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Julia Goldani Telles is a scientist escort in ‘The Girlfriend Experience’

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Julia Goldani Telles, best-known as rebellious teen Whitney Solloway on “The Affair,” stars in Season 3 of Steven Soderbergh’s Starz anthology series “The Girlfriend Experience.” 

Premiering Sunday (May 2) at 8 p.m., the new season follows Iris (Telles), an American student in London who’s working as a neuroscience researcher at a tech startup by day. By night, she works at a mysterious futuristic escort agency. Soon, she begins using her night job to help inform her day job, becoming fixated on using data to analyze desire. 

“When I first saw [‘The Girlfriend Experience’] I was maybe 21 or 22 and I was playing the daughter on ‘The Affair,’” Telles, 26, told The Post. “I was playing a young character, and I still felt very young in many aspects of my life. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would hire me for this role. But I’m really glad they did.

“This is really intelligent woman who’s a scientist,” said Telles. “She has various worlds in which she’s interacting, and she’s presenting different versions of herself in all of them. I love how forward-facing the show is [and] I love the intersection between technology and desire. Something that I thought was helpful for the character is there’s a masterclass with this guy Chris Voss who’s a former FBI hostage negotiator, and he talks about how you negotiate with somebody in a terrible citation and reflect back to them what they want while secretly having your own agenda.

Photo showing Julia Goldani Telles as Iris, seated at a restaurant tab le and holding a glass.
Julia Goldani Telles plays Iris, an American student in London working as a neuroscience researcher at a tech startup.
Ed Miller

“I thought that’s one of Iris’ main character traits.”

Based on Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name, each season of “The Girlfriend Experience” features a different star (including Riley Keogh and Carmen Ejogo) and a different plotline involving the world of high-end escorts. The focus on intimacy makes it similar, in context, to “The Affair,” which ended its run on Showtime in 2019.

“I think that intimacy and sex is a crucial part of being human and we all have a lot of interest in it, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of shows featuring sex on television,” Telles said. “What differentiates ‘Girlfriend Experience’ from ‘The Affair’ is that ‘The Affair’ was sort of family drama, ‘Rashomon’-style, and ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ has more sci-fi overtones this season. It’s more about, ‘What is it like when a scientist puts themselves at the center of their own experiment? Is that ethical, what are the repercussions of that and can [Iris] really quantify human desire?’”

Photo of Julia Goldani Telles as Iris standing in a swimming pool.
Telles follows in “The Girlfriend Experience” footsteps of Riley Keogh and Carmen Ejogo.
Aimee Spinks

Telles said that Soderbergh was around for guidance, but the season was primarily in the hands of showrunner Anja Marquardt, a Berlin-born filmmaker. 

“I think what’s so cool about this franchise is that Steven has created this amazing opportunity for independent filmmakers  to come in and direct, write, produce an entire season of television,” she said. “He is Anja’s number-one fan and he really let her fly with it. But he was always available if I needed to text him and ask a question or talk through encouragement. So it was a great balance.”

Like her character, Telles is herself a student at the moment. 

“I’m studying sociology and I’ve been at Columbia since I was 19 — and I’m now 26,” she said. I’m taking a long time because I keep doing a semester here and a semester there between projects.

“Maybe by the time I’m 100 years old I’ll graduate.”

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