Annabelle Dexter-Jones on Playing Succession‘s Black Sheep, Appreciating Tabloids, and Working with Holly Hunter
Succession‘s season two guest star says she took inspiration from her Upper West Side upbringing.
Annabelle Dexter-Jones may have a small part on HBO’s prestige juggernaut Succession, but she has the privilege of uttering the most pointed line on the show to date: “Watching you people melt down is the most satisfying activity on planet Earth.”
Midway through the second season of Succession, Dexter-Jones made her appearance as Naomi Pierce, a media heiress from the liberal antithesis of Succession’s Roy family, who own a conservative-leaning media conglomerate not unlike the Fox News channels owned by Rupert Murdoch. A recovering addict, Naomi is a black sheep and essentially the “Kendall” of the Pierce family.
When the Roy family meets the Pierce family, the attraction between Naomi and Kendall is almost immediately obvious. The two commiserate about relationships to substance abuse and find an empty helicopter outside of the estate. They talk about how the Roy family exploited the Pierces when Naomi was at her worst, by publishing hit pieces in the tabloids that exploited her gruesome injuries from a wild night out. When Kendall accidentally turns the chopper on in the middle of their banter, terror is written across Kendall and Naomi’s faces and it seems plausible that this vehicle, while in the hands of the least capable, might fly off into the sky and crash, killing them both. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility considering what happened with Kendall and a fateful trip in a cater waiter’s car during the season one finale. But Kendall and Naomi live to see another day.
Throughout the season, Naomi hovers like a specter. She prods Kendall to send her a dick pic, visits him at his family’s Scottish estate before he sees his estranged mother, and supports the family’s Senate hearing in Washington, D.C.
You can try to draw parallels between Dexter-Jones and her character—both come from highly influential families in the arts and culture space, for example—but when we meet on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History, Dexter-Jones exudes the most down-to-earth quality. And it turns out, this museum brings up a lot of memories of her childhood on the Upper West Side. “There’s always something that brings me here,” she says. “Now it’s my nephew, not that I need an excuse to go to the Museum of Natural History. I love it here, I’d come if I didn’t have a nephew,” she says of her sister Charlotte’s two-and-a-half year old son. Dexter-Jones says that she would go to the museum “when I was a kid for obvious reasons, when I was in high school I’d smoke weed, like we’d get high and be like let’s go to the planetarium! It’s always good. It really evolves with you.”
The daughter of a jewelry designer (Ann Dexter-Jones) and a rock star (Mick Jones, guitarist for Foreigner), Dexter-Jones admits that “there was never a dull moment growing up.”
Living in Manhattan, with her half-siblings Mark, Charlotte and Samantha Ronson, and brother Alexander Dexter-Jones “was a lot of action. Very chaotic in the best way possible, and probably in the worst way possible. There’s two sides to that coin, but it’s exciting. My siblings were kind of my role models growing up. We’ve all remained extremely close.”
Though she would engage in the typical performative behavior of putting on one woman shows and musicals for her family as a child, Dexter-Jones had a bit of what she calls “a zig zag pattern” before she realized acting was her calling. She studied literature in college, but when she moved to Paris for romance—and to try her hand at fashion design—she was cast in the supremely strange, genre-agnostic Holy Motors, a film directed by one of her heroes Leos Carax, and quickly moved back to New York to cut out anything that might distract her from pursuing acting. She then made her directorial debut in 2017 with a short film, Cecile on the Phone. “Working with Leos Carax was a dream job, but it’s not always like that. Succession is a dream job. But the jobs can’t all be that good,” she admits. “That’s the feeling on set, everyone is so psyched, so happy to be a part of something that they believe in and that’s so good. It’s taken me a long time to start to get to do the things that I really want to do.”
Like many people, Dexter-Jones found the show after it had already aired, devoured it, and sent in an audition tape for Naomi Pierce. “I felt like I knew her because I grew up in New York City and went to an all girls private school, and was kind of surrounded by a lot of people like that.”
“I immediately had an image of this person in my mind, knowing that she was the heir to a media family,” Dexter-Jones continues. “Through different people that I have come into contact with or have read about or gone to school with, I cobbled together who I thought this person was, and I always kind of had this WASP fetish because I grew up going to this very WASP-y school. I think there were like two or three Jews in my class, maybe three people of color. And I came from a family of artists which was also very different, so I always felt different because even my mom just kind of lived on a different planet from all these other moms, you know? She would pick me up in her pajamas,” she says with a strong laugh. “All of the other moms had sweater sets. I was just so enamored, when I would go to my friends’ houses and their carpets would match the upholstery on the couches, which would match the curtains? I thought that was so cool,” she goes on. “Everything kind of had its place. In my house, it was not like that. I loved my house growing up, but there was a kind of order that I would see in other peoples’ homes. There were lots of Bambis and Buddy’s, like those were the names of the people, the mothers.”
After researching Murdoch’s acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, and recognizing the parallels between that real-life business deal and the Roy family’s attempt to swallow up the Pierce family’s media outlets, Dexter-Jones found what she was looking for when building out Naomi as a character. She also looked at a handful of portraits by Tina Barney and Slim Aarons—experts at capturing exorbitant wealth. “Naomi is an outsider in her own way, and I could connect to that,” she says before adding, “While there are a lot of similarities, I think the differences are what make any match interesting,” in reference to the attraction between Naomi and Kendall, two sides of the same trust-fund baby coin.
