“What’s really going on, mom?”
It’s a simple question posed by Ozark’s Charlotte Byrde, played by newcomer Sofia Hublitz—who stars alongside her fictional parents Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), brother Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), and neighbor Ruth (Julia Garner)—early on in the first season of the Netflix original series. Viewers of the crime drama, which recently released the last seven episodes of its fourth and final season after becoming one of the most popular shows in the U.S., know that very question would unfurl a seemingly never-ending answer: her white-collar parents were “laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. I shit you not,” as her mother so eloquently divulges.
The line immediately hints at Charlotte’s grounded, mature nature as she accepts her fate of moving from Chicago to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks—high school ego and tinglings of a young woman in tow. “She’s come to a very adult place in her mind with it, where the circumstances are unchangeable and it’s her parents’s cross to bear, not hers,” Hublitz says on a phone call with W about how Charlotte might view her own development over the years.
First airing in 2017, the debut season of Ozark sets the eldest Byrde sibling at the tender age of 15—with Hublitz herself just a few years older in real life. Five years later (with breaks in filming due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and Hublitz’s character’s growth mirrors her own coming-of-age experience—money laundering, FBI investigations, and cartels excluded.
“I spent my later adolescent years on a movie set. And when you’re having difficult times in your life, you have to learn not to bring that to work,” the breakout actress explains ahead of the finale’s part-two release. “It’s kind of a strange line to walk with being, in the early years of the show, 17-18, having a lot going on in my life then, but also having to come to work in front of all these people…There are obviously some parallels of that kind of growing-up process. It’s strange feeling like you’re growing up in front of the world’s eyes.”
Whereas their similarities show up through age, being exposed to life-changing experiences, and general teen angst, their differences come through in personality. “I’m so terribly different from Charlotte that people who know me remark on how funny it is [that I play her],” Hublitz says. “I have a lot of levity, whereas Charlotte doesn’t all the time.” In fact, “levity” is the exact thing that the self-proclaimed “proud New Yorker” would say made the character uniquely hers.
“Even if the context called for this, I’ve always tried to [shy] away from being too much of a cynic and contrarian in a scene because, ultimately, there’s that acting rule that if you say ‘no,’ the scene is over,” she explains. “I’ve always tried to not say ‘no’ with my face and my body language and…engage in a positive way, even if the scene doesn’t call for that.”
In Ozark’s final season, it’s hard to ignore that Charlotte is staying closely aligned with her mother. She’s transitioned from a resistant participant in her parents’s schemes to a “mini-Wendy, so to speak,” as the actress describes. “She’s transitioning into adulthood, and she’s looking to her mother to guide her on that path. But I think she thinks she’s doing the right thing by working with her mom and dad, trusting them and not questioning their beliefs or their actions.”
It’s a wonder that the flurry of betrayals dealt to the teenager—including, but not limited to: the sudden uprooting of her life, getting thrown off a boat by foe-turned-friend Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan), and that other season one boat guy who left Charlotte forlorn after a “grown-up” night—led her back to the one “unfailing” source of love she knows: her parents.
“Charlotte partying, losing her virginity, playing with the bad kids—you think, for a young person, that’s going to make you stronger…It’s going to give you more social power and this moral superiority over your parents. But really, she’s just a kid,” Hublitz says. “She still eventually ran home to mommy and daddy. Your actions have consequences, but they don’t always give you that leg-up in maturity.”
Off-screen, Hublitz has taken cues from her own parents, especially in the creative realm. She describes them both as “cinephiles,” with her mom having been an art director “once upon a time,” and her dad a longtime lover of “true cinema.” Her parents being “music heads,” however, didn’t rub off on her as much—though, with the help of her session musician boyfriend, music still “constantly follows” her in life.
“I know it’s a tool [used] a lot to ‘get into character.’ That’s never really worked for me. It’s a little too distracting,” she says. Instead, she’ll opt for one of the “couple of hundred fricking movies” in her personal collection—preferably a dark comedy (the actress recently delved back into the 1996 Alexander Payne-directed Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern).
Could Hubtliz’s favorite film genre be a hint at where the budding actor hopes to turn up next? Possibly. “I love comedy…Is it weird to call yourself funny?,” she asks. “It’s uncharacteristic for me to say that about myself, but we’ll try. Are you going to be seeing me doing a half-hour special anytime soon? Probably not.”
For now, she spends her downtime writing since the series wrapped up filming last November, (after racking up 32 Emmy nominations, no less). She’s putting together “a couple of ideas for some shows” and feeling inspired by the scripts coming to her inbox (which she describes as “the best school and experience” she’s gotten). And Hublitz is even rewatching previous seasons of Ozark, something she “never” does.
“I was feeling especially nostalgic, so I turned on a couple episodes of season two. I was going through a really, really hard time in my personal life, and watching it brought me back to that place,” Hublitz says. “It made me feel proud for how far I’ve come in my life—but also, it reestablished how proud I am for how far Charlotte has come and the character development,” she says.
“I hope people see and can relate to this portrait of maturity that Charlotte’s been through over the years,” she adds. “Because I feel that with myself.”