‘Jett’ creator pushed for ‘pulpy and sexy and playful and violent’
“I was supposed to have six weeks between both projects and for a variety of reasons I ended up having just one,” says Gugino, 47, who says her role as Olivia in “The Haunting of Hill House” is “really the polar opposite” of Jett Kowalski, her alter ego premiering Friday (10 p.m.) on Cinemax.
Created by filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez (“Women in Trouble”) — Gugino’s off-screen partner— “Jett” follows the titular character, a world-class thief who’s fresh out of prison and seeking a clean life. She’s pressed back into “one last job” that turns into a series of tasks for colorful crime lords, including the debonair Charlie Baudelaire (Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring from “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”).
“Jett” dips in and out of genres — it’s a heist story, family drama and ensemble caper filled with smooth-talking henchmen and covert meetings in hotels with impeccable decor. It retains a Tarantino-like slickness and a Ryan Murphy-esque bright color palette.
“TV is so much friendlier towards female characters than American film is these days,” says the Venezuelan-born Gutierrez. “But I always felt there was a big gap in the anti-hero [characters] that men are allowed to play versus what women are. So I thought, Why can’t we have a woman who’s a professional badass thief and she’s not Robin Hood or a victim — she just happens to be a thief? It’s like if Clint Eastwood played this part, but what if it looked like Carla? So that was really the starting point.”
Gugino is Gutierrez’s frequent muse and has also appeared in his films “Judas Kiss” and “Elektra Luxx,” among others; they joke that their success is due to “selective hearing.”
“Though it may not sound objective, Sebastian is my favorite writer,” Gugino says. “One of the qualities that I find easy to access as an actor is emotion. In this case I was really intrigued by somebody who gave very little away and keeps her own counsel and is quite a mystery, and therefore it’s a very interesting challenge for me to play as well.”
“Jett” marks Gutierrez’s first TV show, and he says he wanted to bring his filmmaking sensibilities to the small screen. He was inspired, he says, by crime writers such as Elmore Leonard and fellow filmmakers including Steven Soderbergh.
“I had never done television before and I had no intention of filming [‘Jett’] like most shows, which for the most part in the ‘Golden Era’ of television are done in a pretty conventional way,” he says. “There’s been a few shows — for example, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Knick’ — that I thought were cinematic in what they were doing with the camera and in making decisions on set as opposed to [in] the editing room.
“Visually what’s really important to me is that the show is not naturalistic,” he says. “The acting itself is very grounded, but the show itself is very color-saturated and stylish. I want to have my cake and eat it too, which is pulpy and sexy and playful and violent. But the violence has consequences.”