Denis Leary might seem like the kind of guy who celebrates the conflict that comes with creative collaboration. But the creator and star of FX’s”Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” is quick to champion another writer for the show’s new energy in Season 2.
Leary credited one of the show’s new writers, Julieanne Smolinski, for helping enhance the storylines of Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) and Ava (Elaine Hendrix). “It doesn’t matter how many women you know and how many times you’ve tried to keep your eyes and your ears open to gain information for writing purposes, you’re never going to be able to write a woman the way a woman could,” he said.
The new season of “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” also pays tribute to David Bowie, including some old concert footage of the glam rocker at his prime. “He’s one of my favorite rock stars of all time, if not my favorite,” Leary said. But his plan for a Bowie cameo sadly never came to pass before the rock star’s death.
Below, Leary pays tribute to his collaborators — while also admitting that he believes friction was essential for “his favorite bands of all time.”
This year, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” has a much more of an ensemble feel, with everyone getting real storylines.
I always feel better about a Season 2 on a show because you know the actors and they know their characters completely, and that loosens everybody up. Not just that, but I got to bring in one of my favorite writers, Julieanne Smolinski, who wasn’t available last year because she was working on “Grace and Frankie.” She’s a brilliant writer. She’s got a history in rock journalism and also, she’s just incredibly fucking smart. She was able to fill out a lot of Ava and Gigi’s storyline. But, she helped me all the way through. You’ve seen the first four. Some of that Gigi-Davvy storyline comes right out of Julieanne’s real life. So, she added stuff that was really terrific and, again, just really strong stuff I thought for Ava and Gigi’s storyline. I’ve got to give her a lot of credit for that.
It seems like you had no problem at being necessarily the center of the show anymore. It’s more of a sprawling cast.
I call it the “gang of four plus two.” The gang is always me, Ava, Gigi and Flash, who can’t seem to get out of each others’ way. And the plus two is always Bam Bam and Rehab. They’re in the band, but they’re always up to something else off to the side. I think they’re kind of locked forever in that dysfunctional union.
There’s something easy to identify with there. Most people would like to say that they’re happy for their friends when they succeed, but there’s always a darker undercurrent to it.
Yeah, especially if they’re in the same field. Especially in the arts, I think. Actors, writers, painters, musicians, comedians. I think we all feel like there’re so few spots in the glitterati that if one of your friends gets it, you’re kind of like, “Well, that’s great for him. It’s probably good for me because maybe they’ll help me out.” But there’s also that, “Fuck! I can’t believe my friend made it and I didn’t.” So, that’s always kind of bubbling under…well it’s bubbling under with this group all the time.
It seems like with what you’ve built, it’s an interesting way of examining what fame does to creative friendships.
I think every great band, all of my favorite bands that broke up – The Clash is one of my favorite bands of all time and The Replacements – there’s an admirable sort of logic that we all have about how courageous it is when a band breaks up and never gets back together again. When I was young, I thought that was incredibly brave, but now I look back at it and it’s funny, but it’s also kind of tragic because it would’ve been great to see The Clash one more time. The Replacements tried to get back together again a couple years ago and it just blew up in their face. But the truth is, I think one of the reasons the bands that last like the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith or whoever — even the Pixies, it’s a combination of people who are really talented and also kind of hated each other, which is what makes the rock’n’roll great. Without that friction and that jealousy and that envy, you really wouldn’t have anything worthwhile musically.
Do you think that extends beyond music?
I have to say yeah. I don’t think it’s that easy to make television. A great story might have a happy ending, but it has to start some place that’s not happy just like a great song. If we sat down, you and I right now, and started to pick our favorite songs, how many of those would be about happiness? Same thing with the movies. Even a movie with a happy ending has to start with some tension and conflict. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a band, whether they ended up being famous or not and whether it was a combination of men and women or just each group, where there wasn’t jealous about that person out in front of the spotlight singing that song. It’s just the nature of being.
What was the timing on writing and producing the season? I couldn’t help but notice that David Bowie’s death got paid major tribute.
He’s one of my favorite rock stars of all time, if not my favorite. First of all, I didn’t understand, the Lazarus video came out on a Friday. I thought it was amazing when I saw it. But I didn’t find out that he was dying while he was making it. I didn’t understand that message until we found out he was dead. Probably one of the greatest talents of all time in rock’n’roll — the fact that he could take that experience and translate it into that album, and in particular that video and that song, is kind of astonishing.
At the same time, I knew he was opening [the musical “Lazarus”]. And because we had had the idea for doing a “Hamilton”-type musical, a hip hop musical, in my mind, I still wanted to write a David Bowie cameo. I know he lives in New York and I thought, “If I write something that takes maybe a half a day for him to shoot, I could probably get him to do it.” My idea was we were going to working on the hip hop musical and he was going to have his musical ready to open or already opened and we somehow get backstage and bother. And then when he died, of course, that story disappeared.
It’s really striking that one of the first things you did when we started talking was to immediately give a lot of credit to Julieanne Smolinski. You made sure her contributions were known. So, there’s still generosity in the world.
Well, listen, I’ll be honest with you. The truth is, I can’t underestimate how terrifically funny and smart she is. So it’s also a form of advertising because I’m hoping Julieanne’s going to read this and realize how much I love her and then want to come back for Season 3. Because she’s very much in demand.
Listen, I’m a guy so it doesn’t matter how many women you know and how many times you’ve tried to keep your eyes and your ears open to gain information for writing purposes, you’re never going to be able to write a woman the way a woman could. I find this with my wife who’s a novelist and I find this with Julieanne, Julieanne writes men better than I can write women and my wife does the same thing. So to me, having that point of view on the show, especially a show where really, if you think about it, Johnny thinks he’s in charge sometimes and Flash thinks he’s in charge, but the truth of the show is Gigi and Ava are almost always in charge of what’s going. I think having a strong female voice was not only key for the story, but also just opened up stuff I would’ve never thought of and stuff that didn’t happen in my life and stuff that’s not the way that I would think. Julieanne I think only officially wrote two episodes of her own, but she was involved in the creation of the other eight episodes. Without her, I’d hate to think what the season would’ve been like.
“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” Season 2 premieres Thursday, June 30 at 10pm on FX.