Juliana Canfield is ready to be your new leading lady.
You may already recognize her as Kendall Roy’s assistant Jess on HBO’s smash hit family drama Succession. Now, the starlet is stepping into the spotlight as the female lead in Peacock’s new limited crime drama series, The Calling, based on the internationally bestselling novel The Missing File.
For the uninitiated, The Calling, which premiered on Peacock streaming on November 10, tells the story of veteran Detective Avraham Avraham (Jeff Wilbusch), whose Jewish faith and strong belief in mankind is a “superpower” of sorts that helps him crack cases. Canfield portrays Janine Harris, a newly minted NYPD detective who appoints Avraham as her mentor and tries to partner with him – despite his preference to work alone.
Amazingly, these are just Canfield’s first few roles in the industry since graduating from Yale’s illustrious drama program, already setting her up for Hollywood superstardom just a handful of years out of school.
ESSENCE caught up with the actress ahead of the show’s premiere and talked all things The Calling, Succession, and what she’s learned while on the road to becoming a streaming star.
How did you get your start in acting?
Juliana Canfield (JC): Shakespeare, baby. My first play, at age seven, was a children’s production of As You Like It. I had a very small part — twelve precious lines! — but the bug bit me. The language of the play was heightened and glamorous…I felt very adult speaking in iambic pentameter. But I also loved the inside jokes, the backstage drama, the camaraderie, and the silliness of the whole endeavor. It was this perfect combination of challenging work and wild fun. When it occurred to me that I might be able to keep doing this, as a job, even as a grown-up? Game over.
You obviously made it your life’s passion, as you just graduated from Yale Drama School in 2017 and are already co-starring on one of the most beloved, decorated dramas in recent memory. What do you feel that you learned on set for Succession?
JC: Succession was my first job out of drama school and my first ever experience on a TV set, so for the whole first season, I was in pure sponge mode. I learned very basic, nuts and bolts things: how to read a call sheet; what video village is; what everyone means when they say “back to one” and “on the day” (“Isn’t today the day?” I remember wondering). I learned that crafty will be there tomorrow so I don’t have to try every type of candy they offer today. And best of all, I logged many hours watching a supremely talented, hilarious, kind cast and crew work their magic. Five years in, I love them all and feel lucky to call them my friends and colleagues. But I still grab a pearl of wisdom from one of those geniuses every time I’m on set.
What drew you to the role of Janine in The Calling?
JC: Her chutzpah. And her lifelong obsession with Law and Order.
This limited series is also your very first leading role. What is the feeling like to have landed such a big break?
JC: I’m very grateful to the creative team for the opportunity. And very happy to come to work every day with the cast and crew. That was the best part: getting into a true groove with my fellow actors, the writers, the camera team, the PA’s…it’s deeply satisfying when all of the puzzle pieces click into place.
It was also the biggest responsibility I’ve ever had to shoulder. I loved the challenge and the rigor of the whole process, but whenever I started to feel overwhelmed, I thought about something our Shakespeare teacher at YSD used to say: “You don’t have to make a speech. You just have to say one line. And then the next one. And then the next.”
What are you excited for fans to see from The Calling and from your character Janine?
JC: When I’m watching a crime drama, I live for the theorizing that happens between episodes: who’s innocent, who’s guilty, what’s a red herring, and which clues are most important. The mystery of The Calling is all the more compelling because the characters — detectives, suspects, and victims alike — are full of contradictions. Detective Avraham, who’s the lead and soul of the show, has uncanny powers of observation and empathy…but he’s also a complete weirdo with almost no interpersonal skills outside of the interrogation room. Enter Janine: the rookie on the squad.
She’s idealistic, pathologically curious, and desperate to learn from Avi, who obviously finds her annoying. But she’s more than an eager novice. I’m excited for the audience to watch her bang on the door of Avi’s strange mind and teach him a thing or two. She certainly taught me a great deal about what it means to be a partner.
What’s next after “The Calling?”
JC: Succession Season 4 is well underway! Also, there’s a movie in the works, written by the brilliant Lynn Nottage and Tony Gerber, called Everlasting. Yea! My fingers and toes are crossed that we get to make it soon. Beyond that, I’m very much looking forward to spending time with friends and family for the holidays. And beyond that…only time will tell.