Juliana Canfield Has a Knack for Creating Fan-Favorite Characters

Fashion

Five minutes into my conversation with Juliana Canfield, she reveals something a little shocking: The actress grew up without TV. Technically, her family did have a television set at home, but Canfield was encouraged to spend all of her free time outside and reading books like “a modern-day character from Little House on the Prairie,” as she put it. “It was the sort of thing where I would go to friends’ houses and be starved for pop culture, and I would be like, ‘Please, can we watch television?’” she laughs. At sleepovers, she would watch shows like Law & Order: SVU, which inevitably became the source of some terrible nightmares.  

The topic of Law & Order, funny enough, is still present in Canfield’s life. Yes, she’s indulged in a few lazy-day binge sessions throughout the years, but the long-standing show also happens to have a unique connection to her character Janine Harris on the new Peacock detective drama The Calling. Created by David E. Kelley, the series, which is loosely based on the Israeli crime novel The Missing File, is about an NYPD detective named Avraham Avraham whose out-of-the-norm spiritual approach to solving cases is put into question when a routine investigation turns upside down. “I wanted to talk to [David] about where he saw [Janine] going and what he thought made her different as a detective, and he said something I loved. … He thinks she became a detective because she was obsessed with Law & Order and CSI when she was a girl and watched them constantly—just a rerun-marathon, Law & Order, Mariska Hargitay devotee. And that was her in,” she says. Hearing that was all Canfield needed. It was a refreshing origin story to a detective that she hadn’t heard before coupled with a beautifully written script. 

It should be mentioned that The Calling isn’t your typical cop show. For starters, Hans Zimmer was brought on to do the music. Yes, the Hans Zimmer, who has composed scores for such iconic films as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, and, most recently, Dune. Then there’s the matter of Kelley and his signature brand of storytelling. “His characters are always larger than life or familiar but turned slightly to the side,” Canfield says of Kelley’s work. “He takes archetypes and complicates or tilts them just a bit so that they become something strange or unusual or quirky or never before seen.” This is particularly apparent in the show’s central character, Avraham, who is as complex and intuitive as they come. Canfield appreciates that the show delves into the many shades of each character. Even those who seem villainous have positive attributes. 

The beauty of the show lies in the dynamic between Janine and Avraham, played with such fervor by Jeff Wilbusch (Unorthodox). While Janine is the ultimate rule follower, Avraham colors outside the lines, creating a great push and pull between the two detectives. “I think what she sees in Avi is someone who is much more circuitous and improvisational in his approach,” Canfield says. “He goes from A to Z to M and ends up with the answer, which I think she is amazed by and fascinated by, and [she] sees, in order to be really great as a detective, you can’t just rely on the textbook. … I think that’s what attracts her to him. He has secret sauce. He is a magician as opposed to a technician.”

When Canfield found out Wilbusch would be playing the part of Avraham, she was a bit nervous at first. Friends who were huge fans of Unorthodox warned her of his “extremely scary” and intimidating nature on-screen. The casting seemed fitting given Avraham’s intense disposition, so she braced herself for a serious shoot. In reality, Wilbusch couldn’t be nicer, and the two instantly hit it off. “He is playful and self-deprecating and very sweet,” Canfield says. Their immediate jovial banter off-camera also proved helpful in the building of Janine and Avraham’s relationship. “Janine brings that out of him, his sense of playfulness or his sense of humor,” she says.  

While the scripts provided Canfield a lot to work with to bring the ambitious rookie detective to life, the actress also made good use of the production’s two consultants, who were both retired detectives: “We would read a scene, and then I would go sprinting over [to them] asking, ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘How do I do this?’” There was also the small matter of holding a gun like a real detective. “The amount of times I had to be taught how to hold a gun,” she says. “I was basically holding it like a dead fish.”

The 30-year-old found inspiration in podcasts too. Though Canfield admittedly isn’t much of a podcast girl, she found the stories from former New York detectives crucial in understanding the more sensitive aspects of the job. “I think a lot of detectives, especially if they worked in the force for a long time, have a very tough exterior shell,” she says. “I was quite surprised and moved at times hearing these often men, who were grown and had long careers, get emotional or hearing their voices break when they were talking about emotional moments because of their colleagues or because of a particularly troubling case.” 

The character Janine is nothing if not loyal and determined, a lot like another of Canfield’s beloved on-screen counterparts—Jess Jordan, Kendall Roy’s right-hand woman in the Emmy-winning HBO series Succession. Canfield laughs when I bring up the comparisons but argues they have one major difference: their choice of footwear. “Jess won’t be caught dead in a flat shoe,” she says. “She wears a stiletto. She likes her feet to hurt a little bit, and she runs around on the tips of her toes. And Janine wears flat shoes that lace up, and she’s always ready to run. But not run away, like run after.”

The supporting role quickly became a breakout moment for Canfield, with Jess becoming somewhat of an anomaly among Succession fans. There is even an entire Ringer article dedicated to the character, asking the important questions about her all-consuming job. Does Jess have a chance to eat well-balanced meals? Does she hydrate? And why has she stayed by Kendall’s side all this time? The love for the tireless C-suite assistant is far from what Canfield expected going into the project, but she’s happy to be caught up in the wave. When I ask about what’s to come in season four, which returns next spring, she leaves me with this: “From what I’ve read and seen so far, it’s going to be a real doozy.” 

While we impatiently wait for what’s next for the Waystar Royco gang, Canfield is holding us over with an equally intriguing performance in The Calling. And that’s what makes her one of the most exciting talents coming up in Hollywood today. She injects her characters with a relatable authenticity, making them instant fan favorites. For someone who didn’t grow up with television, she sure knows how to dominate the small screen.  

The Calling is now streaming on Peacock.

Photographer: Ari Michelson

Stylist: Janelle Miller at A-Frame Agency

Hairstylist: Rena Calhoun at A-Frame Agency

Makeup Artist: Katrina Klein at The Wall Group 

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