Actor Dagmara Dominczyk at the "Succession" season three premiere Oct. 12 at New York's American Museum of Natural History.Theo Wargo | Getty Images
Cutthroat family intrigue and vengeful CEOs are powered by bluster, hubris and pure rage.
But Karolina Novotney is a model of restraint.
As the head of public relations for media and entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco, she is a steady rock among warring yachts in “Succession,” which has its long-awaited season three premiere Sunday on HBO.
Actor Dagmara Dominczyk, who lives in Montclair, has played the character since the 2018 debut of the popular Emmy-winning TV series. Her Karolina is an understated, dependable part of the company’s executive leadership.
But this season, she finds herself adrift.
The high-profile corporate operative fields a call and worriedly taps a second phone as a stunned Kendall Roy slides into a dry bathtub.
Kendall is fresh off an explosive press conference where he unexpectedly placed the blame for Waystar Royco’s headline-making cruises sexual assault scandal on his own father, CEO Logan Roy. The son was supposed to be the scapegoat. Instead, he fired shots.
“The truth is that my father is a malignant presence, a bully and a liar,” Kendall announced, prompting the poised Karolina to utter expletives into her phone and Logan to prepare for war.
Internal combat threatens to tank the whole enterprise.
Dagmara Dominczyk films “Succession” in White Plains, New York in May 2021. She says she appreciates her role on the sidelines of the main characters because it allows her to be both a participant and voyeur. "I genuinely love this show."David M. Russell | HBO
As Kendall and Karolina dive into the crush of press outside, Cousin Greg, the gangly family lapdog and Kendall ally, tags along.
“NO comment, NO comment!!” he yells at reporters.
“You don’t have to say that, Greg,” Karolina says, giving him the throat-slash gesture as they make their way through the crowd. “Just don’t comment.”
He keeps doing it anyway as they climb into a waiting black SUV.
Normally, Karolina would be the one to hand Kendall a carefully drafted corporate statement. But he already tore up the one she gave him, the one where he was supposed to take the fall. What now?
“She’s always gotta try to keep everything smoothed over and nothing is a real big problem and everything can be fixed,” Dominczyk (Doh-meen-chik) says. “Until it can’t, which is where we find her at the start of season three. This seems like it’s unfixable.”
Kendall has gone so far off-script, all she can do is state the obvious.
“This is a company vehicle,” Karolina reminds him — the company he just decided to blow up. “I imagine you’re no longer working for the company.”
Dagmara Dominczyk (Karolina Novotney), Jeremy Strong (Kendall Roy) and Nicholas Braun (Cousin Greg) filming "Succession" in White Plains, New York in May 2021. Karolina tries to school Greg in the ways of "no comment" to little avail. David M. Russell | HBO
Karolina has her own choice to make — join Kendall or keep her allegiance to his father (or cut and run).
“This is a fork in your life, Karolina,” Kendall says, deploying his usual smug theatrics.
The PR executive, elevated from a recurring character in the first season of “Succession” to the main cast in the second season, serves an important role among the moneyed denizens of Waystar Royco. However, she’s not a major player in the family-business drama.
Being out of the spotlight has its perks, the actor says, especially for a fan.
“Part of the beauty of having a role that’s not deeply entrenched in every plot point in every scene is that when I get to watch it, I get to watch it as a total audience member,” Dominczyk, 45, tells NJ Advance Media. “I read the script, but it’s one thing to read the script at a table read and another to watch things you weren’t around for when they shot it. So I get to watch it almost like a voyeur as well. Not just from inside, but behind the scenes, which is always exciting. I love the show. I genuinely love the show.”
The “Succession” mainstay has been working in film and TV for more than 20 years. Dominczyk, who has projects debuting at the end of this year and beyond, says she’s currently three for three on some of the best jobs of her career, including her wild ride with the Roy clan. She will next appear in the Netflix movie “The Lost Daughter” — Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, due out in December and screening at the Montclair Film Festival on Oct. 24 — and she is filming the upcoming David Simon series “We Own This City” for HBO.
“Succession,” created by Oscar nominee Jesse Armstrong (”Peep Show” and ”In The Loop” with James Gandolfini), has won nine Emmys. That haul includes the 2020 award for best drama, two writing Emmys for Armstrong and one win for Nicholas Britell’s fabulously melodramatic theme song.
Production on the hit HBO drama, which last aired in October 2019, was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ratcheting up anticipation for the next nine episodes.
