(picture caption: Lusia Strus is seen with Michelle Dockery (foreground) in the new
series “Good Behavior.” | TNT. )
Recently I spoke with actress Lusia Strus about her career and her work on the TNT Series Good Behavior. Lusia has had an interesting career having worked with Adam Sandler and Sandra Bollock amongst other high-profile names and projects..
What can you tell us about your character?
Well, Estelle is Letty’s Mom. That’s first. She had her when she was 15 and raised her, for better or worse. But she did it. I think Estelle wanted to grow up fast so she never really had a chance to be a kid and then, once she had a kid, she was this 15 year old who never learned to be an adult and just had to figure out her own compass, her own tools for living. So, she’s sort of feral. That compass may be skewed and the tools may be damaged but she makes them work for her. And she made them work for Letty. She’s gets married a lot. She likes her wine.
She’s dating someone who was in High School with Letty. She’s offended by very little and doesn’t realize others aren’t the same and that’s fun to play. She has custody of Letty’s son and she’s truly trying to do better this time. She and Letty have a primitive relationship. I’ve never seen this particular relationship before on screen. It’s complicated, funny, vicious and deeply loving. They’re part sisters, part mother/daughter. Chad Hodge and the writers have created an honest, unsentimental mother/daughter relationship. I grew up in a house full of women, raised by a single mother. They got it right.
Can you compare/contrast working on film, TV, stage and which is your favorite and why?
This is my first time doing a full season of a show so I it’s a whole new way to compare.
I’ve done theatre most of my life and that’s where I’ve always been comfortable – in a bubble of light on a dark stage – with an audience participating in the experience – and the experience disappearing as it happens. It’s what I know. I have always felt right there. Doing films, and doing guest stars on TV there’s been a learning curve but the thing with those is you know the entire thing up front. Beginning, middle, end. Like a play. So, that’s that.
But there are these cameras recording you. It’s permanent. No bubble of light. No dark. Out of sequence. It’s different. Getting to do Good Behavior has been this world of both. It’s an ensemble. Terry Kinney, Juan Diego Botto, Michelle – we all have theatre backgrounds so we have that mutual understanding. We’re together for this long period of time. We’ve made a family – like a theatre company which is what I’m used to. Then I got to experience even more. Different directors and writers for each episode. Not knowing what will come in the next episode. It was new for me. Nothing disappears, you know? It’s all immortalized.
I’m learning my way. I asked questions. The guys behind the cameras helped me. Michelle helped me a lot. Terry Kinney, who I know from Chicago was a godsend. The thing I had to get used to was accepting that at the end of the day, the work was done. There was no going back to the theatre tomorrow night to tweak a moment when I realized I wanted to do something else while I was washing my makeup off at 2am. I love theatre and I will always do it. Always. And I love Good Behavior. These people. This world. These words. I love learning this new way to do what I love to do.
How did you prepare for the role?
When I auditioned for Estelle, I self-taped in my kitchen. My friend, Jenn Lyon came over to read with me. I only got the two audition scenes. No script. I just knew who she was. I read these scenes and just understood what was between the lines of this mother/daughter relationship. In fact, I looked at my friend, Jenn and said that afternoon, “I’m going to get this.” Now, you don’t say that – like … ever. That’s sacrilege, its bad mojo, it’s basically against the law. Jenn screamed at me, “Lusia, you can’t say that!” And I screamed back, “I know!” But it worked out okay. AND that same friend auditioned for a TNT pilot called “Claws” a few months later and when I read her audition material I said the same thing to her. “You’re going to get this.”
That’s even worse mojo, I think – saying it to someone else. She screamed, “You can’t say that!” I screamed, “I know!” She just finished shooting the pilot. So … I don’t know.
While shooting the show, we created a look for Estelle; her hair, makeup and clothes. The design team is incredible and all of that – the way Estelle presents herself and when she frays at the edges tells a story. It was important to me and that was part of preparing. Michelle and I talked some about Letty and Estelle but we understood each other very naturally and discovered more as we went. Same thing with Joey Kern who plays Rob, Estelle’s boyfriend. Day one of shooting together, it took about twelve to fifteen minutes of this scene where we’re having fun on a dance floor for the two of us to understand who Rob and Estelle are with each other. A dance floor is a really good place to be introduced because you can’t truly “figure out” how to intuitively behave. I understand Estelle viscerally so I’ve collected images and sounds. Each time I play a character, it calls for different preparation. Estelle is pictures. Music.
What is working with your cast like and any special moments from filming you can share?
We worked 16 hour days sometimes and were happy about it. This cast and this crew wanted to be there. We all wanted to be there each day. Sometimes, we met on weekends when we were off and ran lines. Dockery is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. I have a pretty good Ukrainian work ethic and I’ve never seen anything like what she did. And she’d still manage to surprise the crew with this incredible ice cream truck at the end of a long day. One of my favorite days was this scene in the final episode. It’s Michelle and I in Letty’s bedroom.
