Justine Lupe on Willa, Connor and the end of Succession

As the groundbreaking drama anoints its ultimate successor, we quiz Lupe on spin-offs, Succession sleepovers and closing the door on the role of a lifetime. “It’s like getting over a big heartbreak.”

We are bullshit… We’re nothing.”

And with that, the Roys – or, at least, the Roy boys” – were done. Succession ended this bank holiday weekend with Roman serving brother Kendall brutal home truths, and with sister Shiv’s last-minute switcheroo handing control of Waystar Royco to Lukas Matsson’s GoJo. The king is dead, long live the king – and his court fool in the shape of Tom Wambsgans, the Swedish tech-bro’s puppet CEO. Or, more accurately, his pain sponge”, as the ever-charming Matsson dubbed Tom. What that will make Greg is anyone’s guess. An agony magnet?

So a show that’s come to define prestige television and much of pop culture over the last six years – in the same exalted league as The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad – has come to a close with an 86-minute mega-episode, With Open Eyes. Over the last 10 weeks, the final series of Succession has had millions on the edge of their seats, hanging onto every last crumb of genius dialogue conjured by creator Jesse Armstrong and his team.

But now, reluctantly, we have to let it go – just as the younger Roy kids have to let go of dad Logan’s apartment, now that it’s been scooped up by eldest son Connor and his bride Willa. The newlyweds have plans, only not all of them together – he’s still holding out for a European ambassadorship, she has a New York play reading in six to eight months”. Still, at least the couple are united in their desire for a fire-sale of Logan’s belongings. Willa has some pretty cool stuff coming in”, she tells her new in-laws, like a cow-print couch about yeay long.” The Succession finale’s new broom was sweeping, total, brutal and, furniture-wise at least, tasteless.

It’s taught me so much about myself as an actor,” begins Justine Lupe, who plays Willa – the wife of deluded Presidential hopeful Connor (Alan Ruck), who steadily climbed the ranks from sex worker to mediocre playwright to potential First Lady across the show’s four seasons. Lupe, 33, is Zooming in from her home in Los Angeles, her boyfriend’s dog Pocket happily trotting in and out of frame. We’re talking midway between the broadcasts of the penultimate and final episodes, the former foregrounding a (shall we say) mixed bag of eulogies to the late, great and occasionally hateful Logan Roy at his funeral.

It was incredibly moving,” Lupe continues of Church and State, an episode thick with emotion. The moral of the show, this whole idea of these people who are at the very top making huge decisions that are affecting our country – there’s a certain sentiment of them just giving up on trying to be responsible, on trying to have a sway over the way things go.”

Lupe’s Willa, ostensibly an outsider looking in, has been there for it all, bearing witness to the depravity, undercutting and black hole of emotion that make up the Roy family’s baggage. She functions both as a vehicle for acerbic, scathing one liners – stand outs: At least I’m only getting fucked by one member of this family” and Well, look at us both, right?” in response to Marcia’s contemptful look how far you’ve come” – and Connor’s ultimate champion as he consistently gets pushed aside by the rest of his family.

Originally, Lupe was only supposed to appear in a few episodes of the show, but Armstrong clearly saw something in her portrayal of Willa that eventually made her as essential to the fabric of Succession as any of the Roy siblings. And there needed to be someone to believe in Connor’s arduous quest to become President, right?

Working with actors of the highest calibre, with some of the best dialogue, has taught me about what I can do to best serve a story, what I want out of my job,” she says. It’s been an incredible gift.”

Below, we catch up with Lupe about Willa’s true motivations, becoming besties with Sarah Snook and how the hell she’s going to get over Succession.

Hi, Justine! What was running through your mind when you heard that Logan was going to die 10 minutes into the third episode?
I was sad that Brian was leaving. But also I thought it was incredibly smart. I knew that this kind of had to happen – we walked into it knowing that the show was called Succession. And we also know who Logan Roy is. Imagining him just giving the company over was hard for me to wrap my head around. I assumed that he might pass, but I kind of thought it would be at the end.

So, yeah, it was shocking and sad. And also kind of exciting – you knew it was going to bring up some really good material because Jesse Armstrong is incredibly capable. You trust him implicitly. I knew that something great was going to come out of it, even though it was a sad loss.