The central focus of “Succession” is indeed the battle for succession — just who will take over for Logan Roy (Brian Cox) when he either resigns (which is looking less and less likely) or dies. In writing the show, Armstrong took inspiration from the Murdochs, among other big money, big media families.
Jockeying for power are Logan’s adult children, Kendall Roy (Emmy winner Strong) and his ally, Logan’s great-nephew Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun); Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and her husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfayden); and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) and his ally Gerri Kelman (J. Smith-Cameron), general counsel for Waystar Royco. (Eldest son Connor Roy, played by Alan Ruck, is kind of a nonstarter.)
Dagmara Dominczyk with Jeremy Strong in the second season of "Succession," when Karolina was elevated to the main cast.Craig Blankenhorn | HBO
But ever since his health crisis in the first season, Logan has kept a stubborn grip on the company. Any attempts to cede power are usually met with a consolidation of that power.
As the long-simmering rivalry boils over, Karolina remains a point person with not much of a backstory — at least not so far.
Armstrong, the showrunner, wrote a monologue for the role as part of the audition process, but that never ended up in the show, Dominczyk says.
She was thrilled to get the part, not necessarily because of the quality of her tryout, but because the character could have been interpreted any number of ways.
“They decided to go my way, so it was one of the nicest surprises of my career,” Dominczyk says. “Just to be a part of this ensemble and a part of a project created by this amazingly brilliant, envelope-pushing creative team is really, really, really great.”
Surrounded by bravado, savage family maneuverings and general mess, composed Karolina can sometimes fade into the background.
Dagmara Dominczyk as Karolina Novotney in the second season of "Succession" with David Rasche (Karl Muller) and J. Smith-Cameron (Gerri Kellman). “Just to be a part of this ensemble and a part of a project created by this amazingly brilliant, envelope-pushing creative team is really, really, really great," she says.Peter Kramer | HBO
“Because the role is written so authentically, people don’t remember the PR person,” Dominczyk says. “They’re not supposed to. And that’s kind of how Karolina is written. Now Jesse and I have discussed what we think is her personal life, why we think she’s still around this family, why she’s doing this job, what is it that keeps her there, and her family or whatever. So we’ve come to a few decisions that are probably going to remain private. Who knows if they’ll ever be revealed?”
Other Jersey connections in this season of “Succession” include Emmy-nominated actor Hope Davis (“In Treatment,” “American Splendor”), who grew up in Tenafly and is set to have a recurring role as Sandi Furness, daughter of Logan Roy’s corporate rival Sandy Furness. Holmdel’s Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”) also directed an upcoming episode.
Because Dominczyk’s role on the show is so low-key and “pokerface, almost,” she says she isn’t recognized as the character. But when she tells people she’s on “Succession,” they can’t contain their enthusiasm.
“Everyone is so excited about it,” she says. “Gleefully excited about these strange, terrible kind of people. They seem to love being witnesses to their f—ed up lives. Most of us don’t live these kinds of lives.”
Dagamara Dominczyk as Callie in "The Lost Daughter," due out Dec. 31 on Netflix.Netflix
Dominczyk goes from a family at war to another kind of family altogether in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter.”
She plays Callie, a pregnant Queens resident on vacation in Greece. Her crew, loud and large, disrupts the tranquil holiday of a professor named Leda (Oscar winner Olivia Colman), the main character in Gyllenhaal’s first feature as a director. But Leda finds a soft spot for Callie and her family — namely young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter. Her fascination with them dredges up some haunting memories of her own trials with motherhood.
Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of the 2006 Elena Ferrante book of the same name, which also features Tenafly’s Ed Harris enthusiastically dancing to “Livin’ on a Prayer,” won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival in September. Dominczyk will be at the Montclair Film Festival with the director Sunday, Oct. 24 for a Q&A after a screening of “The Lost Daughter.” Gyllenhaal, who is being honored with the festival’s breakthrough director and writer award, will also be “in conversation” with Stephen Colbert the same day.
“I think Maggie is brilliant as an actor, and I’ve just admired her as a peer forever,” Dominczyk says. But working with her behind the camera underscored a stark fact: “I’ve only been directed by two women in my whole career,” she says.
Maggie Gyllenhaal on the set of the "The Lost Daughter." The film, her directorial debut, stars Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Dagmara Dominczyk, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Mescal.Yannis Drakoulidis | Netflix
The other was Jersey’s Vera Farmiga (Whitehouse Station by way of Irvington). The actor, a longtime co-star of Dominczyk’s husband, Patrick Wilson, in the “Conjuring” movies, plays a young Livia Soprano in the “Sopranos” prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark.” Farmiga directed Dominczyk in the 2011 film “Higher Ground” (she also starred as a woman who experiences a religious awakening).
