V GIRLS: Willa Fitzgerald

V GIRLS: Willa Fitzgerald

With youth, influence and project-driven careers, these promising actresses have our eyes glued to the screen. Here, the behind-the-scenes stories of how they found their craft.

With youth, influence and project-driven careers, these promising actresses have our eyes glued to the screen. Here, the behind-the-scenes stories of how they found their craft.

Photography: Matthew Sprout

Styling: Karolyn Pho

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

The novelistically named Willa Fitzgerald (an accidental portmanteau of Willa Cather and F. Scott) does not merely project booksmarts; Fitzgerald’s sharp mind propelled her from Nashville, where her parents were indie musicians, to Yale, where she laid groundwork for a more-than-a-new-face breakthrough. “I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to be an actor by profession,” she says. “There were other, more academic things that made me deeply happy. I had also seen how hard it was to have a life as an artist [by watching my parents].”

But once in New Haven, Fitzgerald immersed herself in the raw materials of the dramatic arts, balancing psychology classes with starring in mainstage Shakespeare productions. “I have always just [been a] critical think[er], which I really enjoy bringing to my work [now]—breaking down scripts and [finding] the tendons that hold the story together,” she says.

The fictional narratives she’s tackled include Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, a recent Netflix series of country classics expanded to episode-form. “I got to learn how to ride horses, talk in a southern accent, and be a firecracker farm girl,” she recalls. “And that was really fun—[especially] because Dolly was, rightfully, such a presence growing up in Tennessee, and [in person] she is so amazingly authentically who she appears to be: the best storyteller and just so incredibly generous.”

Outside of ivy halls or Dollywood, Fitzgerald’s gigs have ranged from tutoring stressed-out New York City kids (“I have never witnessed such stress,” Fitzgerald recalls) to adapting literary achievements. After playing Meg in BBC’s 2017 Little Women reboot, Fitzgerald was the upper-crusty love interest Kitsey Barbour in this fall’s The Goldfinch. “I have always been a voracious reader,” she says, “but it’s definitely a happy accident that I [also] really love the process of adapting novels into TV and movies.”

For her next project, based on the neo-noir novel Dare Me, Fitzgerald is back on literary terrain. “She’s at the center of the mystery, and the shit show that she really brings to [this] town,” says Fitzgerald of Dare Me’s Collette, a departure from the put-together Kitsey—unless you’re a critical thinker. “Collette is very repressed, like Kitsey,” Fitzgerald adds. “Are we sensing a theme? Maybe we are all very repressed! Maybe that’s the moral of the story.”

Willa wears Coat and shoes Moschino, Ring Cartier, Earrings (throughout) Sophie Buhai, Belt stylist’s own, Tights Calzedonia
Credits: Makeup: Deanna Hagan (Bridge Artists) Hair: Lizzie Arneson (13 Market Management) Manicurist: Kayo Higuchi (Bryan Bantry) Production: Tessa Kenney (Exposure NY) Photo assistants: Matthew Perino, Michael Stewart Stylist assistant: Victoria Van Kesteren Location: Milk Studios

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