Evening leather? Too tough. Bahama Mama? Too seaside. Peaches and cream? Out of season. Sweet Kitty? No.
On the Sunday before Christmas, in a windowless basement beneath a braiding parlor in downtown Brooklyn, actress and novelist Dagmara Dominczyk searched for the perfect aroma. A devotee of candles since her undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University (“I burn them morning till night,” she said), she had arrived for a “Sip and Smell Experience”: a free two-hour workshop led by Kately’s candles that she had found on Eventbrite.
When he arrived, Kevin Pierre-Louis, the organizer, sat him down on a greige vinyl couch and handed him a caddy of about 50 small bottles with hand-printed labels. Her assistant handed her a glass of sparkling rosé which she sipped carefully.
“I’m a spiller,” she said. “I reverse. I stain.
“You are too pretty,” said M. Pierre-Louis. “I don’t see you knocking over.”
“I’m pretty because I put makeup on,” replied Ms Dominczyk, 45.
He brought her more bottles and she sniffed them, rejecting most of them. “Not the mistletoe,” she said. “I used to like candles that smelled of the Christmas tree, now it’s too much.” She grabbed another bottle and read the label aloud. “Creamy Nutmeg – that’s what they called me in high school,” she joked.
Earthy and elegant, Ms. Dominczyk, the eldest of three daughters, immigrated to the United States from Poland when she was 6 years old. (Her father, active in the labor movement, had become persona non grata.) Encouraged by a friend, she auditioned for Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she flourished as a ‘actress. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, she booked the female lead in a lush 2002 film adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
His career seemed assured.
Instead, she spent the next few years staying outside, sleeping, eating Polish food and only working sporadically – a movie here, a TV 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 casual. Her body had new curves. When her husband appeared on a 2013 episode of “Girls” as Lena Dunham’s sex interest, some online trolls suggested that a conventionally attractive man like Mr. Wilson would never date someone. ‘one like Mrs. Dunham. Mrs Dominczyk broken back on Twitter, saying, “Funny his wife is a size 10, muffin top and all, and he does her great.
Casting directors — some of whom asked her if she could lose 20 pounds — weren’t quite sure what to do with her silky surface, steelier interior, and obvious intelligence.
That changed in 2018, when she was cast as Karolina Novotney, the unflappable PR executive for the HBO drama “Succession.” She quickly transitioned from a recurring role to a series regular.
She asked the producers if Karolina could act like the Roy siblings, but they have so far refused. “I want to play,” Ms. Dominczyk said. “I want to have sex with one of the brothers. Or Shiv? I don’t know. But the role is such that Karolina stays in her lane. She’s there to do the job.
Ms Dominczyk can also be seen as a wasp-to-be mother in the much-loved Netflix film ‘The Lost Daughter’, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. And she recently wrapped the lead role in the HBO limited series “We Own This City,” in which she plays an FBI agent investigating police corruption. “The more I settled down and the less I apologized for it, the less I had to look a certain way or act a certain way, it was exciting for people,” she said.
If she prefers complicated characters, her taste for perfumes leans more simple. “I’m much more of a sweet, cozy, 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. (“The 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 take this down like a shot,” she said.
She brought her choices to the back of the room, where Mr. Pierre-Louis was melting coconut wax and castor oil in a cauldron placed on a camping stove. He turned on a faucet and the wax collected in a mold shaped like a pineapple. Ms. Dominczyk measured out a spoonful of each chosen flavor, then added burnt orange food coloring and a handful of dried flower petals.
“I don’t cook,” she says. “It’s the closest I’ve gotten to cooking all holiday season.”
Mr. Pierre-Louis told her to name her perfume and after a while she settled on Smoked Dag. “It’s also the name of a sausage in Poland,” she says. “I’m joking.”
As the wax set, she walked up the creaky wooden stairs and out onto a commercial stretch of Livingston Street to stretch her legs and spray a mint Juul. Was she ready for the holidays?
She grabbed her phone and pulled out a picture of her decorations – an orgy of lights, trees and garlands. “It’s like Christmas spewed all over the place,” she said happily. That night, she would meet her friends and family for dinner, then help organize a Seven Fish Party and Christmas dinner that blended 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, using an expletive.
Back in the basement, the wax largely set, Mr. Pierre-Louis presented her with a pair of scissors so she could cut the wick. “Like an umbilical cord,” she says.
Mrs. Dominczyk sniffled, delighted. “Oh my God, it smells so good,” she said. “Bottle it. I don’t even need commission.