She’s been acting and singing for more than half her life, but two years ago Elizabeth Gillies got her juiciest role yet in the FX comedy Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll as Gigi, a young singer angling for stardom as she deals with her aging rocker dad Johnny Rock (Denis Leary) and the dysfunctional family that is his tenuously reunited band.
Gillies, 23, a New Jersey native who was discovered at 12 and made her Broadway debut three years later in the musical 13, was best known for the Nickelodeon series Victorious before assuming the decidedly more adult role of the ambitious, sexy, free-spirited Gigi.
With the Thursday night (10/9c) series rolling through its second season, Gillies reveals what viewers can expect and weighs in on sex scenes, older men and what’s ahead for her and the show.
“I don’t have a problem dating older guys. It’s all about character, and because I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, I hung out with adults more. I have a tough time with 20-year-old boys. We have nothing to talk about!”
There’s four episodes left and the family dysfunction really escalates.
Big time. We just found out that Ava [Elaine Hendrix] and Flash [John Corbett] were having this wild affair behind our backs. It’s interesting the way Johnny and Gigi handle it. One would predict that it’s pure rage and in some part it is—I kind of trash the apartment. But there’s a lot more that goes into it. Johnny handles it with more maturity than anybody expects. Gigi’s betrayal comes from Ava by far, because she already told Flash ‘I can’t do this right now.’ He was on the way out.
Do you think it was inevitable that she and Flash split?
Yeah. I love the relationship and I love doing scenes with Corbett. But they started the relationship to get back at Johnny. It was revenge. A relationship is only as strong as where it starts and it wasn’t a good start. I thought the scenes in bed were funny, the kissing scenes, but they were awkward to do. They wanted to do a shot where I pull off this sheet, so I ended up wearing high-waisted leggings and covered every part of myself that I could cover. I’m actually a pretty demure person.
But unfortunately by the end I was in pasties, [thinking] if I slap him, things are going to fly all over the place. It’s very technical, not sexy in the slightest. And, Bo Derek was there that day. She’s wonderful—lovely, beautiful and sweet—but she happened to be there watching, and there I was with her boyfriend.
Do you date older guys?
I don’t have a problem with it. My boyfriend’s older. It’s all about character, and because I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, I hung out with adults more. I have a tough time with 20-year-old boys. We have nothing to talk about!
What do you love about Gigi? Do you relate to her ambition?
Yeah, we’re very close in that way. And her goofiness and clumsiness is very much me. This season I love her a whole extra lot because Denis has allowed more sides of her to come to the surface, which I really enjoy. She’s vulnerable and she has moments where she’s really young… when she thinks she’s going to meet Lady Gaga and her reaction to Flash’s proposal. I think she handled it rather maturely but she also sounded like a child. I like to see her vulnerable, nervous, angry. Last year it was, ‘I’m the one in charge, listen to me.’ This year she’s a little confused.
What do you want to see happen to her?
I’d like for her to make some mistakes next year. She’s so controlled. She does everything right. I’d like to see her screw up. I’d like to see her succeed musically because she wants that, but fall apart, maybe get into something she shouldn’t get into. I would like to see her get involved with somebody really bad for her. That would be fun.
Is this your favorite role to date?
Yeah, this and Jade on Victorious. I played her with an indie intensity—I went deeper and added layers to her to make her this super weird Goth girl with all these eccentricities. I dyed my hair black. People responded to it, as they have to this character.
Did you worry that being a Nickelodeon star would make it difficult to transition to adult roles?
Yeah, I did. I felt I was ready, but changing people’s minds…Denis didn’t want to see me. He was like, ‘No way!’ but they showed him something of me singing and he let me tape and then he cast me. I was lucky there was a singing element.
Are you glad you started working so young, or did you feel you missed out on childhood?
Sure, but I would have missed out either way. I was never interested in anything but this. I’m laser focused on my career. I do like to shop for furniture and go home and watch the Food Network and cook. I’m a total nester. If I do go out I like to have a drink at a piano bar. I’m much older in spirit than I am in age.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be in show business?
Five or six. I was glued to the TV. I’d watch The Wizard of Oz, all these musicals all day, which is cute until it becomes an obsession that parents have to indulge. My parents were wonderful. I had to leave high school to do 13, and they let me do it. A lot of other parents gave them flak for it but you can always go to school. My parents were always supportive. They weren’t showbiz parents but they just let me do it.
Do you want to go back to Broadway?
Yes, but I’m nervous to do it. I had an audition [recently] and it was hard. I’ve had such a cushy life doing TV for six, seven years. I love the stage, it’s my first passion and how I was trained. I need to go back, but I need to get my stage legs back.
What else is on your to-do list?
Put out an album or EP, some form of music. I’ve written for years and have demos, maybe 50 songs. But I’m a perfectionist. I think I’m gonna put out an EP or an album, something, very soon. I want to transition to movies. I want a role that really challenges me. I’d love to play a famous person, like a singer, or a true character that’s nothing like me.
I have a hiatus, so now would be the time. I’m working on it.
Lead photo by Danny Clinch/FX, second photo by Patrick Harbron/FX