Juliana Canfield Is On The Move

The 32-year-old actor went from last year’s hottest TV show to this year’s hottest play.

Sophie Elgort

When Stereophonic actor and first-time nominee Juliana Canfield arrives at the Tony Awards on Sunday evening, there will be a few familiar faces in the crowd. “Everyone from Succession is in a play right now,” says Canfield, who played Kendall Roy’s assistant in the hit HBO show. “Sarah Snook is doing Dorian Gray and Brian Cox was doing Long Day’s Journey into Night. J. Smith-Cameron is about to be in the West End. Peter Friedman’s about to be on Broadway.”

Jeremy Strong, who played Canfield’s fictional boss in the show, is a fellow nominee for An Enemy of the People, marking a full-circle moment for the pair. “I was at the Met Gala, and he was there and it’s just been really lovely to see him from across the room at all of these events,” she says. “He’s so great in the play. He’s so funny and sort of released from being Kendall.”

With the success of Stereophonic, Canfield is released from Succession’s shadow, too. “I ended that job and I thought I’m just going to forever be trying to reach the heights of playing a non-speaking part on a television show,” she says, laughing. “I’d done a couple of plays off-Broadway before, and some of them have been quite well received, so when I signed on to do Stereophonic, I was like, This will be so much fun. Worst-case scenario, it’ll be horrible, but it will have been really fun to learn to play the piano again and just sing and it’ll be a glorious failed experiment.”

What happened has exceeded all expectations. The David Adjmi play, a 1970s account of a British-American band struggling through interpersonal strife as they record their next album — inspired, yes, by the “Rumours” era of Fleetwood Mac — opened in October at Playwrights Horizons before transferring to the Golden Theater on Broadway in April. It has received a record 13 Tony nominations, including Best Actress nods for Canfield and her co-star, Sarah Pidgeon, and was recently extended through January 2025.

“I was really nervous that we would fail on Broadway or even just be middle of the road on Broadway and it would be like, Oh, we’re not ending on a high note anymore,” she says. “It’s been so nice that all those fears were kind of misguided.”

Sophie Elgort

You’re onstage in Stereophonic for more than three hours every night. Do things ever go wrong?

Oh yeah. I’m really bad at hooking my bra on both of the hooks. In fact, I can feel right now that both hooks are not on. One night I got backstage and I had a really quick change — it’s like a seven-second quick change; I come offstage, whip off my shirt, put on another one — and I whipped off my shirt and it got stuck on my unhooked bra. My dresser, Julian, who’s the best, most wonderful person in the world, literally held my bra with her teeth.

I was surprised when I was 45 minutes in, completely engrossed, and I realized there hadn’t really been an inciting incident. It’s just interpersonal vibes.

Yeah, it’s brilliant. We talked a lot about Robert Altman movies and the sort of roaming way those movies unfold. A lot of movies in the ’70s had this kind of languorous trajectory that accumulates, and it’s not so thought-driven. But also I went to drama school and I loved doing Chekhov plays there, and it feels like Chekhov in that way. It’s just people talking about things.

OK, tell me about your experience in drama school at Yale. I recently saw Invasive Species, which is by another Yale alum, and it sounds intense.

Oh, Maia [Novi] is a good friend of mine. She went to the school a little after my time, and I feel like because of the political climate in the world at large, and also just because social media had gained a stronger foothold by the time she was starting, I think her experience of the school was very different from mine. I remember when I started at Yale, people were still using those filters, from Instagram, around the camera. Everyone had an Instagram, but it hadn’t quite sunk in for us as a student body yet that it was a tool for branding. I think by the time Maia was in school, Instagram was the way for actors to present themselves to the world.

How interesting.

Yeah, we were all so odd. I felt like we were a group of homeschooled kids. None of our clothes looked good. Everything was very unconsidered. When we were third-years, we got bused down to New York for this graduating class party with Juilliard and NYU. We walked into this incredible apartment in New York, off the school bus from New Haven, and everyone from Juilliard and NYU was in all black, with a dark red lip, and smoking. It was all very downtown aesthetic — cynical, cool. And we popped off in our Adidas sneakers, in weird, mismatched thrift store-looking outfits. We were very wholesome, very bright-eyed. But I loved drama school — it was just dreamy.

Do you see yourself primarily working onstage?

Whatever feels exciting. Each medium has its own compensations and shortcomings. I like doing television. I’ve done really small parts in movies and I’d love to have a bigger go at it.

