A Star Among Us

French-American actress STEPHANIE SZOSTAK on Westport and a Million Little Things

Photograph by Maarten de Boer

FRENCH-AMERICAN ACTRESS STEPHANIE SZOSTAK ON WESTPORT AND A MILLION LITTLE THINGS

You may recognize Stephanie Szostak (show-stack) as Jacqueline Follet from the feature film The Devil Wears Prada. Or from her many small-screen roles in shows like Satisfaction, Younger, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and Bull. She also played the villain Brandt in Iron Man 3, opposite Robert Downey, Jr. These days, the French-American actress can be found leading an ensemble cast as Delilah on the hit ABC drama A Million Little Things, which premiered its second season on September 26 (Thursdays at 9 p.m.). Here, Stephanie talks about her career, motherhood and what she loves about living in Westport.

WM: What drew you to Westport and what are your favorite things to do around town?
SS: We lived in New York City for sixteen years and thought we’d never leave, but when our boys were ten and six, we grew tired of the screaming sirens, the crowded elevators, the hefty price tag of schools and the fresh smell of urine on our sidewalk.

We were ready for a change and considered moving west to L.A. for a split second. Then, my husband’s cousin, who lives in Westport, made it her mission to get us to move here, with the help of her friend, Realtor Leslie Smith Clarke. Leslie told us about this charming, quirky, not-too-small and not-too-big house, and we fell in love with it. We had a support system of friends and family here, the schools were great, and the town felt like not exactly the suburbs, but not exactly the country either. Sure, it was far, but at the time the train ride to the city was about an hour. What happened!?

Still, even with the slower train rides, we absolutely love living here: walking on the beach in all seasons, playing golf at Longshore, the calm of our backyard—did you know that in France you can’t use leaf blowers on Sundays?—the schools, and the great shops and restaurants. I’d like to give a special shout-out to Gold’s Deli, where my folks and I go for lunch every time they come here. Their visit from France wouldn’t be complete without chopped liver, a pastrami sandwich and a celery soda.

WM: When did you decide to pursue acting and why?
SS: I graduated college with a business degree and landed a job in the marketing department at Chanel in NYC. It was quite glamorous with the seasonal sample sales and a key to the makeup closet! However, the prospect of getting a few promotions to one day get a bigger job wasn’t something that motivated me. The director of advertising asked me to help on a modeling job for an in-house brochure and that led me to decide, at twenty-six years old, to leave Chanel and start modeling on my own. Three years later, still putzing around in the modeling world, I took my first theater class and realized I had found my passion. I knew nothing about it, knew no one in that business, but I knew I had to do it. For the first time, I felt I had a true sense of direction in life.

WM: A Million Little Things films in Vancouver. How do you manage that while being a wife and mother?
SS: When this job came along, one of our wonderful producers, Aaron Kaplan, called me. My husband and I were huddled together on my iPhone, as Aaron told me he was a family man and assured me he’d do everything in his power so I could return home as often as possible.

After we hung up, I still wasn’t convinced that it could work for us logistically. Then my husband said, “Do it, we’ll make it work! It will be a great adventure.” And, you know what? We have made it work so far. We have incredible support from our sitters, family and friends. Our routine is constantly transforming, but that adds a bit of fun. There are a lot of back and forth trips, the rules around the house change some, bedtime might be later and there may be more screen time, but that’s okay. Like everything else, the way I/we look at it is going to affect the way I/we feel.

Some days, I think, What the heck am I doing working so far away? But, other days, I think, This is incredible—my boys are growing up seeing their mom follow her passion and their dad support me 100 percent. There are a lot of positives to this and some things are hard too. We focus on one day at a time and always know that our family is the number one priority.

WM: What motivated you to take on the role of Delilah? She makes controversial decisions. Do you relate?
SS: I loved the script. It was about life, real people; it was tragic and yet funny. Humor is such a part of getting through hardships, and this script hit it right on the head. When Eddie says to Gary, about their friend who committed suicide, “How do we know he didn’t fall?” and Gary responds, “Because he’s not four.” It made me laugh and feel horrible at once, and that’s how life can feel.

As far as Delilah, I wanted to know more. The pilot really didn’t reveal much about her until the end, and then everything you had imagined up to that point collapses. As the reader, I thought she lost the love of her life, I thought she had the perfect family—all of that was through the eyes of the friends’ group. At the end of the pilot, you realize she has a secret, which made me very curious. Why did her marriage fail? Who is she really? I knew nothing about her and was interested in discovering and understanding her.

Do I relate? Ha! No. The only thing I share with her is that we have two children, yet that is about to change since, when we left off Season 1, Delilah was headed to the delivery room.

WM: Aside from Delilah, what’s been your favorite character to portray?
SS: Ellen Brandt in Iron Man 3. She’s the furthest thing from Delilah. Brandt was a villain who was very physical, enjoyed firing a shotgun and even had her way with Tony Stark—Iron Man—before he killed her, sending her flying atop an electrical wire. Working with Robert Downey Jr. was an unforgettable experience. You never quite know what he’s going to do— he improvises, rewrites scenes and takes you along for the ride. I learned so much on that movie, gained some confidence thanks to Downey and also got to train with an incredible stunt team to look like I could fight. The whole experience was a lot of fun, and being in a Marvel movie might have helped me score some brownie points with my kids, too.

WM: Is there a part you’ve always dreamed of playing?
SS: Something like the roles of Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita or Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher. They are flawed, dark and complicated characters—a dream for an actor. As I’m saying this, I realize both movies are French, and I do think I’d have a lot more freedom acting in French, so much more to draw from and play with.

WM: What’s next for you?
SS: Season 2 of A Million Little Things, and I’m also in the process of writing a book with a friend, comedian Natalie Wall. It’s a funny book, think a parody of a children’s book for anyone who likes boobs, has boobs or wants boobs…wait, I guess that’s pretty much everybody.

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