“Italy! Pizza, pasta, and popes!” Willa Ferreyra rattles off as she steps into the Tuscan villa the Roys inhabit in “Chiantishire,” the penultimate episode of “Succession” season three.
The writers came up with the alliteration, but the caked-on Italian accent was all Justine Lupe.
“I did it a few times like that, because it was like, ‘Oh, this is fun. I’ll do it,'” the 32-year-old, who has played the escort-turned-playwright since the series began in 2018, told Insider.
After several takes, she recalled the episode’s director Mark Mylod gently suggesting that she ditch the accent.
“I was like, ‘Did I just make a fool of myself?'” Lupe said, laughing. “The Italian part of it was a moment of bravery.”
Shortly after “Chiantishire” aired on December 5, Willa’s three accented P’s began popping up on Twitter, as many of the best “Succession” quips do. And with good reason — the dialogue perfectly captures Connor Roy’s plus-one.
For starters, she’s decades younger than her date (Lupe estimated that Willa is in her early 30s), and she takes herself far less seriously than the Roy siblings. Unlike Connor (played by Alan Ruck), who nonchalantly drops that he met the head of the Catholic Church “a couple popes back,” she didn’t grow up vacationing in Europe’s architectural feats.
While newcomers and non-fighters don’t tend to last long in “Succession,” meek, wide-eyed Willa proves to be an exception. The most amusing part is, she doesn’t just survive in the Roys’ world, she leaves season three a seemingly permanent fixture in it.
—lolly 🎄 (@jakecolliers) December 10, 2021
Lupe knew how difficult it would be to secure a role on “Succession,” a series following the billionaire family behind fictional media conglomerate Waystar Royco.
The Denver-raised Juilliard graduate was best known for her performances as Holly Gibney in “Mr. Mercedes” and Astrid Weissman in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” when she auditioned to play Willa.
All of the series regulars had already been cast. And with show creator Jesse Armstrong, along with executive producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, attached to “Succession,” it was a “major league team” in the actress’ eyes.
“I knew that it was probably a shot in the dark, but I was just going to do the best job I could,” she recalled of the audition process.
Willa was initially written as a three-episode recurring role. In the fifth episode of the series, Roman Roy succinctly sums her up as the “hot-party-girl-who-wouldn’t-look-twice-at-you/hooker” who stuck around after he introduced her to his older brother, Connor.
The plan was for Willa and Connor to part ways in “Austerlitz,” the seventh episode of season one. Lupe read their breakup scene during her audition and ultimately wound up with the gig.
But after the actress joined the cast, she noticed that the writers kept tweaking the “Austerlitz” script.
“Willa kept on sticking around just a little bit longer,” Lupe told Insider. “I was like, ‘Wait, am I not going to get thrown out? This is awesome.'”
She stayed on as Willa for season two. And ahead of the third season, she was bumped to series regular.
As “Succession” has progressed through its first three seasons, Connor and Willa’s relationship hasn’t blossomed, per se, but it has evolved.
He finances her critically lambasted play, and she goes along with his fledgling presidential campaign advocating for a tax-free America. The actress isn’t convinced that Willa reciprocates Connor’s love, but she does think the playwright has developed some feelings for him.
“There’s something about their dynamic that has become comfortable and also has evolved into something that’s very, very strange and also sweet,” she said. “She’s grown to have a lot of affection for him.”
Connor’s very public end-of-season proposal came as a complete surprise; Lupe didn’t know it was coming until she was in the middle of filming episode seven, “What It Takes.”
“I only had like the bare bones of, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going to propose and she’s going to say yes,'” she said, adding, “That’s one of the beautiful parts of ‘Succession.’ You can never see what’s coming next.”
Lupe did her best to remain zeroed in on the script in front of her. Knowing that the “Succession” writers have a knack for throwing curveballs, she was hesitant to waste energy speculating how they would pull off the marriage offer.
When Connor does ask Willa to make him the “most-happiest-man-slash-most-bulletproof-candidate in the world” in episode eight, it takes her until the ninth and final episode of the season to accept. She agrees to marry him with the same enthusiasm as someone who was just asked if they wanted another shot of bottom-shelf liquor: “Fuck it. Come on. How bad can it be?”
After bearing witness to the Roys’ dysfunctional behavior for three seasons, the actress can understand why Willa acquiesced. An engagement to Connor seems relatively low stakes.