“Both were similar experiences for me in the fact that both women were able to execute exactly what they wanted on their set without being controlling, without being obsessed with this idea of control, without raising their voices,” Dominczyk says. “It was this kind of beautiful dance. They knew how to get it done, but they didn’t have to assert their power. And I think that has a lot to do with women in general learning how to navigate through life and learning how to get the things we want — knowing when to battle for it and knowing when to bend.
“These two movies were probably the best experiences of my life because both Vera and Maggie are actors, so they speak the actor’s language,” she says. “Maggie would come up and whisper these brilliant, intimate notes in my ear right before camera rolled. And this gave me the freedom to play. She was the ultimate truth hunter. She just wanted the truth of the scene … She gave us this freedom to dance together. That boosted my confidence. It boosted my level of trust and safety. She did that so brilliantly for all her actors, top to bottom, it didn’t matter if you were Olivia Coleman, who won an Oscar, or myself or a day player. You got the same kind of attention and love from her. And that’s amazing.”
"The Lost Daughter" stars Peter Sarsgaard, Dagmara Dominczyk, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Olivia Colman, Paul Mescal, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley and Ed Harris. The cast members attended the New York Film Festival premiere of the movie Sept. 29.Monica Schipper | Getty Images
Dominczyk’s “Lost Daughter” character is from Queens, but the actor channeled her “inner Polish immigrant” for the role.
“My inner Greenpoint,” she says, along with a distinct type of mothering: “You gotta be really bossy about how warm you are.”
Callie is confrontational in the nicest way — she attempts to disarm Leda with an offer of birthday cake. But the way she says “cake” is key, as if the whole story of her being can be expressed with one word.
Since Callie and her family have Greek heritage and descend on a Greek island in the film, Dominczyk recalled her own summers in Poland as the “American girl.”
She was born in the city of Kielce in southern Poland. When she was 7, her family left for the United States after the arrest and imprisonment of her father, activist Miroslaw Dominczyk, a leader in Poland’s Solidarity trade union. The group was instrumental in ending Communist rule in the country (Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, future president of Poland, received the Nobel Peace Prize the same year).
The actor’s 2013 novel, “The Lullaby of Polish Girls,” which is set between Kielce and the U.S., echoes her story. The protagonist and her family — including her father, active in the Solidarity movement — are Polish refugees who move to Brooklyn.
Dominczyk lived in Brooklyn projects following her father’s release from prison. She attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan and continued her studies at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in Pittsburgh, where she met her future husband, actor Patrick Wilson.
Dagmara Dominczyk and her husband, actor Patrick Wilson, in 2020.Dominik Bindl | Getty Images
Wilson and Dominczyk, who have been married for 16 years, have been castmates in a series of movies including “Running with Scissors” (2006), “Big Stone Gap” (2014) and “Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife” (2014), which featured her younger sister, actor Marika Dominczyk, whose husband, actor Scott Foley (“Felicity”), directed the film.
Wilson, 48, is currently in London filming “Aquaman 2,” officially titled, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (he plays the villain Orm Marius/Ocean Master). Dominczyk’s mother helps out with their sons Kalin, 15, and Kassian, 12, when the actor travels to Baltimore to film her part in “We Own This City.”
The family has lived in Montclair for 11 years. At first, Dominczyk was unconvinced it was the right place for her.
“I never lived in a house with stairs and stuff,” she says. “I only lived in apartments in the city. And it was a tough transition for me. My husband grew up in a house with a backyard and dogs and all that (in St. Petersburg, Florida). And he really wanted to get out of Brooklyn. We moved here in the winter, and I was doing a play in the Village. I didn’t drive. I never had a license in New York. So I would commute on the DeCamp bus every night to go to the theater and come back in the snow.
“And I was like, ‘What the f— are we doing here?’” Dominczyk says with a plaintive voice. “‘Why are we here?! Where’s the noise at night? Where are the people in the streets?’ It felt really unfamiliar. And then spring came. It’s so cliche, but trees bloomed and flowers, and all of a sudden I settled into it. I saw my kids were happy running around, biking. I met people that were really cool and open-minded and welcoming. It’s got a thriving art scene. The public schools are great — our boys go to public school here. And I guess it felt like it could be our home.”
