The rules for becoming the fan-favorite talent of a teen or young adult soap are pretty simple: Don’t be the straight-up romantic lead. If you’re a guy, get cast as either the quirky or nefarious side character; if you’re a lady, be the impeccably dressed ice queen with her own inner demons and a penchant for nailing one liners.
Enter Elizabeth Gillies. Between her twinkling, beguiling eyes—reminiscent of a lioness toying with her prey—and her habit of speaking and carrying herself in an authoritative manner— a manner well beyond her 24 years—she’s like a human-sized Jessica Rabbit: She’s not bad; she’s just drawn that way.
So it seemed like a no-brainer when Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage and Sallie Patrick—three executive producers who, with a collective resume that includes Gossip Girl, The O.C. and Revenge, know a thing or two about making determined female leads relatable—cast Gillies as the new Fallon Carrington in their remake of Dynasty.
“They actually told me in the room at my screen test the day after my initial read, which was very exciting to me,” Gillies told Paste when we reached her by phone in September, having returned home after a 4:30 a.m. call day. “That never happens, by the way. Usually, you have to wait for months, and you’re up against thousands of girls. This was quite painless. It felt like a dream. It still does. I’m very excited to play such a dynamic, exciting character.”
The new Dynasty, which premieres October 11 on The CW, is not simply the world of cat-fighting and shoulder pads for which its 1980s predecessor is best remembered (although both do exist here). It’s also a story of challenged birthrights, maintaining legacies and even a touch of environmental action. In regards to Gillies’ part, the new Fallon seems much more resilient and resourceful than the first iteration, played by Pamela Sue Martin and later, Emma Samms. (A little ironic, actually, considering Martin has said that she gave up the role because she was sick of playing a “victim.”)
“I had a script last week where she was laughing in one scene, crying in another scene and then commanding a board room and quietly whispering to a man she loves before flirting with another man,” says Gillies, who before now was best known for her role as troublemaker Jade West on the Nickelodeon show Victorious and for playing Denis Leary’s feisty, chip-off-the-old-block daughter in FX’s short-lived music dramedy, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. “She’s exhausting to play, and I mean that in the best way. I come home and I’m completely beat, so I can’t imagine how she does it every day. This character’s hardcore.”
Gillies is aware that this all sounds a little reminiscent of Leighton Meester’s Gossip Girl character, Blair Waldorf. In fact, she knows the similarities are there not only because she grew up watching the old CW show, but because she now falls asleep to the show, her subconscious absorbing reminders from the Upper East Side Queen B that tights are not pants, sandals are not shoes and “it only takes one video to topple a career. If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘Connie Chung piano.’”
“I welcome the comparisons, but I will say that Fallon is quite different,” Gillies says. “They’re both very witty and very strong women, but I will say that Fallon comes off probably a lot older than her age. Even though she’s not in high school and Blair was, she behaves like a 60-year-old woman at times and she’s a business woman.”
Another holdover from prior series is costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack, who worked under Eric Daman on the early seasons of Gossip Girl and is in charge of her own, modern spin on the ruffles, pastels and enormous headwear that Nolan Miller made synonymous with the first Dynasty’s era of affluence. Gillies says to look for winks and nudges in the new show, such as a black and white dress she wears in one episode that’s a nod to one the character wore in the original Dynasty. There are also more blatant examples.
“I remember this one scene where I’m just going down for breakfast or coffee, yet I’m wearing a turban like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and a kimono with fur and feather slippers,” Gillies says. “So that’s the level at which we’re serving.”
The costumes alone serve as a reminder that it’s hard not to find something campy in any iteration of Dynasty. But Gillies says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“You can wear high fashion and be in a power suit commanding a board room and still go shopping after it,” she says, matter-of-factly. “You can do all of it. I think that’s the important thing that I don’t think people always think about.”
While the wardrobe may be what gets viewers to tune in, Gillies wants them—particularly the prospective female audience who are still in their formative years—to stick around because they like seeing her take charge. Especially in today’s political climate, she says, “it’s always exciting to see a strong young woman run shit.”
“At the end of the day, I think she’s developed this tough skin and put the wall up,” Gillies says, adding that “although we see her fighting and [saying] these little quips and then walking away, she’s extremely well-rounded. If she didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be interested. The river runs very deep with Fallon.”
She says to consider what Fallon’s up against—that “as mean as Fallon is and as feisty as she is, she was burned twice.” Fallon has worked her entire life to prove herself to her father, Blake (Melrose Place alum Grant Show, no stranger to the world of soap-opera double-crossing). And what does Blake do? He goes and gives her title to his new young wife with a mysterious past (Nathalie Kelley’s Cristal). Can you blame her for occasionally raging out?
But what is Fallon more upset about: Losing out on her job or losing her father?
“I would say that, because it’s such a deep-rooted issue with her father, that was the initial burn,” Gillies reflects. “And then I think the job was the secondary burn. But it still goes back to the father, because Blake hired her. That was a double decision that he made. He invited a woman into his life and then he decided to make that woman the most important woman at his company.”
But because this is a nighttime soap, Gillies points out, “a woman like that is not going to let you get away with it”: It’s not long into the pilot before Fallon is rooting around for dirt on Cristal, a Venezuela native with her own ambitions and family secrets.
And she may not have to do it on her own for long. Eventually, the revamp will introduce a new version of Fallon’s mother, Alexis. The pearl-drenched, alcohol-soaked, castratingly comedic vixen was played by Joan Collins in the original, but Dynasty has yet to announce who will play her this time around.
“I think Fallon is taking over the Alexis bite in the show,” Gillies says. “When she comes in, I don’t even know how crazy it’s going to be.”
Gillies has her picks for the role, which she declined to reveal, lest she jinx anything. She’s also joked before that she wouldn’t mind taking on that part, too, saying that this “was the first question I asked when I got the script.”
Wouldn’t that be a twist we never saw coming?
Dynasty premieres Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. on The CW.