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How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax’s Crime Drama ‘Jett’

“This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.”

In the new series, Gugino stars as Daisy “Jett” Kowalski, a world-class thief fresh out of prison and returning to the game for one final heist. At the intimate premiere, held at New York’s Roxy Hotel, Gugino explained what makes the crime drama stand out and how its female-driven perspective aims to reclaim the genre — and the dated Hollywood archetype of the femme fatale — for a new era in American television.

“We have Walter White [in ‘Breaking Bad’] and Ray Donavan, these great male anti-heroes. But when a woman is an anti-hero, when she doesn’t behave as you might expect her to behave — when she doesn’t conform to social norms — there has to be a reason, like ‘Was she abused?’ or ‘Does she have some sort of social condition?’ We have to make an excuse for it,” she continued. “What I love about this woman is that she’s not particularly introspective. She keeps her own council. She’s very practical. She’s more like a Lee Marvin from ‘Point Blank’ or a young Clint Eastwood; yet, she’s fully a woman. The role wasn’t about taking on male characteristics, and I was struck by that.”

While a comparison could be drawn between Jett and the Ava Gardners of the film noir genre (and in a clever nod, one episode features Jett masquerading as an actress playing Gardner while undercover on a heist), this series’ protagonist sources her power not just from an unapologetic sexuality, but from a certain impervious confidence — and the potential for that confidence to topple male dominance around her.

“I was raised, as a young girl, in a way where my self-worth was dependent on how I was perceived from the outside, and Jett doesn’t give a s–t about that. She just doesn’t. It’s not the way she looks at the world. She’s a thief; she’s great at her job; she’s not Robin Hood; she’s not neurotic. And that was a really refreshing character to play,” Gugino explained. “The woman are the more practical, grounded characters and the men are the more romantic ones, which is fascinating.”

Gugino also serves as an executive producer of the series, which sees its protagonist brought back to the world of million-dollar heists by a mastermind gangster and former lover (Giancarlo Esposito), only to be entangled in a deadly snare of ruthless criminals. Gugino’s husband and collaborator, Sebastian Gutierrez, penned the script.

Len Amato, Carla Gugino, Sebastian Gutierrez

“Oftentimes, when you have a quote-unquote ‘strong woman’ in these male dominated worlds, they’re on a mission of revenge or they’re ice-cold or they show no emotion, and I wasn’t interested in that. Carla is great for this role precisely because her humanity and empathy is on her face in every frame. She doesn’t have this mask of coldness; she’s playing a character that gets to observe and assess these impossible situations, to navigate through them in a calm, pragmatic way,” Gutierrez told Variety.

The inspiration to approach the high-powered, action-filled show from the perspective of a woman instead of man — and a woman who’s left the crime world to focus on raising her daughter, no less — came from Gutierrez’s childhood experiences growing up in Venezuela.

“I was born and raised in South America, and that’s a very macho, patriarchal society. And I translate that as: women do everything,” he continued. “Men leave, for whatever reason. They go off to war, or the drug trade, or have an affair. So, I grew up surrounded always by groups of women. And I thought: huh, you can treat the crime world exactly the same way. We’ve seen many of these crime stories that have these archetypes of the crime boss and the stripper and the killer. And I thought it’d be fascinating to shine a light on, to make a path, for female characters in this world.”

“Jett” debuts on June 14.

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