As for her character’s acerbic remark that she delivers to Kendall, Dexter-Jones can’t help but admit, “I personally love a melt down, you know? The Roy family in particular, you’re watching something get everything that is coming to them, or what they deserve. I hear a lot of people say, Oh they’re too despicable I can’t see their redeeming qualities. But I love it. The writing is so good. In the way that the Shakespearean tragedies are also full of humor and wit, Succession is that.”
As we move through a hall dedicated to the conservation of the New York state environment, Dexter-Jones confesses that city’s overwhelmingly positive response to the show is starting to freak her out a little bit. “I know people love it,” she says. “I remember when I watched it, I didn’t know that many people who had been watching it last year. But it seems like all of a sudden this summer, it was everyone’s favorite show. I have this negative grandiosity that I’m going to ruin everyone’s favorite show!” she admits, before emitting a hearty laugh.
The discussion turns towards Succession’s moral stance on elitism. This season presents a binary of two different types of wealthy people, only for that dichotomy to erode. “There is something just as condescending and exploitative as Nan Pierce, it’s almost equally as awkward and uncomfortable when she is excessively kind. It’s performative,” Dexter-Jones says. “It’s for others, but it’s also for oneself to feel better to say, See, I have a relationship with the people who work for me? It might be true and it might be coming from a good place but it might just look better and sound better, but it’s actually the same thing. Or it’s just a more civilized presentation. It’s just that the language is different and the politics are different, but everyone might still be focused on the same goal.”
“The Pierce family has this elitist mentality, like, We have higher beliefs and higher ideals and what we do serves something greater,” she goes on. “That might be true, but who’s to say it’s better or worse? Because we’re liberal minded, I mean, is it worse to shroud that? For that to be your disguise?” the actress posits, before cheekily adding, “At least bad rich people own it, you know what I mean?”
After walking through the grand hall, searching for the larger-than-life squid and the whale, and eventually finding a dinosaur t-shirt for her nephew from the gift shop, we decide to leave the museum. What else is there to do on the Upper West Side on a weekday afternoon? Well, Dexter-Jones loves to grocery shop, so we trek to Zabar’s to run a couple quick errands. “I like this store because it’s nostalgic, and because of growing up and going here.”
“But I also really love going to health food stores. I think I’ve become addicted to wellness. Supplements and new different kinds of coconut yogurt and milks. I guess it’s better than being addicted to drugs, but it’s still an addiction,” she jokes, before adding, “But you know, you pick your battles.”
Joining the high caliber cast of Succession was no joke for Dexter-Jones, who found it intimidating at first, though she found comfort in working with Cherry Jones, Brian Cox, and Holly Hunter. “It’s a weird experience of stepping into your favorite show, which is quite disturbing in the best way possible,” she says. “It was super nerve wracking, but it’s nice to be able to turn to Holly Hunter and be like, ‘I think I just ruined that scene, what would you do in my situation?’” Then, she delivers a pitch perfect impression of Holly Hunter‘s Georgia drawl, while recounting a Broadcast News anecdote the screen legend told her. “It’s just so fun. It’s not lost on me,” she says. “I’m so excited to go to work whenever I’m working on this show because you’re just surrounded by not only talented and bright individuals, but it’s such a warm environment.”
The “warm environment” of the set is a stark contrast to the ice cold story told by the show, a narrative built on ruthless tabloid drama, fake news, and shady business dealings, all of which affect Naomi Pierce. But Dexter-Jones relishes in being able to play a part on a show that elucidates those topics, especially as a New York native. “Our whole culture now, tabloids can be so much more a part of the mainstream,” she explains. “But Page Six used to feel so local, and there were blind items, and I was obsessed with it. I do really enjoy The Post’s headlines.” Naomi, a character whose life is nearly destroyed by tabloids, might disagree.
When asked if it was ever weird to read stories about celebrities as a child, when she grew up in a house full of people who would all go on to be famous in their own ways, Dexter-Jones says it was always a delight, though she never thought too much about her family being famous. “I mean in a way, my parents and family are so eccentric I always knew that we were definitely freaks,” she jokes. “There were some moments growing up where, in comparison to my friends from school, my mom would throw these crazy parties and there were all sorts of different interesting people there. Artists or musicians or actors. I recognized that my friends from school were, as I described earlier, very very different.”
But that’s not to say that Dexter-Jones and her siblings were living out some wild child New York fantasy. “My mom was very strict. I was grounded all the time,” she says, noting that most of the time, her infractions were small ones, like speaking in a particular tone. “I think my older siblings would say that I had it easy, and I think compared to them I did. My mom was big on manners, like, we had lots of jokes about Mommie Dearest.”
There is, of course, the exception of the one time she got caught trying to sneak out of the house as a teenager and was grounded for a month, the same year she had her Bat Mitzvah. “I didn’t have a theme. It wasn’t cool, my sisters didn’t have Bat Mitzvahs. Both my brothers had Bar Mitzvahs, and they were both at Tavern on the Greene. I don’t remember Mark’s, but Alexander’s was, like Bugsy Malone gangster laser tag Cotton Club themed,” she laughs. “But I got really shafted. Mine was at a nightclub. It was apparently a very cool nightclub called Moomba that my brothers and sisters would go to all the time. We karaoked, I’m not complaining, I had a great time!”
We step outside of Zabar’s and take a quick walk down the street towards the Lincoln Center Plaza, which Dexter-Jones considers the most beautiful architecture in New York. Along the way, we chat about the typical trending topics—vaping, astrology, which apps on our phones are driving us the most crazy at this point in time. Then, she swings the Zabar’s bag filled with coffee beans and baked goods over her shoulder and heads towards a restaurant for lunch with her mom.