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Hot List: Jessica Szohr

Luke Fontana

Photography by Luke Fontana. Styling by Michael Cook. Hair: Christopher Naselli at Exclusive Artists. Makeup: Talia Sparrow. Dress by Diesel Black Gold.

“I love that she takes matters into her own hands,” says Jessica Szohr. The former Gossip Girl star, who for four seasons embodied cutesy fashion plate Vanessa, a character she once referred to as “a badass girl from Brooklyn,” is discussing her new role as an actual badass.

In the thrilling new USA series Complications, Szohr plays Gretchen, a tattooed lesbian nurse and avenging angel of mercy for her boss, a Good Samaritan doctor (Jason O’Mara) who saves the victim of a drive-by shooting and then must dodge ruthless gang members. Gretchen is also a steadfast advocate for patients jerked around by the system: In early episodes, she falsifies a bad diagnosis to shield a battered woman inside the hospital, and then beats the shit out of the woman’s attacker in her downtime.

“Gretchen always tries to make the best of a bad situation,” says Szohr, “even if it’s not the right way.” But she’s more than just a renegade: Gretchen is multidimensional (a product of foster care and childhood abuse) and totally likable. Szohr is clearly having a blast playing her.

The actor, 30, snagged the role after submitting an audition tape with her 12-year-old sister reading the lines of O’Mara’s doctor protagonist, a choice that proved fortuitous. “Matt [Nix, the show’s creator, a veteran of the USA hit Burn Notice] said, ‘That’s when I knew you were coming back in [to read for the part],’ ” she recalls. It turned out that Gretchen has a sister, too, with whom she has a contentious relationship. “I come from a large family, and I could relate to Gretchen being a caretaker,” Szohr says, “but she has more of a chip on her shoulder than I do.”

Still, Szohr relished the idea of trading in high-fashion gloss for the chance to throw villains through glass tables. “They’re really going for it with this show,” she says. “Gretchen is a real go-getter, just like me. I go after what I want.”

Complications premieres June 18 on USA.

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