×

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.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive

    Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive Team

    Paramount Television is continuing to add to its executive ranks. The studio has tapped Brian Segna as its new senior vice president of development, along with Kate Gill and Nicole Harjo, both of whom are joining as vice presidents of development. The trio will all report to Jenna Santoianni, executive vice president and head of [...]

  • Phyllis Nagy

    Writers Guild Presidential Candidate Phyllis Nagy Blasts Strategy on Agencies

    Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s president David Goodman, has warned of dire consequences from the current stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy, who announced her candidacy on July 22 as the head of Writers for Negotiation, is running on a platform that the WGA needs to get back to [...]

  • Practical Magic

    'Practical Magic' Prequel Among Three HBO Max Pilot Orders

    HBO Max is continuing to build up its original programming slate with three new projects. Variety has learned that the nascent streamer has given pilot orders to the half-hour dramedy “Generation” and the hour-long drama “Red Bird Lane,” as well as a pilot production commitment for the one-hour drama “Rules of Magic.” All three projects [...]

  • James Corden Variety Cover Story

    James Corden Signs Deal to Host 'Late Late Show' Through 2022

    James Corden has signed a new deal with CBS which will see him stay on as host of “The Late Late Show” through 2022. The multi-talented Brit had been in advanced negotiations with the studio since May, and the new deal is sure to see him score a substantial bump in pay. The previous deal [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon

    Reese Witherspoon, Home Edit Duo Set Lifestyle Series at Netflix

    Netflix has ordered a new lifestyle series that boasts Reese Witherspoon among its executive producers. The hour-long series will follow master home organizes Clea Sherer and Joanna Teplin, the duo behind The Home Edit company. In each episode, Sherer and Teplin will transform the lives of their clients by conquering clutter with their signature style. [...]

  • 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Renewed for Season

    VH1 Renews Two Series in 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Franchise

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been renewed for Season 12 at VH1, the cabler announced Monday. Additionally, the “All Stars” version of the show has been renewed for Season 5. RuPaul made the announcement in a video, which you can see below. The flagship series will welcome a fresh group of drag queens eager to prove [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content