Jessica Szohr on playing badass lesbian nurse Gretchen on “Complications”

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If you’ve been watching Complications on USA this summer, you already know how awesome Nurse Gretchen Polk is. For those of you that haven’t, Gretchen is the no-nonsense, badass partner-in-crime to vigilante doctor, John Ellison. The two of them have gotten into quite a lot of shenanigans in a very small amount of time, and Jessica Szohr, who plays Gretchen with a sassy attitude and heart of gold, has been a standout on the summer series

We chatted with Jessica with me about Complications before tonight’s finale.

AOL Build Presents: "Complications"

AfterEllen: You know when I started watching Complications I assumed it would be a pretty standard medical show, but I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it’s a lot more than that. What initially drew you to the show and what did you like about it?

Jessica Szohr: When I first read the pilot, I kind of had your reaction. I was like, “Okay, is this like a medical show? If this potentially goes my way, is this something I want to be apart of for six years?” Playing a nurse and being in a hospital—you know, doing that whole thing. But then I was reading it and seeing the different layers of Gretchen, and her relationship with John. I was always a fan of Matt Nix’s writing, and I spoke to him about his vision and then I realized, no, this is a doctor and nurse who get tied up in the middle of a gang war, and you see a lot more of their personal stuff at home intertwined with what goes on in the hospital. And for me, Gretchen was just so different from anything I’d ever played. It was challenging to me, and I realized it was so far from just a medical show. Then I was like, “Okay, this could be really rad.”

And for any actor, I feel like when you read the pilot you don’t really know where the storylines are going to go, or what’s going to connect, or who you’re going to fall in love with, or who’s going to stay alive or not make it. You’re finding out about your character as you’re going. You know, there are things in episode five that I had no idea about Gretchen. And obviously, for me to have something to play with, I gave her a backstory. But there were things I didn’t know about Gretchen until two months into playing her, which is also fun and scary and exciting. I was pleasantly surprised by the writing and all the surprises and turns and how badass Gretchen is.

 

AE: Right, so it was revealed that Gretchen was a lesbian in, I think it was, episode three. When did you find out that she was going to be queer? And what was your reaction?

JS: I found out when I started filming. And I remember, a friend of mine once was watching the show, and she called me and she was like, “Oh my god, you didn’t tell me! Did you know? Weren’t they supposed to tell you?” And I kind of was like, “Why?” It’s just who she loves. I didn’t know what Gretchen’s romantic life was going to be at all. And when I read the script, it kind of made it seem like, at first, like she was my roommate. Like, oh, getting home and grabbing a beer, and then they embrace each other. So for me, I approached it as this is the person she loves. It didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman or whatever.

But yes, I found out when I read the third episode, and I was happy about it! It was fun to play with. I had never played a lesbian before or had a character that is in love with women, so I embraced it. And her relationship with Liz is super special, and very different than any other relationship she has in the show, which is really special for me to play with and have fun with. Because as you see as the show goes on, there’s so much of Gretchen’s backstory, and her relationship with her sister, and being in and out of foster care, and all of that—and then that’s like a solid relationship that really pulls on Gretchen’s heart.

 

AE: Did you feel any pressure when you did find out that you would be portraying a queer character?

JS: I didn’t really approach it any other way. I literally played her the same way, and it was just—the only time I ever really talk about it or am questioned about it is in interviews, obviously, but no. Literally, it was just like this is who is her girlfriend and that was it. I didn’t try to make Gretchen different or act a certain way or play her this way or that way. I just kept playing who I was playing.

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AE: Cool, well, I just wanted to say, as a queer woman, I really, really loved your delivery of the line that’s like, “She’s my roommate, that I sleep with.” I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve wanted to say something like that to people. So thank you for that.

JS: [Laughs] Oh, yeah! Well, it’s so funny because the way Gretchen and John’s relationship is, they’re partners in crime, they both respect each other a lot and need each other to save other people and help each other out, but yet they still approach situations very differently. Gretchen’s very in the moment. She wants to get things done right now without always thinking things through, and John’s very “Let’s plan it out,” very structured. So, I think sometimes those little heated moments—she was probably annoyed! He could probably tell that that was my girlfriend. He’s never seen me act, especially, that nice to someone. It’s in my home, I embrace her. So when we walk out and he’s like, “That’s your… roommate?” I mean, to me, that whole dynamic and that line was funny because it’s like, she probably wanted to slap him in the face and be like, “You knew that was my girlfriend. Stop.” But it’s funny little things like that that make me like their relationship, too.

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