Justine Lupe was at an afterparty at a “famous musician’s house” when she realized “Succession” was a hit. It was after the second season, and there had been an HBO event. The actress, who portrays escort-turned-fiancée Willa Ferreyra, was there with a few other “Succession” cast members.
“We were sitting in this little room and Nicholas Britell came in and started playing the music for the theme song and everyone at this party just went crazy,” Lupe said. “And they’re [in] uproarious excitement about hearing the song. And I just remember [thinking], ‘Whoa, I did not know that this was in the zeitgeist.’”
By now, everyone knows the opening tinkle of that discordant piano. The fourth and final season of the hit series about a family of absolutely awful people doing absolutely awful things is absolutely the drama of the moment. Fans obsess over the music and every little detail of the show. Most recently, Lupe said her mom texted her an article about Willa’s changing, ever-blonder hair.
“Succession” is known for its light-yet-brutal grace notes (that capacious bag!), but sometimes a blonde is just a blonde. “This most recent addition was definitely a conversation that we had in terms of just making [Willa] a little bit blonder than she had been before, but a lot of [the hair changes] had to do with just where I was in my life and other shows that I was working on at the time,” Lupe said. “So it’s funny to hear the fan theories behind what Willa’s hair means.”
Willa’s relationship with oldest Roy son Connor (Alan Ruck) remains fascinating, and Willa herself became a fan favorite (see: tossing an iPad in the ocean when you don’t like your theater reviews; responding to a marriage proposal with “fuck it”). When she made her debut in Season 1, Episode 2 (“Shit Show at the Fuck Factory”), she approached the role trying to be “the best date ever.”
Lupe said she and Ruck landed on a backstory: Someone Connor knew must have met her at a party where they explained her employment status, and he took it from there.
“I just tried to take what was given to me on the page, both with the dynamic with Connor and the dynamic with the family and what little I knew about her artistic ambitions, and create a person out of those kinds of little puzzle pieces,” she said, calling out help from director Adam Arkin and costumer Michelle Matland.
Willa primarily serves as Connor’s support, so viewers don’t often know what she thinks about her doofus of a fiancé or the latest Roy family power play. Lupe has thought about it, a lot. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice small, sharp choices like when her eyes enlarge as she defends Con or the subtle way she leaves a room when things get dicey.
Willa ingratiated herself in the Roys’ game with a slow burn — very different from Logan assistant-turned paramour Kerry (Zoe Winters), whose anchor aspirations threaten to fly too close to the sun. And despite Willa’s apparent ambivalence, Lupe said her character’s relationship with Connor doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
“I think that’s a fun one to track,” Lupe said. “Willa started out in a kind of transactional relationship with him and it’s evolved into something that has a lot more depth. There’s a lot of empathy for each other. She kind of sees who he is and where he’s come from, and the family environment that he’s come from. She’s stepped into a position where she’s more protective of him and he’s always been quite protective of her. They’ve become endeared to each other. She sees how ludicrous his thinking is and… it’s not perfect, but I do think there’s a lot of affection there.”
So… if that’s the case, last week’s episode? When she ran away from her own rehearsal dinner?
“It’s funny,” Lupe said with a laugh, “because the writers plant really fun clues as like a roadmap that she was on that night. She started out outside of an aquarium store, and then she goes to the Williamsburg Bridge where she’s in the river. ‘No, she’s not in the river. She’s on the bridge! Oh, she’s in Williamsburg.’ I imagine she’s on a bit of an existential journey because of the state in which she left the party. There’s a little bit of catharsis that she’s seeking. I like that people can create their own kind of narrative of what exactly that looks like.”
Given that Willa ends the episode spooning with a miserable post-karaoke Connor, it seems it will be all systems go for the wedding ceremony-slash-presidential campaign event. She’s tight-lipped about her character’s immediate future, but Lupe fondly looks back at her last moments as Willa.
“I was embarrassed by how much I sobbed,” she said of filming her final scene. “I think I sobbed more than people that were there [more often]. You know, Willa — it’s a really lovely part, but she’s not there day in and day out. So I can’t imagine what those four siblings on it felt like because I was completely smashed.”
“Succession” Season 4 airs Sunday nights on HBO.