Exclusive Interview with Katy Keene’s Julia Chan

The first season of Katy Keene has been an inspirational ride watching four young people chase their dreams in New York City. One of the most exciting journeys was Pepper Smith, played by Julia Chan. When we met her in episode one, it was hard to get a feel for her. She was this fabulous socialite that was living in the Palace, but as the season unfolded, it was hard to figure out where her money came from and who she was.  

David Giesbrecht/The CW

I didn’t even like Pepper Smith in episode one. There was just something I didn’t trust. As we got to know her more, I fell in love with her, and she became one of my favorite characters. There’s so much depth to her. The fact that she’s made mistakes, makes her even more intriguing. 

I spoke to Julia over email to talk about Pepper’s journey and how she feels now that all of her secrets are out.  

We discuss some spoilers from the season finale, so make sure to head to cwtv.com or The CW app first.

Mandy Carr: In the season finale, it seems like Pepper is feeling much lighter with all of her secrets out. What is she thinking and feeling as she moves forward, leaving the life of con behind her? 

Julia Chan: I think the previous episode put what she really values in jeopardy; her friendships. That’s why she goes to the lengths she does to remedy her mistakes, even if it means potentially going to jail. Yes, lighter is right. I think she feels some relief at having come clean. Pepper has carried all those secrets and slithered out of getting found out for so long, that I imagine it was quite cleansing to have it all out on the table. If I have done my job right, there should be a kind of stripped downside to Pepper in the finale that we haven’t seen before, and an enormous sense of relief at not having to lie, anymore. That said, it’s terrifying to let go of your survival mechanisms and often hard to resist the temptation to get back in the game! 

Peter Kramer/The CW

MC: Pepper has had quite an exciting storyline. Did you know where it was going from the beginning and how big her con was? 

JC: I knew that she was mysterious and that we had no idea where all her money came from, and that was enough to whet my appetite. The con(s) unfolded for me over the course of the season, which was a treat. I had an overall idea of her backstory to ground her, but much of the story was a discovery for me, too. The writers came up with so many delicious moments to showcase her grifter side, from her wigged alter-ego to all the little fibs she lets out over the season, my favorite being that she leant her hotel suite to Mabel the pigeon lady in Central Park for shelter from the polar vortex. 

MC: How much fun was it playing a character that was so mysterious? What was your favorite part about playing Pepper Smith? 

JC: It’s delightful to play someone with secrets, especially when the only ones in on it are the audience, of course. I loved turning the dial-up or down on her charm, depending on what she was trying to get out of whom. From the beginning, however, I wanted to make sure we also saw Pepper’s private moments, her loyalty to her friends, and her vulnerable side. And of course, that all comes to a head in episode 12, which was one of my favorite episodes because Pepper’s unmasking was so earned. 

MC: Pepper created the Pepper Plant for her artist friends. But who does Pepper want to be? What is she ultimately striving for? 

Pepper is a grand facilitator and bringer-together of people. She knows how to spot the best and the talent in others and how to lift them up and throw them into the spotlight. Ultimately she is an artist, too, and her medium is the community of people she brings together to make amazing art, music, film, fashion, and on and on. What is she ultimately striving for? To be truly great at what she does, and to be able to say she did it with integrity. 

MC: Assuming Katy Keene gets renewed for a second season, will her arrest still plague her, as it did with her adoptive father getting the apartment of his dreams? – Will she give the Daily Hail the exclusive? 

Peter Kramer/The CW

JC: All good questions! I wish I had answers for you! I have been left on the cliffhanger as much as you have, which is exciting. Gosh, there are so many more stories to be told and so many ways this could go. I will say, Pepper wouldn’t be Pepper without some mischief, new leaf or no…

MC: You, Lucy, Ashleigh, and Jonny have such great chemistry on set, what is the dynamic on set? 

JC: Thank you! We have too much fun on set. It’s really very organic when we shoot those roommate scenes because we do genuinely get on so well and are dear friends! As an actor it’s a dream because there are great little spontaneous moments that happen between us that are really only possible because we are so locked into each other. There’s a great amount of trust, a levity, a professionalism, and more laughs than you can throw a stick at, and I am so grateful for that. 

MC: I think almost everyone lost it in the penultimate episode of the season in that intense scene you had with Lucy. How did you find that emotion to bring it out on screen? And what does that friendship mean to you? 

JC: Oh good! We both loved shooting that scene. It was such a departure from the dynamic we had previously seen between these friends and a much-needed catharsis. Lucy is such a fierce actor and such a present scene partner. I didn’t have to mine much at all. The scene was earned, so I think all the feels were ready to come tumbling out. As for the friendship, I think Katy and Pepper are kindreds because they are so very different. Yes, Katy is earnest, and Pepper an enigma, but they share a fierce loyalty as friends with a history, and balance each other so beautifully.  

MC: Katy Keene is all about chasing your dreams, what inspiration do you hope fans get from the show and Pepper?

JC: I hope people come away being grateful for their chosen family; their friendships. I also hope they come away feeling scrappy and ready to bite the world, so to speak, as they head out in pursuit of their ambitions. And from Pepper? To be front-footed and fearless and, most importantly, not to shy away from mixed prints and platforms, of course! 

Mandy Carr

Editor and Founder, Primetime Addiction

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