“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” creator and star Denis Leary brought his signature dry humor and wit to a roundtable press interview at Comic-Con International, flanked by his co-stars John Corbett (“Northern Exposure”), Elizabeth Gillies, Robert Kelly (“Louie”) and John Ales (“The Nutty Professor”).
The FX comedy centers on Johnny Rock (Leary), a down-and-out rocker grappling with his age and limitations. His estranged daughter Gigi (Gillies) enters the picture and attempts to prove herself to be a talented vocalist by challenging her father’s self-image and taking over her old man’s band.
“I definitely feel like Ava [her mother] and I run the show,” Gillies said.
The inspiration for the series came in part from the Rolling Stones. “I always found it interesting that [Keith] Richards was able to raise such normal kids,” said Leary, a Stones fan. “And, he’s been married for 30 years now. He’s a grandfather.”
Leary’s fictional family, however, is entrenched in a power struggle that gets even more complicated when Johnny realizes his daughter’s fame will soon eclipse his own. “If the show gets to go and continue,” he said, “the biggest lesson he’s gotta learn, which he almost learns at the end of season one, is that if anybody in the family is gonna be famous — if anybody in the family is, it’s gonna be her.”
Making matters even worse for Johnny is the extreme jealousy he feels when guest star David Bowie cottoned more to Gigi. Leary teased, “What Johnny is gonna do to blow that up …”
Bowie is just one of a number of rock star cameos on the show: Joan Jett and Dave Grohl also make appearances, and put Leary to relative shame with their natural acting ability. “It took me hours in the editing room to make myself look even slightly cool as a rock star,” Leary said. “You have to actually be cool to be a rock star.”
Leary wrote, directed and scored the series, then hired real-life musician Corbett to help round out the on-screen band. Corbett has his own band. “It’s very similar in a lot of ways,” he said. “My guitar player and I have known each other for 27 years. I met when I moved to California to become an actor.”
Corbett, who’s celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Northern Exposure,” said he’s excited to be “watching another weird, quirky not-cop show or crime drama. It’s so weird to be doing it 25 years later.”
Rounding out the band are Robert Kelly, who plays drummer Bam-Bam, and John Ales, who plays bassist Rehab. They revealed they learned to play on the job. “In fact, I lied a little and said I could play bass and when I got the part, [Leary] texted me, ‘Hey motherfucker, can’t wait for you to get here. What kind of bass do you want?'” Alex recalled. “‘Oh, my God, I have to learn to play bass.'” Ales and Kelly eventually figured out their respective instruments only to find that they enjoyed playing so much that it distracted them from their acting.
Fortunately, Leary — who also writes the series — gave his comedians room for flexibility. The cast stuck to the script but also had plenty of opportunity to riff their lines and play their songs. “They let funny breathe,” said Kelly of Leary and the FX’s approach to their work atmosphere. “Instead of choking it out.”
“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.
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