‘American Gigolo’: Gretchen Mol on the ‘Pure Love’ Between Michelle & Julian
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for American Gigolo, Season 1, Episode 2, “Pretty Baby.”]
American Gigolo continues to unravel the lives of recently released prisoner Julian (Jon Bernthal) and the people surrounding him, particularly his former girlfriend Michelle (Gretchen Mol), who warned him to stay away from her for fear of his life.
What it all means remains to be seen, but as the gigolo tries to put his life together after years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Julian takes a walk down memory lane, giving viewers a clearer picture of his relationship with Michelle. And in the present, Michell deals with her own woes as she tries tracking down her son, who has run off with his teacher.
Below, Mol opens up about the latest developments uncovered in Michelle’s story and teases what could be next for the unfolding story.
The show is loosely inspired by the 1980 film of the same name, but it’s still quite different. What drew you to this role in particular?
Gretchen Mol: I read the first pilot script and it was just a good read. I mean, that was what got me. The character was still somewhat of a blank slate on the page, but, as far as Michelle Stratton is concerned, the overarching storyline sucked me in immediately, wanting to know how all these characters arrived or where they are. I was also drawn to the idea of Michelle and all of these characters having this history prior. So knowing there would be flashbacks and you see a woman in the beginning of the rest of her life, and then that sort of gets ripped out from under her. Cut to 15 years later, and everybody’s changed.
What did you and Jon Bernthal do to foster the onscreen connection between your characters?
We did discuss why they sparked beyond just the chemical and physical attractions. And after 15 years, for that to still live in both of them has to be pretty pure and real. So what I came to believe was that Michelle had her own version of abuse or trauma, you know, that she was also looking for some sense of security, which is why she married Richard Stratton. Then seeing how Julian sort of owns his history and is kind of shameless about it, I think that was somewhat of the draw that she has. Once I figured that out for myself, it became much easier to act out those scenes. It’s pure love, you know?
One thing that repeatedly comes up in Julian and Michelle’s flashback scenes is her asking whether or not he’s behaving the same way he does when he’s working. Why do you think she’s always asking?
One of the things I liked about the character was that she wasn’t judgemental about his work. But at the same time, it would be natural to be curious, and I would’ve liked to explore that dynamic further. How those two things can exist for a person, you know?
Michelle also propositions Julian for a “friend” of hers. What was the motivation behind that?
When she was doing that, I didn’t even think it was necessarily real. I thought that she was making it up. I think it was just a way to meet with him and get something deeper going on.
The other element of Michelle’s story is her toxic marriage to tech giant Richard Stratton (Leland Orser). She seems very scared of him. Will we see that dark side of him come out more as the season continues?
I think it’s just the sense mostly that he kind of owns her. So at this stage, her self-esteem is pretty much in the toilet because she’s given over to this life that isn’t really loving. There are secrets that I think she’s kept from him. And I think there are secrets that he’s kept from her. And that could be where the fear is based.
Considering Richard, Michelle seems very eager to find her son and the teacher he’s run off with before he does. Is there more to that?
I do think she doesn’t trust her husband’s reaction to that relationship. She’s sort of taking matters into her own hands. I mean, I think she would like to go to the police directly, and he’s worried about perceptions because of his position of power. He’s worried about press and so—yeah. There’s more to that.
And it isn’t really clarified, but between her wig and seeming dependence on pills, is Michelle sick with something or self-medicating because of the situation she’s in?
Physically I don’t think she’s sick. I think that she is living some lies for sure. The wig is part of that. I do think the pills are really like a self-medication thing, And I think a lot of that comes from spending 15 years of your life [with] the rug sort of ripped out from under her as far as the future that she thinks she’ll embark on. I think that self-medicating and becoming in some way, separate from who you really are [is the] only way for her to go forward.
Is there any hope for Julian and Michell then? Or has the distance, time, and other circumstances ruined it all?
I like to believe in love, and I do always have hope, especially when you’re playing a character, you always kind of want the best for them. So that was always my hope. Whether that should come to pass, I can’t [say].
American Gigolo, New Episodes, Sundays, 9/8c, Showtime (Streaming Fridays)