Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan chats with Monica Raymund of STARZ’s Hightown about playing the female Don Draper and what her hard-partying character would be doing during quarantine.
One of the most memorable new TV characters of the season is Jackie Quiñones of Hightown on STARZ. Monica Raymund plays her as a lived-in character; you can imagine this woman’s life before the show starts, and even after the credits roll. As an alcoholic living in the epicenter of New England fun in Provincetown, Jackie spends her days on the water as a fishery agent and her nights bedding a bevvy of women on the peninsula. But when she discovers a body washed up on the shore, her life changes.
Hightown has the description of a show you’ve seen before—a drug epidemic and the cops that are tracking down the bad guys. Yet showrunner Rebecca Cutter and her team take a fresh take on a familiar formula with its dynamic writing and characters. You’ve never met someone like Jackie Quiñones on television, but maybe you have in Massachusetts.
I loved talking to Raymund about playing this complicated mess of a character and why it’s really an origin story about friendship.
**Spoilers for Season 1 ahead!**
Awards Daily: Showrunner Rebecca Cutter described Jackie as “Don Draper as a woman.” Is that how you feel about your character, too? Or do you think of your character as something else entirely?
Monica Raymund: That’s funny. I’ve heard her say that before, and every time I think about it, I don’t think she’s as together or as classy as Don Draper. Don Draper is a brand, because of his work. I think she’s right in the sense of understanding the tools that she has in order to gain what she wants. In Jackie’s case, it’s sex, it’s drinking, it’s drugging, and she knows she can hook up with a girl, have a one-night stand, move on with her day the next day, and doesn’t really mind or care for other people. She’s definitely a hedonist in the beginning. But that’s also very much entrenched in her realization that she’s an alcoholic.
AD: Obviously Jackie gets caught up in this murder mystery when she’s in rehab. You’d think that that would make her stay focused and stay sober, and she leaves early and doesn’t. If there is no murder, do you think she stays in rehab? Is there any scenario where she stays and gets better?
MR: What we’re gonna see over the rest of the first season, you see her really trying to take sobriety seriously, but what happens a lot in the addict’s world, is something called cross addiction. I think the crime, the murder of Sherry Henry, almost turns into this kind of addiction for her. So she removed the drugs and alcohol, removed the sex, and she’s struggling to fill this hole in her, this void. All of the sudden this investigation, it feels good. She feels like she can do it. But not only that, she starts to see the pain in Krista Collins. And seeing that there are these clues in the investigation that the cops just aren’t following up on. And she knows she has the goods to be able to help this girl and to be able to help solve this murder, to be good. It’s an opportunity to right her wrongs, an attempt at trying to find some redemption.
AD: Jackie is hit especially hard by Krista’s death. There’s that moment on the night of her death, before we know she’s going to die, where Jackie’s partying with those girls and she wants to go toward the hotel, but she doesn’t. Do you think she remembers that? Because that moment sticks out for me as an audience member. But then I realized, she might not remember that, because she was pretty wasted.
MR: Yeah, I loved that moment. I actually think that’s a real testament to the director of that episode, Eagle Egilsson. It’s really well shot and directed, and I thought the storytelling was really clear. I was a fan of that scene as a viewer. It’s a good question! I think there is a part of her that has to remember it, because she realizes she was so close, and she starts putting the pieces together. Jackie hears from Ray that Krista is dead, and then she doesn’t really know what to do. I think there’s this moment where Jackie remembers [and thinks] “Holy shit! I could have seen her last night—I could have saved her.” The lack of control, of having these pieces together that fit into a puzzle, but because it’s fuzzy and because she makes dumb decisions, these pieces never really fall into place in the way that we wish them to.
AD: That’s so sad. You’re right. Another sad moment is when Jackie blows it with Devonne. Again. Do you think she has any lives left with her, or do you think she’s burned all of those bridges? It was so hard to watch Jackie in that moment.
