Evening Leather? Too leathery. Bahama Mama? Too beachy. Peaches and Cream? Out of season. Sweet Kitty? No.
On the Sunday before Christmas, in a windowless basement under a braiding salon in Downtown Brooklyn, the actress and novelist Dagmara Dominczyk searched for the perfect aroma. A candle devotee since her undergraduate days at Carnegie Mellon University (“I burn them morning to night,” she said), she had arrived for a “Sip & Smell Experience”: a free two-hour workshop hosted by Kately’s Candles that she had found on Eventbrite.
Upon arriving, Kevin Pierre-Louis, the organizer, seated her on a greige vinyl sofa and presented her with a caddy of about 50 small bottles with hand-printed labels. His assistant handed her a glass of sparkling rosé, which she sipped with care.
“I’m a spiller,” she said. “I spill. I stain.”
“You’re too pretty,” Mr. Pierre-Louis said. “I don’t see you spilling.”
“I’m pretty because I did my makeup,” Ms. Dominczyk, 45, replied.
He brought her more bottles and she sniffed them, rejecting most. “Not Mistletoe,” she said. “I used to like candles that smelled like a Christmas tree, now it’s too much.” She reached for another bottle and read the label out loud. “Creamy Nutmeg — that’s what they used to call 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 trade unions 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 blossomed as an actress. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, she booked the female lead in a lush 2002 film adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Her career seemed assured.
Instead, she spent the next few years staying out, sleeping in, eating Polish food and working only sporadically — a movie here, a television episode there. She dated the actor Patrick Wilson (they briefly overlapped at college), married him the next year, had their first son the year after, and a second son three years later. They live in Montclair, N.J.
Work remained occasional. Her body had new curves. When her husband appeared in 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 have a tryst with someone like Ms. Dunham. Ms. Dominczyk snapped back on Twitter, saying: “Funny, his wife is a size 10, muffin top & all, & he does her just fine.”
Casting directors — some of whom asked her if she could lose 20 pounds — didn’t know quite 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 public relations executive on the HBO drama “Succession.” She was quickly upgraded from a recurring role to a series regular.
She has asked the producers if Karolina could act out in ways that the Roy siblings do, but they have so far declined. “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 waspish mother-to-be in the much-lauded Netflix film “The Lost Daughter,” directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. And she has recently wrapped the lead role in the HBO limited series “We Own This City,” in which she plays an F.B.I. agent investigating police corruption. “The more settled I became and the less apologetic for it, the less thinking I had to look a certain way or act a certain way, that was exciting for people,” she said.
If she prefers complicated characters, her taste in fragrance skews simpler. “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. (“Chestnut is a very Polish thing,” she said.) And Holiday Basket, though she joked that Mr. Pierre-Louis should have named it Holiday Basket Case. She sniffed the mixture with approval.
“I want to down this 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 set over a camping stove. He turned a spigot and the wax pooled into a pineapple shaped mold. Ms. Dominczyk measured out a spoonful of each chosen scent, then added burnt orange coloring and a smattering of dried flower petals.
“I don’t cook,” she said. “This is the closest I’ve gotten to cooking all holiday season.”
Mr. Pierre-Louis told her to name her scent and after a moment she settled on Smoked Dag. “That’s also the name of a sausage in Poland,” she said. “Just kidding.”
While the wax set, she went back up the creaky wooden stairs and out onto a commercial stretch of Livingston Street to stretch her legs and vape a mint-flavored Juul. Was she ready for the holidays?
She reached for her phone and pulled up a picture of her decorations — an orgy of lights, trees and tinsel. “It’s like Christmas vomited all over,” she said happily. That night she would meet friends and family for dinner, then she would help with a Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Christmas dinner that mixed Polish and American traditions.
“Last year, we were like, Patrick has 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 mostly set, Mr. Pierre-Louis presented her with a pair of scissors so that she could snip the wick. “Like an umbilical cord,” she said.
Ms. Dominczyk sniffed, delighted. “Oh my God, it smells so good,” she said. “Bottle it. I don’t even need any commission.”