Dagmara Dominczyk Burns Bright in ‘Succession’

Evening leather? Too leathery. Bahamas mom? Too beachy. Peaches with whipped cream? Out of season. Sweet cat? New.

On the Sunday before Christmas, actress and novelist Dagmara Dominczyk set out in a windowless basement under a braid parlor in Downtown Brooklyn in search of the perfect aroma. She had been a candle lover since her college days at Carnegie Mellon University (“I burn them from morning to night,” she said), she had come for a “Sip & Smell Experience”: a free two-hour workshop hosted by Kately’s Candles that she had found on Eventbrite.

Upon arrival, Kevin Pierre-Louis, the organizer, set her on a gray vinyl couch and handed her a caddy containing about 50 small bottles with hand-printed labels. His assistant handed her a glass of sparkling rosé, which she sipped carefully.

“I’m a spiller,” she said. “I spill. I stain.”

“You’re too pretty,” said Mr. Pierre-Louis. “I don’t see you spilling.”

“I’m beautiful because I’ve done my makeup,” replied Ms. Dominczyk, 45.

He brought her more bottles and she sniffed them, most of them dismissively. “Not Mistletoe,” she said. “I used to like candles that smelled like a Christmas tree, now it’s too much.” She picked up another bottle and read the label aloud. “Creamy Nutmeg—that’s what they called me in high school,” she said jokingly.

Earthy and elegant, Ms. Dominczyk, the eldest of three daughters, immigrated to the United States from Poland when she was 6 (Her father, active in the union movement, had become a persona non grata.) Encouraged by a friend, she auditioned for the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she thrived as an actress. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, she landed the female lead in a lavish 2002 film adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Her career seemed assured.

Instead, for the next several years, she stayed outside, slept in, ate Polish food, and worked only sporadically — a movie here, a television episode there. She dated actor Patrick Wilson (they briefly overlapped in college), married him the following year, had their first son the following year, and a second son three years later. They live in Montclair, NJ

The work remained incidental. Her body had new curves. When her husband appeared as Lena Dunham’s sexual interest on a 2013 episode of “Girls”, some online trolls suggested that a conventionally attractive man like Mr. Wilson would never have a rendezvous with someone like Mrs Dunham. Mrs. Dominczyk snapped on Twitter, saying, “Funny, his wife is a size 10, muffin top and all, and he’s doing her just fine.”

Casting directors — some of whom asked her if she could lose 20 pounds — weren’t sure what to do with her silky smooth surface, steel interior, and obvious intelligence.

That changed in 2018, when she was cast as Karolina Novotney, the unflappable public relations executive on the HBO drama “Succession.” She was quickly upgraded from a recurring role to a regular series.

She has asked the producers if Karolina could behave in a way that the Roy siblings do, but so far they have declined. “I want to play,” said Mrs. Dominczyk. “I want to have sex with one of the brothers. Or Shiv? I do not know. But the role is such that Karolina stays in her job. She is there to do the work.”

ms. Dominczyk can also be seen as an expectant mother in the critically acclaimed Netflix movie “The Lost Daughter”, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. And she recently starred in the HBO series “We Own This City,” in which she plays an FBI agent investigating police corruption. “The more settled I became and the less apologetic, the less I had to think about looking a certain way or acting a certain way, that was exciting for people,” she said.

If she prefers complicated characters, her taste in smell becomes simpler. “I’m much more of a sweet, sociable, pumpkin pie, fall candle person,” she said.

A bottle labeled Dulce de Leche made the cut. And Pumpkin Patch and Pumpkin Rum Cake. Also Smoked Chestnut. (“Chestnut is a very Polish thing,” she said.) And Holiday Basket, although she joked that Mr. Pierre-Louis should have called it Holiday Basket Case. She sniffed the mixture approvingly.

“I want to knock this down like a shot,” she said.

She carried her choices to the back of the room, where Mr. Pierre-Louis was melting coconut wax and castor oil in a cauldron set over a stove. He turned on a tap and the wax formed a shape in the shape of a pineapple. Mrs. Dominczyk measured out a spoonful of each chosen fragrance, then added burnt orange food coloring and a few dried petals.

“I don’t cook,” she said. “This is the closest thing to cooking during the holidays.”

Mr. Pierre-Louis told her to name her scent and after a while she chose Smoked Day. “That’s also the name of a sausage in Poland,” she said. “Just kidding.”

As the wax set, she walked back up the creaky wooden stairs and onto a commercial stretch of Livingston Street to stretch her legs and vape a mint-flavored Juul. Was she ready for the holidays?

She grabbed her phone and pulled out a photo of her decorations: an orgy of lights, trees, and tinsel. “It’s like Christmas has been completely surrendered,” she said happily. That night, she would meet friends and family for dinner, then help out with a Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Christmas dinner that mixed Polish and American traditions.

“Last year we were like, Patrick’s been in the family for 15 years – if he wants a Christmas ham, let’s give it to him,” she said with an expletive.

Back in the basement, where most of the wax had set, Mr. Pierre-Louis handed her a pair of scissors so she could cut the wick. “Like an umbilical cord,” she said.

Mrs. Dominczyk sniffed in delight. “Oh my god, it smells so good,” she said. “Bottle it. I don’t even need a commission.”

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