Sophie Elgort

Every story about you talks about Succession and Stereophonic being this grand arrival. Did it feel that way?

It kind of did turn out that way. I ended Succession and I thought, Well, the rest of my life is ruined because how am I ever going to do a job that feels as fun as this one and that I’m as proud of and that people respond to as enthusiastically? I’m just so proud to stand with that group and feel the positive response. I think it’s very rare that something feels so much fun to do and people like it. I think a lot of the time you have to sort of fake it once you get out into the world and be like, It was such a great time and backstage, everyone was knifing each other to death.

You can tell in the junkets when there’s just no chemistry between the cast.

Totally. It’s so painful.

Though perhaps even more entertaining to watch.

That’s when the real acting begins.

I read you and Jeremy O. Harris talk about the “petty drama that comes with being in a play.” For those of us who were never theater kids, what does that involve?

The dramas have kind of subsided now that we’ve opened, but this play was really hard for me to get my head around, especially in the fall. I didn’t know how we were going to learn to do it in under 12 hours. I felt really insecure in it and it just feels really vulnerable to be rehearsing a play and to feel responsible for some of its failures or to observe other people contributing to its failure. I would sort of beat myself up and then I would say, So-and-so’s not getting their cues. We got a note to go faster, and of course, the person who’s not going quickly enough got even slower. Or I’d come home and be like, Oh my God, I can’t get these lines, and I can’t get the words, and The words are too hard. I want to be able to change them. They’re too hard. I can’t say “W.C.” that quickly. I can’t say it as quickly as you want to be. I’m saying “loo.”

I love that accent, by the way.

Thank you. It’s so humiliating to be around Brits after the play.

No! I felt like I knew exactly what type of Brit you are based on the accent.

That’s really thrilling to hear. A lot of Americans are like, I thought you were British. And I’m like, Well, what do you know?

Julieta Cervantes
Julieta Cervantes
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I’ve been to a few shows lately where the behavior of the audience has been pretty distracting. Is that something you’ve dealt with?

We’ve had some alarms and things like that, but it’s been pretty good. Sometimes in the romantic fights, there’s a little commentary in the audience. “You tell him,” or “Uh oh,” or some of those. There was a time in the fall where after Peter pushes Grover and shoves him into the side of the room for deleting the take that he ended up wanting. The next scene he comes in and he apologizes for doing that, and someone in the audience goes, [low voice] “He didn’t want to be pushed.” [Laughs] So I think the commentary has been pretty benign and kind of sweet.

This is unrelated, but when I was researching I saw you went to Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris. In the Times it said, “Aspiring actress Juliana Canfield, great-granddaughter of Sidney Howard, giggles somewhere near the madeleines.”

Oh my God. That was a very wild thing.

I’m fascinated. How was it?

I mean I had such imposter syndrome. Everywhere I turned it was princess so-and-so, heir to the Estonian throne, real royalty all around. And I was like, I go to Yale and I have very lovely parents and I come from a nice family, but it’s not like this. But it was so much fun and it was my first brush with a big dress and big party and, I mean, I don’t get to do it all the time now, but those kinds of things are fun every once in a while. I think if that were my life, if my life were going to parties, I would feel weird.

I find a lot of that stuff in my role difficult too. I went to a Tribeca Film Festival dinner recently and found it easier to talk to the actresses rather than the New York socialites and media people.

Yes, the actresses are trying to make friends with everyone in the room. Not even necessarily in a strategic way — I think, at least for me, it comes from a place of deep insecurity. It’s just wanting people to like you.

What do you do when you’re not working or attending those parties?

I’m on Goodreads — I’m trying to do 52 books this year. In fact, in the play, there’s a part where my character’s reading. In the beginning it was this really culty, stupid, antebellum bodice-ripper, and I was so not into it. And then David [Adjmi] had this great idea of having Holly read Sula. It’s my favorite Toni Morrison novel, so I’ll read it backstage and then I read half a page when I’m onstage. I’ve read it three or four times. The only other book that I’ve reread is Mrs Dalloway.

Oh same. I think I read Woolf at 18 and was like, I want to study literature. I was such a cliché.

But also, I mean, it’s cliché for a reason.

That’s true. So what’s next for you after this?

I would love to take a break. I would love to take a little vacation. We just got extended until January.

How do you feel about that?

It definitely feels daunting. I think with any other project I would be horrified, as well as terrified. But this play I love so much and I love the cast and I would really do anything for them. I just feel like together we can do no wrongs.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.