pictures of the cast in the studio to our gallery:
Public Appearances > Appearances 2015 > SiriusXM's Entertainment Weekly Radio Channel Broadcasts From Comic-Con 2015
What does the cast of SDRR really think about working with Denis Leary? Watch this exclusive clip from the Comic-Con red carpet.
Check out more videos from the Fox SDCC party red carpet on the official FX Networks YouTube channel!
Liz and the cast of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll are currently at San Diego Comic-Con to promote their show and attended the 20th Century Fox Party during the convention. You can check out some first pictures of the event in our gallery. More pictures will be posted as they become available, so check back every now and then!
Public Appearances > Appearances 2015 > 20th Century Fox Party at San Diego Comic-Con
Four years after bringing Rescue Me to a close following seven successful seasons, Denis Leary is returning to FX on July 16 (10 p.m. ET) with a new TV series that's a bit of a departure from the firefighter drama.
Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll finds creator/writer/producer/star Leary playing a washed up rocker who tries to make one last go at success after reuniting with his estranged daughter (Elizabeth Gillies). But don't think Spinal Tap -- while Leary's show certainly has fun with the burnt out narcissism of rock stars, this isn't broad parody. It's as much a show about dysfunctional families (both rock and biological) reconnecting as it is a bawdy, incisive comedy about the music world in 2015.
"My experience was, every band I've known -- famous and not famous -- have a family dynamic," Leary tells Billboard in the video below. "I come from a big Irish family. I'm used to bitterness, resentment, grudges and screaming at each other. That's normal to me, so I thought, if we're looking at a family, we need that level of feeling and emotion."
For co-star Gillies, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll was a welcome opportunity to break out of the Nickelodeon mold after spending four seasons on the teen series Victorious.
"I'm happy to do something that's such a departure," Gillies tells Billboard. "It's exciting. It feels much more 'me.' The cast is so cool and so collaborative, the project is so cool -- it does not feel like work. It feels like hanging out. It's the most fun job in the world."
Case in point: According to Gillies, jamming on Beatles songs would sometimes derail work on the show, much to Leary's ire. "We would jam and you'd get mad," she says to Leary, who just sighs. "We'd start playing Beatles stuff. When you're in a studio with such incredible musicians who know every song, you want to jam a little bit."
As for those songs, Leary wrote two by himself (including the fist-pumping title track) and tapped Chris Phillips -- who helped write his seminal '90s hit "Asshole" -- on two others. And the show brought some real-life rockers into the mix: Both Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli pop up in the pilot, with the latter contributing vocals and guitar to the theme song.
Check out Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll when it premieres on FX Thursday, June 16, at 10 p.m.
More pictures from Liz's shoot from last year with Melanie Mills have surfaced and they're absolutely stunning! Check them out below:
Photoshoots > Photoshoot #008
Bam Bam. He beats to his own drum. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll premieres Thurs, 7/16 on FX.