Comedian/actor/self-described “asshole” Denis Leary (The Ref, The Amazing Spider Man) has become a staple in television, producing not only his own shows—like Rescue Me—but also producing shows for other comedians, like Marc Maron‘s Maron and USA’s Sirens. Leary is returning to his own show with the leading role in the obnoxiously titled Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll—and he’s assembled a lot of talented musicians to do so.
Leary plays Johnny Rock, a fledgling rock ‘n roller who was close to stardom 25 years ago, as a part of the band The Heathens—famous for such raucous shows that Keith Richards once told The Heathens to “cool it” —but his sex drive drove the band mates apart. Now a young singer shows up out of the blue (Elizabeth Gillies, who also does her own singing) and wants to re-record The Heathens songs, with herself as the lead. Leary gets the band back together, but the man he wronged in the past (John Corbett), is out for his own revenge, fueled by sex, drugs, rock and roll.
We sat down with Leary, Gillies, and Corbett at Comic-Con on an early Sunday morning, and this is the scorched path they laid:
- Corbett says the show really starts 25 years ago, when Johnny (Leary) sleeps with Flash’s (Corbett) wife, just before The Heathens are about to release their first album. “He doesn’t have any remorse about it,” Corbett said. And as everyone is still living in the past, having not achieved the rock dreams that were very close to being realized, “I’m going to try and get a little old-fashioned retaliation and go after [his comeback singer] (Gillies).”
- Greg Dulli singer/guitarist of The Afghan Whigs (an R&B-infused alternative rock group who were the first non-Seattle band on the now world famous Sub Pop Records) is a close friend of Leary’s. “I knew I could convince Greg to do a week, right before the Afghan Whigs were doing their reunion tour. So we took all the old
Heathen songs and gave them to Greg Dulli and we went into the studio basically the Afghan Whigs minus their bass player, and they turned the songs into [The Heathens’ original album].”
- For Gillies’ new Heathens’ version, Leary used his comedy bandmates, who’ve been session players for Ozzy Osbourne, The Jim Carroll Band, The Del Fuegos and they spent three weeks to record something more in the “Radiohead to Morrissey” vein.
- Leary’s son created an EDM song, because Leary “doesn’t know EDM” but wanted one to feature later in the season.
- Gillies says Gigi does teach Johnny a thing or to, but surprisingly it’s not a one way street: “He does impart wisdom on her. It’s like dual-parenting, but not in the way that you’d expect.”
Leary, who has been producing television shows ever since 2001’s The Job, offered some of his own wisdom to comedians, saying acting allowed him access to create his own business. “After No Cure for Cancer, I started getting some film offers, and so I thought I needed acting training, and those people saved me, because they said, ‘Listen, start a production company. Start generating stuff on your own,'” he recommended to any comedians reading. “Because once the phone stops ringing for acting work, you’re either back on the road as a comedian, or you’re not working. Even if you don’t write, get a production company, start buying books, and start getting ready to self-generate so when the phone stops ringing you have something.”
- Leary says there will be some film, pop culture jokes at his expense. For instance, his character doesn’t understand Noah Baumbach‘s The Squid and the Whale: “Which is hilarious to me, because he has no idea there’s even a story [from The Bible] of Jonah and the Whale, he’s never heard of it! He’s so limited in his knowledge; if it’s not music-related, he really doesn’t know anything about it.”
- Corbett was ecstatic to be on another comedy show, and especially to be talking to press on that day, July 12, 2015. Because “July 12, do you realize that today is the 25th anniversary of Northern Exposure? That show was a blessing for me, it was really quirky and weird, and here I am 25 years later, and on the same week I have another quirky and weird comedy that similarly has dramatic strokes.”
- Corbett said, “If you’re doing TV, the worst thing that can happen to you is ending up on one of 100 cop shows. I’m not putting anybody down, but those programmers, sometimes they whip out a lot of money and say, ‘Come aboard the good ship lollipop,’ but I don’t think you’re satisfied with the material. I’m just glad I get to have fun and improvise with Denis Leary, instead of looking over a corpse and say, ‘I’ve found the weapon.'”
- Leary said that Joan Jett and Dave Grohl will appear on the show, but his big hope is to get David Bowie. And not just because Leary himself is a big fan, but because his character is. He’d like to get Bowie to record with Gillies because that’d drive his character crazy.
- Corbett is having a heard time letting go of his rock ‘n roll look: “I have this hair that they kind of spray up, it takes a half-hour to get my hair just right; I get these really nice clothes by John Varvatos, and then you know they give us the equipment—great Gibson guitars that are sort of rare and really expensive—and the next thing you know you do feel special,” he said, with a smile and a shrug, “I’m not gonna lie.”
- But Leary says being a rock star isn’t easy: “I had to spend hours editing to make it look like I was even slightly cool, even a wannabe rock star in this. The thing I’ve discovered, even though I’ve had a hit myself with the ‘Asshole’ song—but I can’t be a rock star—you have to be an unbelievably cool person to be up on stage for three hours.” Gillies stepped in to massage Leary, “You’re a very cool person.” To which Leary said, “Go watch Debbie Harry and try and tell me I’m cool.” To which, Gillies said, “I can’t compare you to Debbie Harry. She’s a woman!” “A lot of rock stars are really good actors—which really fucking pisses me off! They make everything look so fucking easy,” Leary said. And that is the kind of back and forth we can probably expect on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.It airs Thursdays on FX, starting July 16th.
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