'Hightown' Cast & EPs Introduce the Darker Side of Beautiful Cape Cod

Hightown Season 1 Cast Preview
Starz

The Cape Cod of Hightown isn't the one you've come to associate with the Kennedys or a wholesome family beach vacation. Instead, it's the backdrop for a gritty crime drama taking place in the midst of the opioid epidemic.

That's why the lead, Jackie Quiñones (Monica Raymund), fits in perfectly. "She's this very brash, sexual, unapologetic, lesbian Fisheries Services Agent, who stumbles upon a body and ends up becoming obsessed with solving the crime," creator Rebecca Cutter previews of her series set in the "iconic, beautiful" location of "America's vacation spot." "At the same time, she starts to get sober. Her sobriety and her crime-solving skills move together. There's some give-and-take."

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But while Cutter uses "crime as a spine [and] the engine that moves the episodes forward," this drama is "not a whodunit," she stresses. You immediately find out who did it because "I wanted to be able to tell really rich character stories, and if you're hiding the identity of the killer, it's hard to get to know those people."

The Starz drama is filled with "really flawed, human, morally ambiguous characters," executive producer Gary Lennon notes, and that's what drew director Rachel Morrison in. "Everybody has only the best intentions, and you mix intentions with reality, and you never quite know what you're going to get," she says. "Actions don't always line up."

Monica Raymund Hightown Season 1 Jackie

Monica Raymund as Jackie Quiñones (Starz)

While that starts with Jackie — Cutter described her as "a female Don Draper," Lennon says — it's true of everyone. "What we did was we explored character through plot and so this crime, if you will, brought them into a world that to some of them was new, [and] other ones were old staples," he explains. "We created an expectation for the audience that a character would do blank and then we subverted it.

"What we attempted to do was create characters who behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances," he adds. For example, how does Jackie react when she comes across the body?

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That scene was one Morrison enjoyed shooting. (She directed the first two episodes.) "Whenever anything feels like you have a very small window to get something, and everybody's adrenaline is pumping and it's exciting and it feels a little bit documentary, that's where I find my stride," she shares. "When somebody is in a climactic moment, you have all kinds of creative license to shoot them in a way that is a heightened version of reality but it will feel real."

Scroll down to get to know the characters and relationships of Hightown.

Hightown, Series Premiere, Sunday, May 17, 8/7c, Starz

Hightown Character Jackie
Starz

Jackie Quiñones (Monica Raymund)

“Her vices are drugs, alcohol, and sex,” Raymund says. “Her virtues are loyalty” — like to those who matter the most in her life, including Ed and Junior — “and her strength.”

With her investigation, Jackie is substituting one addiction (crime-solving) for another (her vices). “If she’s not careful, she’s going to find herself deeply entrenched in danger because the people surrounding this murder investigation are heavy hitters, and they are extremely hard criminals,” she warns. “She’s got a lot at risk for herself, especially when it comes to trying to uncover some of these clues.”

But it’s through this investigation that Jackie begins taking her job more seriously. In the beginning, “she’s just looking to get home and go out for the night,” Cutter says. “Then she has a big change of heart. She has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder, that she’s just a fish cop, and she really wants more. This case could fix her.”

TV fans who know Raymund as Gabby Dawson from her years on Chicago Fire won’t see much of the paramedic-turned-firefighter in Jackie. “Gabby would think Jackie needs to go to rehab and get help and commit to focusing on that first before doing anything because Gabby is such a mom,” the actress laughs. “Jackie would just throw up her middle finger towards Gabby. She would definitely admire Gabby but also push her away because great success scares Jackie.”

Hightown Relationships Jackie Ed Junior
Starz

Jackie's relationships with Junior and Ed

“Jackie is a real womanizer, but she’s also terrified of intimacy, so all her closest friendships are with straight dudes,” Cutter explains.

Throughout the season, Jackie and Junior go from hanging out at the bar to him being her sponsor.

But while Junior sees her as family, his girlfriend and child matter the most. “Jackie can be an anchor at times and she can also be the storm that moves the ship at times” for his character, Shane Harper previews. “Ultimately, he has to sacrifice that relationship.”

Meanwhile, her partner, Ed, is Jackie’s “spiritual dad” as she tries to get sober, Cutter says. He “realizes how much she’s struggling with her addiction,” Raymund says. “What that really means is he sees how much she’s struggling with her own happiness and her own self-worth. He’s trying to help her renew her approach to her work.”

Hightown Character Ray
Starz

Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale)

“A virtue for him is he is human enough that he is lonely, he’s empathetic, he’s insecure, he’s fearful. That comes out in a vice because he uses people to fill that hole. He uses women to feel better about himself,” Dale says. “He possibly has a sex addiction. He’s brash, he’s selfish, he’s narcissistic, he’s a sandstorm. He’s coming at you too fast, and he gets grit all over you and dirt and then he leaves and you’re like, ‘I really don’t want to go through that again.'”

Ray’s goal is to put away the top drug dealers — and get to Frankie — to save lives, but he’s obsessed. “He’ll burn anybody to get that,” the actor previews.

While Cutter wouldn’t describe Ray as “corrupt or dirty,” or even “good or bad,” she acknowledges that “he’s an effective cop.” “He’s very smart, but he certainly does immoral things for a moral cause, and he’s not self-aware enough to realize how immoral he is.”