Dagmara Dominczyk and her son Kal Wilson at the New York Film Festival premiere of "The Lost Daughter" in September.Monica Schipper | Getty Images
Dominczyk made her film debut in the 2000 romantic comedy “Keeping the Faith” with Edward Norton and Ben Stiller. Her first substantial role was as Mercédès in the 2002 version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” opposite Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce.
Her other film credits include “Rock Star” (2001) with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston; “Kinsey” (2004) with Liam Neeson; “Lonely Hearts” (2006) with Jersey’s own John Travolta and James Gandolfini; “The Letter” (2012) with Winona Ryder and James Franco; “The Immigrant” (2013) with Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard; and “The Assistant” (2020) with Julia Garner and Dominczyk’s “Succession” co-star Matthew Macfayden.
On Broadway, her credits include “The Violet Hour,” “Enchanted April” and “Golden Boy.”
Next year will see the release of “My Love Affair With Marriage,” an animated independent film (for adults) starring Dominczyk with Matthew Modine in a supporting role. She plays a character named Zelma who is on a quest for “perfect love and lasting marriage” from ages 7 to 30.
The Kickstarter-funded project, directed by Signe Baumane, has been six years in the making.
“She does everything by hand,” Dominczyk says. “No CGI or anything. Her animation (is) old-school on a drafting table … I can’t wait for that.”
Dominczyk has appeared in TV series including “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Deuce,” “The Bedford Diaries” and “Person of Interest.” Now she’s embracing a regular role on HBO’s “We Own This City.”
“HBO is responsible for my midlife career right at this point,” she says. “I owe them!”
The six-part limited series, created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, writers and producers of “The Wire” and “The Deuce,” is being helmed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of the upcoming Will Smith film “King Richard.” Production wraps in mid-November, Dominczyk says.
“We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption,” a book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton published in February, is the basis for the show. The story chronicles the Gun Trace Task Force, a unit of the Baltimore Police that was rife with crime. Task force members were indicted on charges including extortion, robbery and selling seized drugs as part of the scandal, which arrived in the wake of riots over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray as a result of injuries he suffered while in police custody.
Dominczyk plays Erika Jensen, an FBI agent from New York who investigates the task force with Baltimore police Sgt. John Sieracki (Don Harvey of “The Deuce”). Jon Bernthal, who played Johnny Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” portrays Baltimore Police Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, a figure at the center of the corruption.
Dagmara Dominczyk with Olivia Colman, her castmate in "The Lost Daughter."Monica Schipper | Getty Images
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a living real person before,” the actor says. “FBI headquarters approved a phone conversation between us, which is really exciting and fun. Because I was all nervous. I thought, ‘Well, if she’s from Baltimore, that’s the hardest accent ever.’ I mean, Kate Winslet did such an amazing job in ‘Mare of Easttown’ (playing fictional Delco Det. Mare Sheehan). But this FBI agent that I’m playing is actually a native of New York. So I was like, “Yeah, score.’ She’s very kind of bare bones, tough, no glamour, no high heels and pencil skirts. She’s all about her job and quite serious about it. So it’s something I’ve never played before, really. And that’s exciting, too.”
“The Wire” actors Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield), Tray Chaney (Malik “Poot” Carr), Jermaine Crawford (Duquan “Dukie” Weems), Nathan Corbett (Donut) and Chris Clanton (Savino Bratton) are in the show’s ensemble as well as “The Deuce” actor Thaddeus Street (Francis “Black Frankie” Reed).
“It’s one of the most wonderfully diverse casts and crews I’ve ever been on a set,” Dominczyk says. “It’s sad to say that’s rare where I’m one of the few white people on set. It’s so f—ing great. The atmosphere is supportive and kind and everyone works their a– off. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no ego. It is really a wonderful group of people.
“I’m having the best time and Reinaldo Marcus Green, the director, is an amazing, beautiful human, and he’s doing such a great job. It’s a tough, tough tale to tell. It’s a really f—ed up piece of history here, what happened in Baltimore, what’s happened in the last few years. I think we’re telling it as authentically as possible and with as much truth as possible.”
“Succession” premieres at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 17 on HBO. “The Lost Daughter” will be released Dec. 31 on Netflix. Dagmara Dominczyk and Maggie Gyllenhaal will be at a Montclair Film Festival screening of the movie 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24; montclairfilm.org.
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Actor Dagmara Dominczyk at the "Succession" season three premiere Oct. 12 at New York's American Museum of Natural History.Theo Wargo | Getty Images