Carla Gugino went from a tragic matriarch swanning in a mansion in “The Haunting of Hill House” to a grasp thief in “Jett” — with little time in between to catch her breath.
“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 perform 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 companion— “Jett” follows the titular character, a world-class thief who’s not too long ago out of jail and looking out for a clear life. She’s pressed once more into “one last job” that turns proper right into a sequence of duties for colorful crime lords, along with 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 conferences in lodging with impeccable decor. It retains a Tarantino-like slickness and a Ryan Murphy-esque shiny shade 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 moreover appeared in his films “Judas Kiss” and “Elektra Luxx,” amongst 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 an 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 current, and he says he wished to convey his filmmaking sensibilities to the small show display. He was impressed, he says, by crime writers similar to Elmore Leonard and fellow filmmakers along with 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 have been a few reveals — for the occasion, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Knick’ — that I believed had been cinematic in what they’d been doing with the digital digital camera and in making picks onset versus [in] the modifying room.
“Visually what’s actually essential to me is that the present will not be 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.”