TNT continues to raise the bar for its programming with Good Behavior, a show that pushes the boundaries not just for TNT but for its star Michelle Dockery (widely known as Lady Mary from Downton Abbey) and TV viewers’ acceptance of edgier, almost premium-style, content (see American Horror Story and The Walking Dead).
Lusia Strus plays Letty’s (Michelle Dockery) rough-around-the-edges mother, who also teeters on the edge of a sister-like relationship with her daughter, who she had at a very young age.
SLING TV: You play Estelle, Letty’s mother, who seems to have very little patience or compassion for her daughter at the point we first see them interact –
LUSIA STRUS: Yes, what have you seen so far?
I’ve seen the first three episodes. I wanted to talk about their relationship and where they’re at at this point.
Estelle had Letty when she was 15, so Estelle’s tools for living were sort of stunted, she only has certain ones, and she’s figured out a certain code of living that needs some work. Their relationship is kind of half-sister-half-mother but not like The Gilmore Girls. It’s really primitive and primal and they’re viciously bonded. She didn’t do the best job with Letty but she stuck it out. She kept Letty and raised her much of the time alone, so she kept getting married – five times, in fact. I think Estelle is one of those people who wanted to grow up really fast and once she had a child, she had never really grown up and had missed her childhood so she was in that space between so she had to raise herself with the kid and both of them became sort of feral. You’ll see their relationship is one of those where you can say anything to the other person and you know they’re not going anywhere, like family. Everyone else is up for grabs but family – it’s like my family. We’ve said a lot of things to each other but we know that we’ll give each other a kidney… That’s how I feel about them. Estelle has very few boundaries and she’s offended by very little. She forgets that other people aren’t, and I think she’s kind of funny.
Are we going to dive into more of Letty’s background with Estelle and perhaps Letty’s father, who, as far as I’ve seen, we’ve heard nothing about?
Yes. We’ll find out a little bit more about what happened there. Estelle has custody and has had custody of Jacob, Letty’s baby, and she’s trying to do a better job this time. Since Letty was a kid, she was very wild. It’s that kind of thing where the things you see in yourself that you see in other people, you resent the most. The things in Letty that reflect Estelle are the things that Estelle has the biggest problems with because she knows she put them there, but Estelle’s not self-aware enough – it’s not like Estelle goes to therapy… We will see that, and we see Letty go through the process of really needed to prove to herself that she can take care of her kid. At the center of this story is Letty and Javier and you can’t help who crashes into you, and Letty has tried to be self-sufficient and autonomous and not need anyone, and Javier comes into the picture and he’s kind of created a sense of lack in her life just moments before there was none. That’s what I think the show is: people present for each other – they bring forth a sense of lack just seconds before there was none, and you find out you need them in one way or another.
Do we ever get a glimpse into Estelle’s past? I know you mentioned we learn about how Letty came into the world, but it seems as though maybe Letty’s story really starts with Estelle and how Estelle came to be who she is.
Well, this season, I think you see a little bit in scenes with Letty and Estelle talking about what it was like for Letty to grow up and what their relationship was like, and through that you see what Estelle has gone through. What Estelle’s childhood was like you really don’t get to discover. I think, hopefully, optimistically, with a season two – knock on everything that’s wooden – I think that will be revealed. Estelle and Letty do not have a sentimental relationship, there’s nothing precious, there is very little precious in their relationship. They are really primal and primitively attached, and I like that. I grew up with a single mom and two older sisters, I’m the youngest in a house of all women – eastern european women, my mom doesn’t even speak English. Beauty doesn’t have to be pretty and there’s something very honest about that. To me, in my life, I was very much like Letty growing up and my mom had to deal with me and it wasn’t civil all the time. A single mom gets really, really, really, tired and you get tired with – you don’t know how to deal. It’s not like Estelle went to counseling, it’s not like Estelle learned how to deal, she’s like, ‘Stop it, just stop it!’ She has her own demons and her own addictions. Everybody has their “stuff” but it’s a degree of manageability. There may be some envy going on with Estelle. It’s as complicated as sisters can be and as attached mother and daughter can be, and that’s how I see their relationship.
I think because they seem so cut from the same cloth, I feel like I could see Estelle finding herself down this new path Letty is embarking on. I could see wanting a cut of that.
Yep. Possibly, possibly. There’s something about the free spirit of Letty that Estelle always wanted to have and I think Estelle has, but she just did it in different ways: she did it locally instead of globally. There’s this exchange of a dress that sort of begins it in a future episodes, in a very sister-way. Estelle’s dating someone Letty went to high school with, and it’s real, she really likes him. His name is Joey Kern, he’s fantastic he’s a great actor. At first, as an actress, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s going to be so wild being with a younger guy.’ We’re not that far apart, you know, because Michelle and I aren’t that far apart, but within 10 minutes of meeting Joey, who plays Rob, we figured out our deal on a dance floor at a high school reunion scene. We were on the dance floor and we’re like, ‘Oh, this is our relationship,’ it really only took 10 minutes to understand who Rob and Estelle were together. And, again, it was a visceral, physical deal. I don’t think either of them think with their brains: Estelle thinks with her fists and her guts and her vagina, and her logic is based completely on her own making. Her morality, her logic, her ethics are not based on spiritual teachings necessarily. She figures out her own good behavior, like everyone, and I think that’s really what this show is: everyone figures out their own good behavior.
I like that, and I think it’s very true. What was it about the show and perhaps Estelle, too, that you’ve yet to touch on that drew you to the project?
I just read the sides, I didn’t get the pilot [for the audition]. The dinner scene where I’m talking to Letty, asking her for the money to see Jacob, that was just written for the audition, so I auditioned with the scene for the pilot and they just wrote that scene for women to have something to audition with for Estelle. As soon as I read those, I just understood her. When I sat down with [Creators] Blake Crouch and Chad [Hodge] – Chad and I have a history about 20 years in the making… I did voiceover for Wayward Pines as what I thought was a favor [to Chad]… and then I got this audition, and he called me in for it… There was just something about Estelle that I thought I was going to get [the part]. Chad called me to tell me I got it after the test and he said on the phone, ‘The first time I saw you when I was 17, I knew I wanted to work with you. It’s taken 20 years but we finally get to [work together],’ and I started bawling in my kitchen… When Blake and Chad and I sat down at dinner [one night], they were like, ‘We didn’t write the role the way you’re doing it.’ and I was like, ‘Yes, you did.’ [Laughs] And, they were like, ‘No, no, she was stern and religious and sort of proper… but when you did it, it was revealed to us who she is.’… It was one of those things, what I saw in it was so particular and very obvious to me but it wasn’t even what was supposed to be happening, apparently. It was just an intuitive thing for me that’s who she was… We almost had a fight about it! I just understood her, I can’t even explain it.
I think that’s a testament to how perfect you were for this role. As you’re describing how she was originally written, I just can’t imagine her that way. It doesn’t fit.
Oh, yeah, and she was much older, so they changed the whole thing where she got pregnant at 15 and that entire of sister relationship and the volatile relationship – she was a very buttoned-up, stern [woman], and I was like, ‘How? What are you talking about?!’ [Laughs]
Don’t miss the two-part premiere of Good Behavior at 9pm ET on TNT.