You may remember her as Jade West from Nickelodeon’s Victorious, but now Elizabeth Gillies—who usually goes by Liz—has stepped into her first real adult role as Gigi, the lead singer of the band The Assassins on the FX series, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. And how adult it is. We chatted with Liz about her Broadway origins, her love for ’70s rock—and what it’s like to have your parents peep your sex scenes on-camera.
You originally got your start on Broadway, and now you’re working more in TV. What’s the difference when you’re singing on TV versus singing on Broadway?
It’s always going to be different. Denis Leary [creator of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, and Gillies’ costar—he plays Johnny, Gigi’s father] does a very interesting thing where he likes me to sing live, and that’s not done a lot in TV and film. So most of the time, if we have the time to do it, I do sing live for the audience. The biggest difference is that [for TV] the audience is still just extras so, no matter what I do on stage, they’ll think it’s better than anything they’ve ever seen. I’m like The Beatles, no matter what I do, because they’ve been told to react very positively, as opposed to an [actual] audience, which will have genuine reactions. They’ll be like, “That was the best thing we’ve ever heard.” And I’m like, “I bet.”
What sort of music did you listen to growing up?
A lot of different music. When I was a kid, I loved the Spice Girls; when I got older, I listened to the radio, and I loved Pink and Avril Lavigne and all that. But I really developed a strong taste in older music, I would say, when I hit maybe 14, 15? A lot of 70s music, a lot of singer-songwriter, a lot of classic rock, and some folk. I loved it. I also listened to a lot of jazz, and of course I would listen to musical soundtracks growing up, too. So my music taste’s kind of all over the place, but I would say 70s music, Woodstock kind of music, is probably my favourite.
How would you describe the genre of music The Assassins play?
Denis writes the music, with a couple buddies of his, and he loves ’90s rock. Maybe late ’80s, ’90s rock. It’s a little New York, a little punk. We have different taste in music; he hates when I bring up the ’70s. I’ve learned a lot about his favourite bands. You know, he loves The Rolling Stones, we agree on that, but I know he loves The Cars and The Dolls. I think a lot of his musical tastes come through in the music of The Assassins, and The Heathens [Leary’s character Johnny’s band]. But I think when he writes for Gigi, he tries to make it slightly different, a little more female-rock, like a driving female singer. I think he writes differently for me than he would for himself, for Johnny.
What’s something that people would be surprised to learn about Denis Leary?
He’s the sweetest guy ever. A lot of people ask me what it’s like working with him, as a loaded question, and I always find it so interesting because he’s really wonderful to work with. He’s super-funny, he’s an extremely sweet and generous guy, and he’s a wonderful collaborator, which is my favourite thing about him. He always is so open to letting us improv; he loves when we suggest different things, even storylines for the characters. We feel like a family.
In the show, Gigi’s boyfriend Flash [played by John Corbett, a.k.a. Aidan from Sex and the City] is obviously a lot older than her. And that, somehow, seems to have become this big point of interest in interviews. To you, is that a big deal, to date someone much older, or younger?
It’s not for me. I really don’t find it to be that big of a deal. In real life, and I think Gigi’s the same way in the script, I go off of character and I go off of personality, and connections with somebody. So I’m never too freaked out about a huge age gap. I think Gigi’s the same way. And we’re both more mature, so I don’t think either of us would be completely comfortable dating somebody who was super-young, although I do think maybe it would be nice for Gigi—we’ll see where this relationship goes with Flash, but—to maybe dabble in dating somebody young, a little bit longer term. We saw a little bit of that last season but, maybe it would be cool for her to really experience the true early-twenties life that she never lived. But I don’t think it’s a big deal; [John] Corbett is wonderful to work with. It is funny how people really [get stuck] on that, I get that a lot.
Yeah, looking at interviews, I was like, “Wow, everybody cares so much.”
They think it’s so perverse, but it’s really not—and also, it’s acting. [laughs] Everyone’s like, what’s that like for you? And it’s really, really fine. [The comments are] also ageist and sexist too, I think everybody forgets that.
A lot of your acting roles, from Victorious to Broadway to here, a lot of it has to do with singing. Have you ever wanted to be a singer?
I never wanted to be a singer in the pop sense. I never really saw myself as a pop star, selling out arenas that way, living that type of a life. I don’t know that it would completely fulfill me. But I am envious of people who can play medium-sized clubs in an intimate, cool situation where you get to do shows from time to time, and develop a following, a cult group of people. I think that I maybe could have that if I just committed to putting out an album, which I’ve promised to do for years now. I still plan on doing it. I’m just very picky, and I’m very specific. It’s hard for me to impress myself, so once I do, once I have a body of work that I’m really comfortable with, I’ll put it out, and I’ll double as a musician apart from my acting career. But I would want them to be separate, I think. If it was really my own, if I was an artist, I wouldn’t want to use my name. I’d want people to like it on their own, without the association of me [as an actress], maybe.
Routing back to the show a little bit: I mean, basically nothing is off limits, or at least very little. Do you watch the show with your family?
Ugh, yes. It was a bummer this year, because, I love this season, I love it more than last season, and I think the whole cast agrees on that. But it’s very risqué this season: I am a sliver naked, I have a sex scene. And I have that whole story line with Davvy [played by Rebecca Naomi Jones], which I love, and it’s very sweet, and that’s the saving grace of the whole thing when I watch it with my parents, because otherwise it could’ve been something very gratuitous and hypersexual. But I think the root of their friendship and their relationship makes it a little less so, thank god. But I have watched the episodes with my family. They came to the premiere and that girl-on-girl kiss lasted about three times as long in my head when we were sitting in the audience. But their comments at the end of it were nothing bad. They were like, Oh it was such a sweet relationship, Gigi had such a sweet relationship with Davvy on the show. It was really nice to see you play vulnerable like that, we haven’t seen that from you, it was really nice. So they’re cool about it; I’m lucky they’re cool about it, cause it would be a disaster if not. I had to be very picky this year about which days they came to set, cause they wanted to visit set a lot, and half the days I would be there, you know, riding John Corbett, or making out with a girl, so I had to be very specific.
Is there a line that you draw for yourself, in terms of things you would or wouldn’t do on camera?
Yeah. At this point in my career, I really have no interest in being fully naked, or topless. Unless the role really calls for it, unless it made a whole lot of sense, I’m not into anything super-gratuitous. I only do what I feel is necessary for the character. And I like that all of our sex scenes this year, or all of our sexy scenes, there’s an element of comedy, and something always goes wrong in all of them. So none of it is just, like, soft-core porn. We try to make it funny at the end, we try to make fun of ourselves. And that’s what makes it comfortable for me. So, yeah, I don’t think you’ll be seeing me full naked on camera anytime soon, if ever. [Laughs]
Catch new episodes of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll on FX, Thursdays at 10pm.