Carla Gugino on How ‘Leopard Skin’ Digs Deep Beneath the Surface

There is more beneath the surface of Leopard Skin. This a fact that drew Carla Gugino to the upcoming new Peacock series from Sebastian Gutierrez. The two last worked together on the short-lived Jett.

Here the Haunting of Hill House star plays Alba, a documentarian who along with Batista “Batty” (Gaite Jansen), is paid an unexpected visit by a band of criminals. Fleeing a diamond heist gone wrong, they take the women as hostages and use the beachside estate as their safe refuge. Things continue to go awry when dinner guests, Max (Philip Winchester), Maru (Amelia Eve), and the estate’s former housekeeper, Inocencia (Ana de la Reguera) appear.

Layers of this story are peeled back from flashbacks to the present day. Secrets are uncovered and questions are answered (Jeffrey Dean Morgan!) for everyone involved right up until the last of the eight episodes. We caught up with Gugino about Alba’s internal and external journey.

You’re not one to choose easy roles, and this one certainly isn’t.

Carla Gugino: I know! It’s so true. I was thinking at this point in my life, both onstage and on the screen, it’s not that I don’t like to do light material. But I think the roles I believe ultimately warrant my time and energy and keep me interested are the ones that scare me and excite me in equal parts. Certainly, Alba does both of those things. In addition, it’s obviously tough to say no to going to shoot on a deserted exquisite beach for two-and-a-half months during the pandemic. That was a perk.

There are a lot of intense and intimate scenes between Alba and Batty as the season evolves and we learn the history there. How was it filming with Gaite again?

We worked together with Sebastian on Jett. We knew each other well and trusted each other creatively. She is a brilliant actress. We obviously did need to go to some really risque places. I think both are living under the specter of this very important man. I think in a lot of ways they are mirror images. I needed someone who I can trust. We also needed an environment we could jump off the creative cliff together and know we would be safe to do so. It ended up being an incredibly organic experience and really fun to explore those things, even though some of those scenes are incredibly intense.

Leopard Skin

Sebastian Gutierrez 2022 Skinny Leopard, LLC.

Specifically with the women in general on the show, even the criminals, as we learn about their backgrounds there are perceptions and preconceived notions men place on them.

I think that is the theme of the show. Identity. Certainly, it’s not by accident there is this very powerful, successful figure who has affected all their lives in a lot of ways. Even Philip Winchester’s character is obviously influenced by Archibaldo in a huge way. Maru is thinking, “I”m not sure I want to be defined by this guy who I’m with. Inocencia is also very influenced by him. There is no doubt these are women who are realizing they don’t want to be victimized in any way. That they are going to fight for what they believe in. I think it’s about realizing and seeing what they believe in. It’s interesting when the male element is removed that the experience of these women is more dreamlike and more surreal. That’s where Sebastian brings in certain magic realism as we go backward and forward through time. It is a little bit like the nesting dolls where it’s a story within a story within a story.

Whether it’s the pool or the ocean, what can you say about the symbolism of water?

You’ve picked up on everything! Water is a huge element. The water is symbolic of the subconscious. Even that moment when Alba falls into the water. That element was something that Cale Finot, the director of photography, and Sebastian, incorporated very intentionally. It was actually very key. If we hadn’t found the right location for this piece we wouldn’t have shot it. It was that impressive from that sort of dream logic. Also, in the way that nature is brutal. The place we filmed. It show takes place in Mexico, but we filmed in the Dominican Republic. I went back about six months later and the entire beach had been eroded. I was struck by the brutality of nature. The host there says every year the beach sweeps away and fills back. It’s so interesting as little human beings we’re so afraid to change and conflict. Then you look at nature telling us that is the nature of life. That we better wake up and realize it. So a huge element of the show.

You wonder how this situation ends for everyone involved as a viewer. When you’re reading the script, did it end up how you expected?

What I will say is one of the great things about Sebastian is he gave us all the scripts. So, we knew everything from the start, which is wonderful. So often you don’t get that with TV. Although I’ve been fortunate enough with Mike Flanagan to also have that experience. In this way, it was like shooting a film. I think one thing that was really important about this show is we didn’t want to shy away from exploring the shadow and darkness of humanity and darkness within us. But it is ultimately human positive. It is very much connecting to ourselves and each other. It was really important in this moment and time to do something that leaves you in a place where you feel good. You feel good about the world. You feel good about people. That there is hope. Love can connect. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always a straight line. That was what was really important to get across.

Leopard Skin

Sebastian Gutierrez 2022 Skinny Leopard, LLC.

Are you open for this story to continue based on what we see from the last scene?

Yes, there are thoughts for a possible next season. I would be open to that. It was such an amazing experience.

How would you compare working with Mike to Sebastian?

They write their own material and then direct, so there is a wonderful sense of a very strong, clear hand there. There is also an incredible collaborative nature in both of them because it is their material, and they are not trying to hold on to anything. They surround themselves with casts they trust and have experience with so often. They love to build a troupe of actors. Sebastian, I have such a long and personal relationship with. There is a level of depth we can find that is unique to itself. There is nothing else I can compare to that. He also writes female characters so exquisitely. I think that comes from his father dying when he was very young. He was raised by a household of women. They are both extremely fast thinkers. With Mike Flanagan, I have found a creative partner I didn’t know until we did Gerald’s Game. I would always go and play with him since he is extraordinary.

Everyone is so excited about The Fall of the House of Usher. What can you tease about that project?

It is one of the most extraordinary roles I’ve gotten the opportunity to play. So when Mike said he wrote it with me in mind and asked me to do it there was half a second before I said absolutely. And then I read it. There is some great black humor in it. It is intense. I’m super excited about it.

Leopard Skin, November 17, Peacock

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