Hightown Relationship Jackie Ray
Starz

Jackie and Ray

The two cross paths on the case, but they’re not exactly gung-ho to work together. “They’re coming at the same case from opposite ends,” the creator explains. “He thinks of her just as this outside meddler, and she thinks he’s kind of an asshole, but ultimately, they have a lot in common as well.”

While Jackie’s the one to bring Ray and Alan clues for the case, “they basically brush her off a little bit,” Raymund previews. “She finds deep offense with that and also is confused by [Ray’s] pride.” However, “throughout the season, we’ll see Jackie and Ray start to realize they have more in common than they thought.”

Dale agrees because like his character, Jackie is “relentless” and “obsessed.” “Ray and Jackie see something in each other — whether they want to see it or not — and all of us take those vices and virtues into our own jobs,” he says. “The trick is using them for good and not for bad.”

Hightown Character Alan
Starz

Alan Saintille (Dohn Norwood)

“His vice is Ray,” Norwood laughs before pointing to Alan’s ego, “in the way of thinking he’s right about everything.” But “he wants to do the right thing,” he adds. “He wants to accomplish these great things, give him some marks on his shoulder, and things like that, but that obsession can also turn on us, and be the vice at the same time.”

Hightown Relationship Ray Alan Partners
Starz

Ray and Alan

Dale raves about working with Norwood. “I’m such a fan of Dohn Norwood. I had such a good time working with him,” he says. “That’s another deep relationship that doesn’t need to be fully answered [or] explored because it’s so fascinating to watch as it is right now.”

“Everyman” Alan is “frustrated by [his partner] because Ray gets to do whatever he wants,” Cutter explains. “Alan feels like he has to, a man of color on this mostly white force, really play by the rules.”

While Alan does see why Ray’s way of going about the job is “effective,” he “always feels like there’s a better way or the correct way as to not ruin the investigation and make things align properly,” Norwood shares. And since playing by the rules can be a “hindrance,” Alan “envies Ray,” he continues, “and what Ray is able to accomplish with some of his backdoor and illegal dealings.”

Hightown Character Renee
Starz

Renee Segna (Riley Voelkel)

What matters most to her is her son, and it’s the fact that she’s a mother now that she’s growing out of the person she became as a result of the trauma she suffered when she was young.

“She was picked up by Frankie at 19 years old, was a drug addict,” Voelkel says. “Frankie, in some ways, is her vice. Any time something good happens, she has to go back to what she knows and that’s [him]. Her fear of letting that wall down and just sticking with what she knows [are also] her vices.”

That being said, part of her does want “that normal domestic family,” which is why you’ll see a “strength” building in her throughout the season. “She’s willing to do whatever it takes to give her son a better life. She’s working in the clubs and you see that alter ego of Candy that she turns on where she’s getting what she needs from the men there,” she adds. “She’s getting what she needs to survive.”

Hightown Character Frankie
Starz

Frankie Cuevas (Amaury Nolasco)

His vice and virtue are the same: his drug ring. “That’s what he lives for, he’s proud of, his empire,” Nolasco says, but “there’s no limits to him. He’s just dropping bodies left and right. If you cross him, he’s going to kill you. One way or another. He doesn’t think about it twice.”

The “charming” Frankie is “the puppeteer, the guy behind the curtain,” he continues. And because he can’t even trust his crew since they’ve let him down, “he only trusts himself.”

Hightown Relationship Renee Franie
Starz

Renee and Frankie

While they do love each other and you do “see moments of that domestic, happy family” with their son (albeit in a prison), Voelkel points out that “they met when she was very young and in a bad place, and he’s been the one to take care of her.”

“They truly love each other in a very dysfunctional way,” Nolasco agrees. And because they’re forever bound by their son, “they will forever be partners in crime,” Voelkel adds.

Hightown Character Junior
Starz

Junior McCarthy (Shane Harper)

While Junior’s vice is his drug addictions, “his virtue is the thing that’s pulling him away from that, which is love for family, his heart for real connection,” Harper says. “He really cares about people, and he wants to have a normal life with the woman he loves and the child he loves and he wants to do better and be better.”

Of all the characters, Junior is one who doesn’t quite fit in to the “hardcore lifestyle” of those around him on Hightown. “The most endearing thing about him is his environment has caused him to end up here,” he continues. “He’s actually quite sensitive and doesn’t have the chutzpah to hang with these guys.”

Hightown Character Osito
Starz

Osito (Atkins Estimond)

While Osito isn’t an addict, he “definitely gives in to the violence, his darker side,” Estimond says. “That is definitely a problem for him, but it actually helps him a lot in what he does.”

His character has “a code,” he continues. “There is a line for him. There’s certain things that he is not willing to do and that won’t sit right with him, which is hard to grasp seeing the things that he is okay with.”

Hightown Relationship Frankie Osito
Starz

Frankie and Osito

While Frankie is the mastermind of the drug ring, and Osito works for him, the latter does have a limit when it comes to remaining loyal.

You’ll see the two clash as the season progresses. “There is this underlying friction between the two of them because Osito and Frankie aren’t really friends. It’s more of a work relationship,” Estimond previews. “But also Osito is the one who’s running the show on the street, which makes him a boss in a way, but Frankie is the boss and you can’t have two bosses. … It’s hard for me to continue to operate under him.”