WAYSTAR ROYCO

Juliana Canfield Plays the Rare Succession Character Worth Rooting For

Looks like Succession fans might need Jess as much as Kendall does.

by Gabe Bergado

Juliana Canfield at the Succession Premiere
Courtesy of Getty Images.

Jess Jordan, assistant to Kendall Roy at Waystar Royco, wakes up in her luxury Chelsea apartment and starts her morning routine. She might not have much of a vibrant social life considering her demanding, chaotic job at one of the most well-known media conglomerates in the world, but she’s grabbing lunch with an old friend. Before heading out the front door, she puts on a sensible stiletto, a pragmatic yet stylish choice influenced by the many times she’s had to run around Manhattan as part of remaining at the beck and call of one of New York City’s most infamous wealthy families. And of course, just as she’s on the way to the restaurant, she gets a call from her boss and has to cancel her plans.

No, this is not a deleted scene from Succession. Instead, it’s a bit of head canon from Juliana Canfield, the actress who portrays the assistant on the HBO hit series. She may not be a Roy or even a main character on the show, but Canfield’s Jess has found a bit of a fandom throughout her three seasons.

“I have friends and loved ones that are sort of legally and morally obligated to be in the Jess hive, so I’m a bit of a feedback loop of ‘we love Jess.’ But in a sort of broader sense it’s surprising and obviously lovely,” Canfield tells W. She wasn’t too aware about the buzz, but a few years ago her grandmother did send over a family email chain about the Ringer’s several-hundred-word ode to the “tireless assistant.” Since then, there have been Jess-themed fancams, screencaps, and declarations such as “I want an episode of Succession told entirely from Jess' perspective.” The Jess hive is alive and buzzing on the internet.

Beyond living in a luxury building on the Westside and having to bail on lunch, Canfield has some other ideas about what could happen in a theoretical Jess-centric episode. The performers that bring to life many of the supporting characters on the show are friends that hang out in real life, so she’d enjoy seeing an episode where all the assistants are playing messenger with one another, or where we would get to see what her relationship with Logan’s assistant Kerry (Zoe Winters) is like. Where would this gaggle of perpetual errand-runners go if they were able to finally catch a break?

“They’d want to go somewhere where they wouldn’t be afraid of running into people. Maybe they would go to the River Cafe and sit outside,” Canfield postulates. “The other thing about these characters is I don’t know how hip and happening they are. I don’t know if they’re sort of Blundstone wearing cool kids on the weekends.”

Perhaps Jess has to pick up Ken’s dry cleaning and then go meet up with his drug dealer if he’s currently on a bender; Canfield is interested in what that interaction might look like. That sort of mission wouldn’t be out of the question for the Ken/Jess duo, considering some of the other things he’s charged her with. There’s that time earlier this season when she had to play telephone with his father just after he called a press conference throwing the eldest Roy under the bus, a scene that Canfield says has been one of her favorite scenes so far—even though Jess herself probably had nightmares about that phone call for weeks thereafter. Jess has even had to play babysitter for a Continental Giant rabbit belonging to her boss’s children, something that feels “quinnessential Ken” (for the record, Canfield sings praises to the bunny who was “amazing and so chill and relaxed” on set). Ken may put Jess through the ringer, but Canfield staunchly believes that her character loves working for her boss and that he truly does depend on her.

The actress is quick to also mention that all this love for Jess stems from Succession from being such a big part of the pop culture zeitgeist. By nature of it being one of the most-talked about shows, every little part of it is analyzed, even the more tertiary characters. She credits the “unparalleled writing” of the show and says that she sees Jess’s rise over the seasons as a “direct response to how Jeremy [Strong] plays Kendall.” While all that is true, how Jess fits into the larger ecosystem at Waystar Royco undoubtedly plays a part in fans’ standom.

But it’s also wild to think that there was a world of possibility where Canfield wasn’t going to be the one to play Jess. A few months after graduating from drama school in 2017, the actress originally read for the role of Willa, Connor Roy’s theater-making, iPad throwing, much younger lover.

“This is not me trying to be self-deprecating, but I was like, there’s no way that I’m going to get hired to play this character. I think for the audition I wore Converse and a tank top. I was like, ‘This was not my wheelhouse, but I’m just going to go and try to do a good job for these casting directors,’” Canfield says. The next day she was brought in to read for another character named Jay, who was supposed to be a sort of political aide to Shiv Roy during her democratic politics story arc. About a week later, the actress got a call that Jay wasn’t happening, but that they’d like her to play a new character named Jess, assistant to Kendall.

“Many viewers are drawn to the people sitting just outside of the Roys' circle because it's easy to relate to their shock, amusement and exasperation at all the Roys' drama without being directly involved. Jess in particular is relatable because I think many of us have had (or still have) jobs where our responsibilities include catering to the bizarre whims of a boss or client with little or no input,” Anna Golez, who runs the Twitter account No Context Succession, tells W. A recent post of Jess’s reaction to hearing about the aforementioned bunny getting sick from eating a bagel was fairly popular, which Golez attributes to several things: “Who among us has not overheard a work call where somebody completely fucked up the thing we worked so hard on?” and “it's just a great reaction image and that's mostly thanks to Juliana Canfield's immense talents.”

“I love being on Succession, it’s so great to work with Jeremy. As Jess is sort of in awe and admiration of Kendall, I, Juliana, am in awe and admiration of Jeremy,” Canfield says. “It tickles me to no end that Jess is getting love on the internet. It’s like icing on the cake of a great job.”

Looks like Succession fans just might need Jess as much as Kendall does.