You could have so many touches of HBO’s Succession that you wanted to treasure: the tingling score, scenes of billionaires longing for love or death; and A-list guest stars vying for attention. For me, the support staff is the bodyguards and housekeepers and executive assistants and C-suiters who hover over the Roy family with arms open to receive coats and hands out to provide water bottles, pills and backup devices.
Jess Jordan is the executive assistant to Kendall Roy, who I consider the one closest to my heart. Juliana Canfield’s beautiful Bambi eyes transmit anxiety and preparedness, and, finally, joy, as Jess watches her boss attempt to burn his life.
When Canfield calls me via FaceTime, I tell her this. She is indoors, but she’s wrapped in a parka. “I’m helping my friend do this project and we’re inside this icebox of rehearsal space in Gowanus,” she says. “Super-Gowanus. VeryGowanus” It’s a nice departure from Succession‘s massive, creamy interiors. And of course, Canfield off-duty, while still looking smart, is more fun and bubbling over than her buttoned up character.
Canfield grew up in Washington, D.C. and New York City suburbs because her parents were employed. She took part in a Shakespeare play for children as all the other kids in the area were doing it. She recalls that she asked her mom at 7 how she became an actress. “Well, the Yale School of Drama is where the best actors go.” “Okay, well, I guess I want go to Yale School of Drama.” She was an undergraduate in English literature at Yale and kept her ambitions secret from her classmates because she worried that she wouldn’t be good enough to take it seriously. To make sure no one saw her audition for graduate, she wore a scarf on top of her head to keep them from seeing me in the drama building. I was afraid of being embarrassed if I didn’t get in.
She did manage to get in and was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed it. It was like learning to breathe and learning about my spine. She describes how it felt very basic but so satisfying. She auditioned for Succession for Willa’s role when she graduated in 2017. She jokingly strains her eye at me, pointing out how insane it would have been for her to play the delusional escort of a 60-something male.
Canfield was asked to play Kendall’s assistant. She believes that her screen time was increased by actor Jeremy Strong who plays Kendall using a Method approach. This must be mentioned in any article on Succession. Jess would say, “Where is Jess?” She says she thinks Jess would be there. “That’s why they had me in those scenes, and why I kept coming back to them, because Jeremy was just so committed,” she says. She also points out a scene where Kendall throws his phone at Jess in the first season. “It wasn’t in the script. She was unable to coordinate and created a hilarious hot-potato moment which cemented her understanding of the job. “I must be ready every time.”
Canfield watches Strong while he waits, mirroring their dynamic. She says, “He might not be conscious of me being involved but I try to be involved in a way that is invasive or disruptive.” She is one step ahead of him in terms of his needs. Whatever process Jeremy is in, I try to keep up with it. It’s really thrilling for me when Jeremy is on the Kendall roller coaster.
Canfield believes that Jess wants Kendall to be saved, as with almost every other female character. She says, “She must have a soft spot and see some goodness in him.” Maybe it’s the familiar “messed up thought process”. He can have me lift him out of his headspace and then he will be the genius visionary he should be.
Canfield is delighted when I tell him that Kendall, despite being a drug-addled and volatile murderer, is actually one the best bosses of the show.
Although she didn’t speak or study with any executive assistants, she is pleased to say that as a former Conde Nast assistant, I believe she has mastered the shimmering anxiety and the fast-step shuffle 18inches behind the executive. According to her, the shoes and hair help her most get into character. “Putting on those little stilettos, those pencil skirts, and having my hair in tight buns? The shoes really, really do make a difference.” She said it’s something she wouldn’t touch in real life. “I’m a Brooklyn chick,” she added.
Canfield states that she thinks like a real assistant. “If they ask me to speak more, I will. She smiles. It’s so much fun.