GOOD BEHAVIOR’S ESTELLE, LUSIA STRUS, SAYS SHE WAS BASICALLY LETTY AS A TEENAGER
Posted On Jan 26, 2017
Good Behavior, a TNT TV series based on the Letty Dobesh books by Wayward Pines author, Blake Crouch, tells the story of Letty (Michelle Dockery), a thief, and a con artist whose life is always one step away from implosion. Lusia Strus plays Letty’s long-suffering mother, Estelle Rains, who has custody of Letty’s ten-year-old son, Jacob. For Strus, this role is very “intuitive,” because as a teenager, she was basically Letty. Born in Chicago to Ukranian parents, Strus, an American writer and stage and film actress, is also recognized for her role as Adam Sandler’s assistant (Alexa) in 50 First Dates. Here she offers an intimate portrait of her childhood, her troubled teenage years, honest lessons learned from a previous marriage and the kindness of others.
Your family is Ukranian – do you speak the language?
Yes, Ukranian is my first language because my parents didn’t speak English in the house and my mom really doesn’t speak much English. My father spoke five languages and he spoke English a little better but her refused to speak English in the house. When he died (Strus was 11 at the time), my sister and I started speaking English with each other in the house – like underground. It was a sign of respect. When you’re escaping Stalin and Nazi Germany, you hold on to why you escaped and I think that it was really drilled into us. I danced in the Ukranian folk dance company, went to Ukranian school (in Chicago) and went to Ukranian political youth camp.
What were the lessons learned from your childhood?
My mom has cleaned offices for 40 years so I think there’s a good work ethic and sense of gratitude. I’m perfectly aware every day that I could be working in a canning factory so I have no problem working a 16-hour day. I make my living doing what I would be doing for free so that does not get lost on me.
Was there anything about your childhood experience that translated into your role as Estelle Rains?
Sure, I am the youngest of three girls and I grew up basically with a single mom. My father got sick when I was nine and died two years later. When I was young, I was basically Letty – I got into a lot of trouble really quick. I was drinking really young and got kicked out of Girls Scout because I was smoking at 10 years old. As soon as my dad died, I did my thing to get out.
Was this some form of rebellion?
Yes. I wouldn’t say I rebelled – I dealt with it in my way. Everyone tries to get around things rather than through things in one way or another. I wanted to grow up really quick. I was really volatile, daring and fearless. All I cared about was the present moment. I wasn’t aware of consequences, so when I grew up I became aware of the effects of it. I stopped drinking in my early 20’s and it has since restored the relationships around me. I was like a tornado running through people’s lives. What ends up happening is that everyone around the family focuses on the person creating the tornado so with Estelle, there is an intuitive nature. I just understand what it’s like to be with someone who struggles. It’s not sweet. For me, it was really that I needed to keep her (Lettie) alive.
Do you think your mother felt that about you during your teenage years?
No, my parents had an incredible marriage. My mom, not speaking English, put us all through Catholic grade school, Catholic high school and college – she was tough. She gave me all that and I told her I hated her. That is something, I think, for a parent is like ‘who the hell are you?’ I get it. I grew up in a really real, blue-collar neighborhood where other people’s parents yelled at you.
Are you in a romantic relationship at the moment?
No, I am single but for 2017 I have made a choice to keep my eyes on my own paper. There was a process for me that took me about a year and a half where I got financial clarity, and then I bought my own place, and then I wanted to keep my eyes on my own paper as far as work goes and really strive for artistic excellence, and then this show (Good Behavior) happened. Chad (Hodge – creator) and I actually had lunch the other day and I was like ‘2017, I’m ready to start making a conscience effort to date.’ I have been married and divorced and learned a lot from that.
What were those lessons learned?
Primarily, that I must be rigorously honest with myself about who I am and who someone else is and not who I want myself to be or who I want someone else to be. What happens a lot of times in relationships is that you start to arrange your place on the stage. If people think you are happy then that will be good enough, but that’s not the case. We write stories in our heads and the lesson that I really learned is that you can’t go to Home Depot to buy bread. That is what I was trying to do – it’s not his fault. There was addiction on his part, there were really obvious things, but I know, like in any relationship there are two parts so I’m only concerned with dishonesty on my part as far as what I convinced myself. Now, I do not stay in a relationship a second past knowing that it isn’t working. I don’t use people.
With Letty, do you think she is compromising in her relationship with Javier?
Possibly they both are. It’s a complicated, ambiguous relationship and it was fascinating to see people’s reactions and how they start to morph their morality and their reaction. For example, when Letty sleeps with her ex and Javier sees them – people turned on Letty immediately, judged her. I was so dumbfounded by it because there is Javier who murdered a woman five episodes ago – Letty gets drunk, an alcoholic with a drinking problem which is what you do, and she sleeps with someone – she makes a mistake. A woman makes a mistake and it’s inexcusable, but a man can do the worst things and somehow he’s protected. I saw these women viewers just turning on her and then it switched back. To Michelle’s credit, you become so invested and identify with Letty right away that you really start rooting for her and you do not want her to do anything to compromise your relationship with her.
Women are often accused of not helping each other – why?
There’s like an internal misogyny because we judge ourselves so harshly. There was a time in my life when I would walk down the street and I would see attractive guys in their suits, and I would lower my eyes, not because I thought I would be accosted but because I thought I’d be evaluated and I’d come up short. I did not want to be evaluated. I’m a really strong, confident, intelligent women but I would still do it. It was like this reflex.
I don’t think we can change that – what do you think?
I refuse to not change it. This last election really did make me aware of so many different things. I have never been as politically oriented, minded, aware as I have been in this election. It has lit a fire under my ass. I’m going to the Woman’s March in DC. The last march in DC I attended was an anti-Soviet demonstration when I was in high school. I’m going, I’m being present and I’m being counted.
What do you take away from the first season of Good Behavior?
I love these people! When we found out we got renewed, we were face timing and texting. We all feel like we are going home. The craft of it for me has been incredibly fun, challenging and interesting to learn. Chad helps me, Michelle helps me, the camera guys help me, and everybody helps me! Everyone also has a theater background as well so they get it and everyone has an incredible work ethic.
If you had to think of the one thing Michelle gave you in this first season, what would that be?
Michelle gave me humble friendship and love. She is the real deal. She is a partner. Kindness is never overrated and Michelle is a kind person. Juan is kind. Chad is kind. From the tope to people catering, people are just kind.