MR: I don’t know what Season 2 is going to hold with Devonne, but I think the bridges are burned, yeah, for now. But what comes out in Jackie’s sobriety, she’s trying to get loose from herself in the darkness and rise above it. And then she realizes that she can’t get with the woman of her dreams, she can’t give her what she wants. I think Jackie knows deep in her heart she can’t give that to her because they’re not aligned in that way. So it’s actually more selfless to let her go. I think it’s selfish to try to keep holding on to her.
AD: That’s so true. That broke my heart. (Laughs)
MR: Me, too! That last scene!
AD: Watching your character is like watching a horror movie. “No, don’t do that!”
MR: She’s so frustrating, isn’t she?
AD: Yeah, but that’s what makes her great. I was thinking about how summer seems like Jackie’s time to shine. What do you think she’s like in the winter, when everyone’s gone? Do you think she’s different?
MR: Oh my god, that’s such a great question. I’m so excited you asked that. Now that we have a second season, I think we’re going to see Provincetown in a different season. We’re going to be able to explore who the characters are outside of the summer season. The summer is sort of this beautifully famous area of queerness and color and culture and parties. We see Jackie thrive in that as you said, but I think once the curtain closes, and we’re past this tourist season of where anything goes and she gets to party all the time because she lives in Shangri-La, I think we’re going to see a very different side of Jackie. Because what happens when you remove the beautiful colors and lenses and the magic in the air? What’s left? And that’s for me what is one of the most titilating questions I can ask as an actor. Who is this woman when she’s alone? When she doesn’t have these coping mechanisms at her disposal? To avoid having to feel, to avoid vulnerability—what happens in those private moments? And does she allow herself to sit in that darkness and process and deal with it? Or does she continue to even at her own peril move away and deny her process and her trauma?
AD: I even wonder what she would be like during the pandemic and lockdown.
MR: I think she would be drinking every day. (Laughs) I’m so sad to say it, but yeah. She’s too early in her sobriety to be able to. If she were quarantined right now, she would probably just go out to the bar anyway and flip them the bird.
AD: She wouldn’t be wearing a mask either!
MR: She’d be like, “No, I need to stay hot for the girls. If they can’t see my face, then I can’t get laid.”
AD: (Laughs) Another thing I love about the show—her relationship with Junior (Shane Harper). What do you think is the connection between them, other than their addiction? They seem to have an unspoken type of relationship.
MR: When two people are suffering from an addiction and are dealing with really dark times—we’re seeing what Junior is dealing with and what he’s keeping from Jackie—there’s something that binds them together. It’s like grief. If you lost your sister or your brother and you meet somebody else who lost a sibling, there’s just something there; the bond is connected so quickly because you both can know what that specific kind of grief is like. And I think that’s the unspoken love that you feel between Junior and Jackie. I think it lies somewhere in there. They both have had a life that’s hard and dark and they’ve overcome a lot of adversity, but they’re still standing on their two feet, for better or worse. There’s something that connects them with that, even if they don’t talk about it.
AD: I also love the relationship with Jackie and Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale). They hint at the end that they could be closer friends. They only seem to connect at the end of the season. Do you think we’ll see more of their relationship in Season 2?
MR: Yeah, I think so. What’s cool about this show, I’m watching it as it’s airing, so I get to relearn it. I didn’t realize how clearly it’s being told to me that Jackie and Ray are so much more alike than we realize, and really the stories of the characters in this world are really about Jackie and Ray becoming closer together, eventually at the end of Season 1. The one investigation ties all of them together, but it really brings Ray and Jackie together in a couple of ways. One, they both are obsessed with this case and they’re going about it in all the wrong ways, but they know it’s helping the case. And two, they both have these shared demons inside of them, and they see themselves in each other. That’s really strikingly beautiful to me between Ray and Jackie.
AD: The first season is like an origin story of their friendship, leading up to how they become partners maybe even, too.
MR: That’s great! An origin story. I like that. All of the characters that you meet, all have a relationship with each other already. Jackie and Ray are meeting each other as we see them meeting each other.
Hightown Season 1 airs on STARZ on Sunday nights.