Connor and Willa have previously discussed his ambassadorial options in all his no to the Slo’s” ambition (no to Slovenia and Slovakia, yes to North Korea). What do you think Willa makes of his suitability to represent American interests abroad?
I feel like Willa has very little faith in politics, generally. She believes that he’s capable enough, which speaks to how little faith she has. She supports him, but she’s also very aware of the delusion that Connor possesses and the comedy that comes with that. I think she has a sense of humour about it, but I also think she’s on board, you know? Willa thinks like, OK, you can do as good a job as a lot of these idiots. Connor is probably, you know, if not equally then less dangerous than some of these people.

It’s quite touching, how she gives his delusion space and allows for it to just exist, free of judgement.
Yeah, her support for him runs the show. I think that’s the first and foremost thing that she’s concerned about: wanting to support her partner in this endeavour, and not needing to get too far into the details of that in order for Willa to give her backing and protection.

Does Willa love Connor, or does she love Connor’s money and status? Or is it a mishmash of both?
She’s really transparent about the way that she feels. It’s clearly a factor that he has money, and can support her, and contribute in that way. But I also think she really cares about him. I do think she loves him. I don’t think it’s a fiery, passionate relationship that most of us would dream of when we’re thinking about a future partner or who we want to end up with for the rest of our lives.

But I also do think that there’s a companionship there that, in the end, we all kind of are aspiring to. It seems we all kind of end up with a friend. And they’re definitely friends.

You were only supposed to star in three episodes of the first series. What do you think Jesse saw in your character and your performance that kept him and the team writing for you, and writing for Willa?
I don’t really know if I can speak to that. I feel like Willa gave Connor something to do. He’s not involved in the company, you know, which is the main storyline that we’re following – who’s going to be in charge? Connor’s just not in that race. So I feel like they probably put me in there to let him have his own thing going on. Then there was obviously something about it that they felt worked, or that they wanted to explore more. It gave him a kind of storyline of his own which contributed to the show. I also think we had a lot of fun, Alan and I, and maybe they just even picked up on that. They’re very perceptive.

I would love to see a Carl and Frank [spin-off] – they make me laugh so hard that I would be endlessly entertained watching a show about those two”


Six years on, Willa has had quite the journey, from sex worker to possible First Lady of America. How have those six years been for you both personally and professionally, over the course of the show being on TV?
It’s been an incredible gift, this show, in terms of offering me beautiful relationships, some of the best material I’ve ever been involved in, and getting to witness some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve definitely grown as an actor. Who knows what will happen down the line, but I know that Succession has given me the gift of at least having some visibility in a profession where there’s a lot of oversaturation. It’s been incredibly satisfying professionally.

In my personal life, I feel like a completely different person after all these years. You know, you’re going from 26, 27 to 33. That’s a huge change. Before, I was single, I was living in an apartment in New York and kind of scrounging, bopping around from place to place. I remember getting this audition and just being like, oh, my gosh, it’s an HBO show! Now, I have a home and I have grounding. I’m in a relationship and I’ve gone through a huge relationship – all those things really transform you.

It’s like the stages of grief. Which character do you think would be best suited to a Succession spin-off?
Man, I would love to see what happens to [Kendall’s executive assistant] Jess. She really is the imposter in this world. She’s us, you know, she’s like the general public in this world of people who are making huge decisions. So I think it’d be kind of cool to see the fallout, or what she does after she leaves Kendall.

But then again, there are so many characters that are so rich. I would love to see a Geri spin off. I would love to see Carl and Frank – they make me laugh so hard that I would be endlessly entertained watching a show about those two. I feel like that’d be like a very British move, actually.

Who was your best friend on set?
I think the women of the show got really close – I’m doing a sleepover for my birthday at the Bowery with Juliana [Canfield] and Zoey [Winters], who play Jess and [Logan’s assistant and lover] Kerry. But I also got really close to [Sarah] Snook [who plays Shiv]. We lived very close to each other during the show, so we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years. I’m very close with Nick [Braun] who plays Cousin Greg as well. And then of course, Alan was definitely my best friend on set. He was so generous and the ultimate partner.

How will you feel once the final episode of Succession has aired? And how will we feel?
I hope people feel incredibly satisfied and excited. I hope they feel like it ended in the right way. How will I feel? I mean, I feel like I’ve really mourned and had to let go of the community that I had with it. It still hits in waves. I’m not sure I can quite wrap my mind around the fact that it’s actually over. It’s like getting over a big heartbreak.

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