When it comes to his Hollywood triumphs, there are at least two sides for
On one side are his young fans, who flocked to Leary thanks to his distinctive voice performance as the saber-toothed tiger Diego in the animated hit franchise "Ice Age."
On the other are hopefully not many kids but instead the multitude of adults who delight in his profanity-spiced songs and comedy. After years as a sharp-tongued stand-up, Leary earned new praise for his portrayal of a troubled firefighter in FX's "Rescue Me." The series, which he co-created, ran for seven seasons on the cable network and helped burnish its credentials as a programming risk-taker.
Leary is back once again on FX with a half-hour comedy aimed more at his adult audience: "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll," which allows the 57-year-old Massachusetts native to flex both his comedic and musical muscles.
Leary stars as Johnny Rock, the leader of an early '90s rock band that flamed out after a blazing debut. This particular Rock lived a life of excess and had a habit of sleeping with the fiancées and girlfriends of band mates.
Washed up and all but forgotten, Rock's world is overturned when a beautiful young woman named Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies) with an amazing singing voice lands in his life. She says she is his daughter from a decades-old fling.
Armed with money and ambition, Gigi wants Rock help to launch her own singing career. Seeing a chance at redemption, Rock smooths things over with his former band mates, reunites the group and plunges them back into the music scene.
In addition to heading the cast, Leary is the creator, executive producer and writer of the series. He is also the composer of all the music.
"It is fantastic to be back at FX," said Leary by phone. "I always loved being here so much. They're the greatest creative supporters."
FX is just as thrilled to have Leary back in its corner. "Rescue Me" was widely celebrated for its intense action sequences and emotional salute to firefighters following 9/11.
"'Rescue Me' is one of the pillars that FX was built on," said Nick Grad, president of original programming for FX Networks. "It was always our evil plan to get Denis back on the network."
Grad said of "S&D&R&R": "We love it. It has the similar comedic tone of 'Rescue Me,' but it's a half-hour, set in the world of rock and roll and exploring the journey of this guy reconnecting with his daughter. It has lots of pathos and resonance."
Leary said he wanted to explore the rock music scene and the dynamics of veteran rock bands. "Rock bands are big dysfunctional families, particularly if they last 25 years or longer. The lead singer and lead guitarist are usually the mother and the father," he said.
The pitfalls of fame and the touchstones on what fame means for different generations is another area of examination. "It's about getting perspective on what fame is all about. The daughter character wants to be famous, but wanting it isn't going to make her famous. And Johnny, who was famous, isn't going to be famous again. Ultimately, the most important thing in life is family."
Co-starring in the series along with Leary is John Corbett ("Sex and the City"), John Ales, Bobby Kelly and Elaine Hendrix.
Although his primary goal is to make "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll" as funny as possible, Leary said the true highlight of the series has been Gillies. The actress starred in the
"She's a real find," Leary said. "I knew I wanted my daughter to sing, actually be able to do live vocals, be funny, be able to act drama and do improv. Elizabeth can do it all."
Leary had come up with the idea for "S&D&R&R" before the last season of "Rescue Me" aired but thought it might be best to wait a bit before developing it fully. After "Rescue Me," he kept busy with voice-overs for commercials as well as supporting turns in the "Amazing Spider-Man" movies and the
While he's keeping his fingers crossed that "S&D&R&R" scores with viewers, Leary's other persona is keeping busy.
"We're getting ready to do 'Ice Age 5.'" Leary said. "It's incredible. We're going to run out of ice at some point!"