Profile: Gigi’s Got Grit
The Amazon Prime actress is more than she seems
By Elyse Notarianni

Gigi Gustin is tough. She may not always look that way (she’s got plenty of glam shots on her Instagram), but she’s proven it again and again. Knock her down. She’ll get up. And ok, knock her down again. Same result.

Gustin, who plays the flirty blonde on Amazon Prime’s new show “Bulge Bracket,” has an unshakable determination to achieve what she sets her mind to, even if that means she has to dangle 50 feet in the air above a lake for more than 2 hours or sleep in her car to do it. (She’s done both.)

The 24-year-old Pitman High School grad first came across our screens in 2017 as the season 2 winner of “American Grit,” a FOX reality TV competition hosted by professional wrestler John Cena. Contestants competed in military-grade physical challenges, all for the purpose of finding their grit – and going after a $250,000 prize that Gustin ultimately snagged. But that’s not what she wants to be known for.

“As great of an experience as it was, the truth of the matter is I’m an actor, not a reality TV star,” says Gustin. “I was on a reality show for 10 weeks of my life, but it’s not my career.”

After walking away with the cash and some reality TV clout, Gustin moved to LA to make sure her next on-screen appearance was scripted. She dyed her hair blonde and started booking parts that would render her completely unrecognizable from her time on “American Grit.”

Now she’s gaining acclaim for her role as Rosie, a ditzy office flirt whose uncle got her a job at a high-stakes Wall Street investment bank. She plays in direct contrast to the main character Cathy, who comes to find that being a woman in her field is harder than she thought.

“My character is completely underqualified for the job and totally a wrench in the process,” she says.

Gustin filmed the show 2 years ago, but it was only recently picked up by Amazon Prime.

“When you film, you’re so excited to share your project with the world, but you don’t know when, or if, it will come out,” she says. “If you’re doing this for any reason other than a love of acting, you’re going to burn out.”

Gustin loved performing for as long as she can remember. Her parents were drama teachers at their Glassboro church, where she started acting in church productions at 5 years old.

“And these weren’t just any local church productions – our Easter show would fill more than 1,000 seats,” she says.

After high school, Gustin signed with a small agency. That’s when she heard of “American Grit.”

When she showed up on day one of filming in a belted dress and long nails coated with glimmering polish, Gustin announced, “The princess is here.” But little did they know that what Gustin had just lived through totally prepared her for a competition that tested her grit. Right before being cast for the show, Gustin lived in her car for 4 days, then in a friend’s basement, after being fired from her job at a Cherry Hill dress shop and evicted from her apartment.

“To be fair, I hadn’t treated them very well,” says Gustin, who started working at the store after spending exactly 3 and a half days attending Rowan University before dropping out to pursue acting. “They were so generous, even though I was constantly calling them at the last minute to say I can’t make it to work because I have an audition, or I’m filming, or I have a booking. But eventually, they couldn’t do it anymore.”

It wasn’t the best of times, she recalls, but it did put her in the right mental state for enduring tests of grit on reality TV.

“I don’t pat myself on the back for those experiences because there are people who move to California and live in their car for months,” she says. “I can handle 4 days.”

Gustin used her “American Grit” winnings to pay off debt and moved to LA, a detour from past decisions – like when she spent a month’s rent on a chihuahua.

Investing in her career seems to be paying off. Beyond “Bulge Racket,” she’s been featured in the 2020 action movie “Fast and Fierce: Death Race” and the upcoming film “The Retaliators,” as well as various appearances on TV shows, short films and mini-series. And like any good actress on the rise, she’s got a few things in the works that she can’t talk about just yet. But just know – they aren’t reality TV shows.

“Honestly, I’d rather go broke and live in my car again than do another reality TV show,” says Gustin, who has turned down offers to appear on shows like “Love Island.”

“It’s not about being on TV, it’s about doing what I love,” she says.

When Covid-19 restrictions took effect, Gustin used the time to send out demo reels to every production she knew was casting. And it worked – the first day companies opened back up, Gustin had a job offer. Right after filming her (yet to be disclosed) project, she only enjoyed a week of freedom before nailing down her next gig. For Gustin, there’s not a second to waste.

“Having people still know me from reality TV just motivates me to work harder,” she says. “I don’t want ‘American Grit’ to be my biggest accomplishment.”

October 2020
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