Even the rehearsal was special. Just personally, for me as an actress, I felt the closest to satisfied when I left that day. It was like the culmination of everything I had learned through the season. But some of my favorite times have to be in the hair and makeup trailer. We have the best h/m team and trailer. It’s like a coffee house, therapy lounge, dance club hybrid. And we’d blast music and just start dancing when we had to. There may be some cell phone footage of some Letty/Estelle dance routines out there. And I may have slid open the door of the little private cubicle and streaked through the length of the trailer while my airbrush tan was drying. But that’s just rumor.
How did you get into acting and what was your big break?
I majored in Theatre in college. I went to an all-girl Catholic High School in Chicago, ended up auditioning for a play at an all-boys Catholic High School because my best friend needed to drop out. I got the role. It was called Butterflies are Free. It ended up going to the Illinois High School Theatre Festival held at Illinois State University. I ended up being offered a scholarship there. That’s my big break. I was getting in a lot of trouble when I was young and I was lost.
I was a smart kid, stoned in honors classes basically. My older sisters were already out of the house in college, my mother doesn’t speak English very well and I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to fill out applications and get ready for life. I was just procrastinating and aimless. I knew I wanted to perform. I danced for a long time. I always wanted to act but I had never heard of Juilliard or Yale School of Drama or really majoring in theatre being a possibility.
Frankly, I wasn’t thinking much about anything but the present moment. So, when that became an option and ISU said they believed in me, that was it. Nothing was getting in my way. I came home, told my mom that’s what I wanted to do. She said, “No, it’s too hard a life, pharmacy or law is better.” So, I locked myself in the bathroom for two days and when that didn’t work, I ran away for almost three weeks until she agreed to let me go. That’s my break, being given that scholarship and chance. They gave me purpose. I found out what I wanted to do was the same as what I was supposed to do when I grew up. Everything after that is gravy. And you know what? Much of it has been hard. And that’s fine. The other big break, in the truest sense of what that means is what Chad Hodge did for me. He saw me the first time in Chicago when he was a 17 year old freshman at Northwestern. Right out of college I became an ensemble member with the NeoFuturists and we do a show called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
I didn’t know him then. It was always a packed house and it’s a wild show but he remembered me. Then four years ago, he saw me in Good People at Steppenwolf and wrote me a note on Facebook. I didn’t know he was a writer or producer or anything. It was just such a lovely letter I wanted to write back and thank him and a friendship struck up. Then I got this audition request. He gave me a shot. He remembered me. That holds so much value to me. Finding out something I did on stage was filed away somewhere in this young person’s memory means everything to me. That was enough. Then to be trusted with Estelle was past my scope of expectation. That’s a break.
What do you look for when you consider a part?
Humor. Humanity. Risk. And sometimes a job.
What can you tell us about your music?
Bottom line – I’m old school. My favorite song is and probably always will be Goodbye to Romance by Ozzy Osbourne. It was played at my wedding and it will be played at my funeral. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin… whatever I listened to in the 6th grade has stuck with me. I love Ukrainian music. Everything from Grace Jones to Hozier. It depends. I love Prince. The Purple Rain Tour was my first concert. I’ve seen Springsteen many times. Both of my sisters are devout fans so that’s by osmosis. And I like country music a lot. I had this old Mercedes convertible with some duct tape on a fender when I lived in LA that only had a radio and I started listening to this country station and I have to say, I’m into it. It’s great for long trips. And any woman with a guitar – Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Ethridge. Guitars and those voices.
Lately, we have this Good Behavior playlist on Spotify that Chad Hodge has been curating. Michelle has added to it, too. It’s great. That’s a go to. I drove back and forth to Wilmington a couple of times because I had my dogs with me and I would play it every time. It’s so good. Rihanna, The Chainsmokers, The Mamas and The Papas and I could listen to River by Bishop Briggs five times in a row.
What do you do in your free time?
Honest answer? I sit on my couch with my bulldog, Mister Ruffles and Ernie the freaky, bald Chinese Crested dog and watch TV. They’re both adopted, weird and I love them because they’re magic. I also go to the theatre a lot. I am an avid audience member. I love when the lights go down. That moment in a theatre is the best moment in time.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I’m in Preview performances for a world premier play called Rancho Viejo by Dan LeFranc at Playwrights Horizons. It’s directed by Daniel Aukin and Mare Winningham and Mark Blum lead the cast. Watching them work has been watching a master class. Oh! And I get to have a real dog in it. Her name is Marti.
John Guare has written this beautiful role for me in a play called More Stars Than There Are in Heaven. Her name is Zola. She’s a Communist who befriends Tennessee Williams when he lived in her Santa Monica hotel early in his career
. He was under contract at MGM, trying to unsuccessfully write a screenplay. The germ of that rejected screenplay ended up becoming The Glass Menagerie. True story. We’ve done some staged readings and workshops and that’s in development. I love it so much. And I love John. And I’m delirious that he’s written a role for me. Also, I bought my own place last year and I really have to build shelves in my storage downstairs and go through all those boxes that are in there. That’s a big project.