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Bow Down to Hilary Duff, Younger’s New HBIC

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The dawning of a new era has reached Younger’s beloved Empirical Press, and at its helm is not the 50-year-old dude who (1) inherited it from his family, and (2) prioritized playing clandestine tonsil hockey with an assistant over steering his company away from financial ruin. (Still, we love him!) Thanks to a series of shake-ups brought forth by angel investor Quinn Tyler (Laura Benanti), none other than Kelsey (Hilary Duff) has been named Empirical’s newest publisher, replacing Charles (Peter Hermann) in an effort to bury all of his and Liza’s (Sutton Foster) various secrets for good. Also good? The ladies’ Millennial imprint will now be Empirical’s “flagship brand” going forward, proving that the reign of Kelsey has been a long time coming. Ahead of Tuesday’s Younger finale, Vulture called Duff to celebrate all these milestones and talk about how Kelsey finally got what she deserved.

There’s nothing I love more than a young woman taking over the job of an older man!
Me too, me too! Isn’t it so great?

I feel like Kelsey’s been so disrespected by Charles for the past few seasons. He’s always praising Liza and she’s like, Uh, hey, I’m here too making these decisions and running this company. I know they’re such a great duo of a team, but Kelsey’s so overlooked. He’s never backing any of her choices, and she’s so confused. Is it because she’s young? Is it because she’s a woman? I’m the one making all the cash for the company, so what’s going on here? To see someone like Quinn come in, who has such a great outlook in women’s relationships and women in business, it’s going to teach Kelsey so much and help push her to the next level. It’s what she deserves.

Viewers tend to go easy on Charles because he’s part of the love triangle, but he’s really dug himself a career grave. The company was almost bankrupt!
How about when Kelsey goes into his office earlier this season and is like, I know you like this book but I like this book, and so let’s do both. And he’s like, We can’t afford both. So she goes in for the kill: What if I had Liza ask you?

Exquisite burn.
I know, I loved it. [Laughs.]

Do you think there was any other solution to Charles’s problem besides promoting Kelsey and pushing himself out? And perhaps most importantly, is Kelsey ready to become publisher?
I don’t think she’s ready to run Empirical on her own. I think she has good resources behind her with Liza and Quinn, and even Diana. I’d be interested to know how Diana responds, because we’re dealing with reverse ageism here — she doesn’t take Kelsey seriously and constantly rolls her eyes at every decision she makes. I’m curious to know if she’ll be threatened by this jump of power Kelsey gets, or if she’ll help her with all the knowledge she has in the business. With Charles, I think he’s love starved a little bit. To have his relationship with Pauline end, it was hard for him to make up his mind to break up his family, even if it wasn’t really his fault. He’s clearly smitten with Liza and I think he was so overwhelmed in running the company. And guess what? He’s done a shit job. He’s like, Oh hey, I gotta bow out. There’s more behind it than just him wanting to be with Liza.

Before Kelsey ascended to this new gig, Liza described herself as a “ticking time bomb” who’s bound to destroy the company. Even with these changes at Empirical, do you think that’s still going to be the case? Or has the bomb been defused?
One thing I love about Kelsey is her optimism when it comes to problem-solving. Paired with Liza, she thinks they can take on the world with their sweet, innocent outlook. They’re the powerhouse couple in their friendship and their work. That was a very emotional scene, and maybe as much as Kelsey didn’t want to hear it, she believed it. She constantly feels lied to by Liza. She found out the age lie, and on top of that, she had to deal with all of the Charles stuff. It’s a constant big betrayal. It’s now like, What else is there? All of their experiences are tainted now by her lies. I don’t know if Kelsey getting this big promotion means it doesn’t matter now, but who knows?

It reminds me of the scene you two shared at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Liza tells Kelsey she must secretly hate her for everything she’s put her through. Is there truth to that?
Yes, definitely. I don’t think Kelsey wants to admit it, but there is truth to it. It constantly makes Kelsey nervous that the wrong person will find out about the secret. Even just letting that one journalist know, it almost ruined their Reese Witherspoon deal. Kelsey is so business-driven and she’s worked so hard to get where she is, that she’s terrified that Liza’s lies are going to jeopardize everything and anything.

By the way things ended, it seems like Liza’s secret will be exposed to the public next season. Do you agree with Quinn that the general public will celebrate her story and The View will be calling? Or is there a potential backlash we’re not thinking about?
Quinn is such a boss and I feel Kelsey is going to trust her guidance and every opinion on how to handle these types of things. I have a feeling Liza will write a book and it’ll be a crazy-big success about reinventing yourself and lying to get where you are that won’t accept you the way you are. But I don’t know! I hope it’s that easy, but then I know we don’t have a show.

I’m worried Liza and Kelsey’s friendship might change, now that they’re going from partners to an actual boss-subordinate arrangement. Do you think any power dynamics will shift?
I’m inclined to say there’s going to be some fighting. But that said, the true love story of this show is Kelsey and Liza’s relationship. If Liza continues to lie and do things behind Kelsey’s back — which I know she always does for the greater good — there’s going to be a problem. They’re supposed to be partners and team members. I don’t know if Kelsey feels Liza can totally be trusted, even though she loves her as a friend. When you really step away, the audience loves Liza so much because they watch her struggles and sees why she does what she does. But at the end of the day, she’s a liar. At what point are your lies harmless, and at what point are you just a liar? I feel like Kelsey is going to struggle with that a lot. She has the weight of a company on her shoulders and I could see the potential of Kelsey feeling Liza could be a threat. Or, Kelsey creates a badass team with Quinn and Diana and Liza, and it’s a girl-power dynamic.

What do you think Kelsey’s first order of business will be?
I hope her priorities are straight, that’s for sure. I want her to crack into how Charles drove the business into the ground. I don’t think it’s just going to be getting her hands on a really good book, it’s going to be more complex than that to save the company. She’s a smart one. She’s going to pull it out from somewhere. She’s going to have to have a different approach and we’re going to see a side of her that’s unexpected. You know, she might totally rebuild the structure of the teams and assign different jobs for people. Or what if she fails? It’s gonna suck, but it could happen, too. But I don’t think it’s really in her DNA.

I love all of the fictional authors who are clearly based on real-life, popular figures. Have any of them ever reached out about how they’ve been depicted?
I have to tell you, this is the funniest thing. One of my best friends in real life is engaged to Andy Favreau. His brother is Jon Favreau, who’s the inspiration for Jake Devereux. When we were filming the show, I was texting my friend and like, Oh my God, I hope your soon-to-be brother-in-law is gonna be okay with this! So when they watched the episode, I was put on the same group chat with them and some Pod Save America guys. Their group chat was hilarious. They were teasing me and telling me what they were offended by and what they loved. It was funny, because I was with a friend getting a couples’ massage when they were texting me. So Jon’s definitely seen the episode. It’s a shame his character turned out to be a jerk.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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