“The relationships in this world are so completely toxic that there is a bit of a ‘Fuck it. Why not?’ Our relationship actually might be one of the more healthy ones out of this bunch,” Lupe said.
Whether her relationship is poised for success or not, Willa is still marrying a Roy, and Roy family weddings are never just weddings.
Both Shiv Roy’s and Caroline Collingwood’s nuptials served as the stage for family bloodbaths on seasons one and three, respectively. And though Lupe said she has no idea what the writers will cook up for their next bride, she’s already daydreaming about Willa’s walk down the aisle.
“I have fantasies!” she said, one of which is a bachelorette party. “I don’t know what that would look like, but I really love the idea of that.”
As a couple, Willa and Connor aren’t quite as “grand” or ostentatious as the rest of the Roys (Connor resides in New Mexico, far away from Manhattan society), so Lupe predicts a slightly more intimate gathering.
“I like the dichotomy of there being this crazy bachelorette party and then a more modest, small, ceremony,” Lupe said. “I know that they would write the best vows.”
With her hands in a prayer gesture, she pleaded: “Please Jesse Armstrong! Give us the wedding.”
The relationships in this world are so completely toxic that there is a bit of a ‘Fuck it. Why not?’
In many ways, Lupe’s role on “Succession” has been fated for decades.
As a teenager, she was admittedly “in love” with Matthew Macfadyen, the actor cast as Tom Wambsgans.
“I had my boyfriend labeled ‘Mr. Darcy’ in my phone when I was in high school because of his performance in ‘Pride and Prejudice,'” Lupe said of her costar’s stint in Joe Wright’s 2005 Jane Austen adaptation. To this day, she said she’s still convinced the Brit is “touched by some sort of acting God.”
Lupe also went into “Succession” having a long-standing friendship with Jeremy Strong (Kendall Roy), who she said took her under his wing after being impressed by her performance in a play directed by late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
They became officially acquainted once she moved to Los Angeles in her early 20s. “Since then, he’s been there for some really important talks, just helping me find my way through growing up in this industry,” she said.
“He was incredibly kind and helpful in terms of helping me with some auditions. He introduced me to a couple casting directors. He got me an audition for a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, which was one of my favorite directors,” Lupe detailed.
Having known Strong personally for years, Lupe found Michael Schulman’s recent New Yorker profile of him and his immersive process of breaking into his characters’ psyches to be “fascinating,” and admits it effectively captured her costar’s “relentless commitment” and his “scrappiness, in terms of getting into this industry.”
“He understands what it means to bang on the door and have someone let him in,” she added.
With a show that, as Lupe called it, “almost feels like Shakespeare,” there are certain moments that aren’t made for Willa — a character that’s often peppered into the script for comic relief — but that the actress would have relished witnessing in person.
When asked which scenes, in particular, she would’ve wanted to experience, Lupe named Kendall’s dinner with Logan (Brian Cox) in “Chiantishire” and the emotional exchange between the Roy siblings in the season three finale — both of which she believes will be widely remembered as some of the best work in television history.
“I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall. Willa would never have fit into either of those scenes. It would be so weird if Willa was chilling in the back of the Logan-Kendall scene like, ‘Hey guys, anybody need a drink?'” she said with a laugh.
“It’s some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in my entire life and to see it in person and just watch the way that they created those scenes,” she went on, adding, “I wish I could have watched those epic cinematic moments.”
One of the characters she was most fascinated by this season was Roman Roy, played expertly by Kieran Culkin. She punctuated how watching Roman’s trajectory in the final three episodes of the latest season felt like a roller coaster.
“You’re kind of proud of Roman in this weird way, where you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s something about him that’s really endearing.’ And then you see him just shit on Shiv,” she said, adding, “And then in this last episode, you see him come around and stick through a moment that you’re like, ‘He could easily jump ship and have left his siblings on the curb.'”
But Roman’s most unforgettable scene comes in episode eight. He accidentally sends a picture of his own penis to his father during a board meeting, leading to some of the finest face acting in recent memory.
“Was that not the best moment you’ve ever seen?” Lupe asked. “I have never seen a more satisfying series of facial reactions than that moment with Kieran.”
But unfortunately for anyone wondering whose genitalia was used for the photo, that’s a question Lupe herself is left mulling over after the credits rolled on season three.
“I wish I knew. I’ve asked myself the same question,” she said, “I’m like, ‘Whose dick is that?’ There is some guy out there who’s like, ‘How did my dick make its way onto this TV show?'”