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Interview with Gretchen Mol

Gillian holding cigarette

HBO

What did you know about Gillian going in? What about her appealed to you?

Gretchen Mol

I knew very little. I knew that she was a showgirl and Jimmy's mom, which I thought was interesting, but that was really it. There were a lot of unknowns, but I trusted all the parties involved. And the writing -- there was so much juice to the character, so much attitude. Even when I discovered she was a grandmother! I thought "Oh my god!" Some of my friends have asked, "Is it weird to play a grandmother?"and I say, "I'm still the same age!" I'm not a 60-year-old grandma with old-age makeup. It's just an added detail I can thrive on.

HBO

There's clearly more to Gillian than she lets on. What does she know about Angela and her "bohemian" lifestyle?

Gretchen Mol

Gillian grew up on that Boardwalk. It's a small town, I think she sees everything. The writing is so clever, there'll be these little things: Gillian shows Angela the magazine cover and it seems to be about her own vanity -- "Do you think she's pretty? I should be on the cover," but underneath that, I thought immediately, is she playing with her? "Do you think she's pretty?" I don't frankly know if they meant it, but it's one of the fun things to layer in there.

The ambiguity of this style of working is really different from a film or a play where you have all the materials in your hand. You can ask questions, but they keep it vague. There's a lot of freedom in that.

HBO

Do you believe Gillian is really interested in raising Tommy?

Gretchen Mol

I feel that her relationship with her son is very unique and she didn't make hard work with Jimmy -- he was with her backstage or wherever she went. I don't think she looks at parenting the way we do today, taking on a huge thing that's going to change her life. She thinks Angela is slightly in the way of her relationship with her son, her hopes for him and what that future means for her.

HBO

So is it a chance to do it over?

Gretchen Mol

I think it's even colder than that. I don't think it's even about a grandmotherly instinct for Tommy. It's more about her future and her survival. It's about getting to what's important -- these two male figures who could keep her comfortable. Another woman would be just in the way.

HBO

Can you talk about Gillian's connection to her son?

Gretchen Mol

I think their relationship has many complexities to it. They're almost like peers in some ways. One of the main aspects of the show and most of these characters is their will to survive the situation they're all in, the lengths they're willing to go. Jimmy is all she has. There's no man, and women aren't earning the same way men are. She loves and adores him but he's also her only asset.  

HBO

She knows the lengths he's gone to for her - replacing her necklace from a long time ago, even if he stole it back.

Gretchen Mol

She'll love him no matter what, so that wasn't a huge risk to the relationship. Even the fact that he didn't get in touch with her immediately -- I think that says a lot about how times were different and how communication was different. What he's up against isn't something that she can necessarily help with or know about. But I think she suspects -- that was the whole scene with Nucky at the Palmist's-- what's going on.

Jimmy is all she has. There's no man, and women aren't earning the same way men are. She loves and adores him but he's also her only asset.

HBO

What's Gillian's relationship to Lucky - did she know he thought she was Jimmy's wife?

Gretchen Mol

She probably assumed he thought that. Either way, wife or mother, it's still intrusive! But I think mother just puts the nail in the coffin. It's at least a little bit of a game in that way for her.

HBO

Was she sleeping with Lucky because that's what a mother will do for her son?  Did she get anything out of it herself?

Gretchen Mol

I think a little of both. The immediate thought is: What can she do to protect her son? It's a mother bear instinct to do what she has to do. But also, it's the not the hardest thing she has to do! She's alone; he's at least more attractive than most of the men she's probably been with. But the bigger thing for her is the trap.

HBO

What wouldn't Gillian do for him?

Gretchen Mol

Even for Jimmy, she has standards, so if he goes far out, I don't think she would just blindly do it for Jimmy. She still sees herself as his mother.

HBO

Did Gillian always want to be a showgirl? Or does she have bigger goals?

Gretchen Mol

I think she likes glamour. When we first started talking about the character, they told me she was loosely based on Evelyn Nesbit, an artists' model who was prized for her looks and got into relationships with men who took care of her. Nesbit was even a showgirl for a time in New York.  Gillian's not on stage in New York, she's in a little club in Atlantic City, but I think she prides herself on her artistry and wishes her career were grander.

HBO

And yet she encourages Angela to pursue more practical pursuits.

Gretchen Mol

She looks at Angela and thinks: "You're not going to be a movie star, but you could sell perfume." Gillian's had to work all her life and to see someone just painting is a little maddening for her.

HBO

So besides reading up on Evelyn Nesbit, how else did you prepare?

Gretchen Mol

The Evelyn stuff led me into the time period. It really made me understand that the time being what it was, there was no shame in what she was doing. It was about making the best of what she had and finding the glamour in it. I watched 'Ragtime' again and re-read the book. The research was more about the period than anything else, because there was no specific person. I had to be open and flexible in the process because it was developing as I got into it.

HBO

What are your thoughts about Gillian's showgirl outfits?

Gretchen Mol

My thoughts are I can't do them for too much longer! (Laughs) I love the costume designer, John Dunn, who I worked with on 'Bettie Page.' He knows body and my strengths and weaknesses and the things I'm insecure about.  Costumes -- or lack of costumes here -- it's never easy. You kind of have to rally yourself. I keep saying "You know, I'm a grandmother!" so I have a little leeway

FAN QUESTIONS

HBO

Gretchen Mol graciously answered some fan questions from our Facebook page.

From Erin. L

Does this role remind you of your role as Bettie Page in any way?

Gretchen Mol

The thing I love is that it's such a departure as far as motivation. Gillian is so calculated and Bettie had this innocence and openness. If Gillian ever had any of that, it's totally gone. She's such a cynical character. Having a job about your physical appearance, there's that similarity, but that's an aside to Gillian's character, it's not all she is.

From April R.

Do you ever feel embarrassed or nervous being naked with the crew watching you perform or doing sex scenes?

Gretchen Mol

It's part of the job. I'm lucky, I love working with Vincent who is a fantastic actor. You need a partner that's respectful and you can both be honest about the discomfort. Those scenes always look more fun than they are -- I guess that's the intent!

Gillian Darmody

played by Gretchen Mol

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