SA EXCLUSIVE | 'Succession' stars strip their characters bare

We interview the cast of the darkly comic dynasty series to find out what’s in store for the mega-rich Roy family in season 3

24 October 2021 - 00:01
By Tymon Smith
The cast of 'Succession'.
Image: MultiChoice The cast of 'Succession'.

The characters we've come to know and despise are back for a third instalment of the darkly comic family dynasty series Succession.

What’s in store for the media-mogul Roy family in season 3? How do the actors who play them create their memorable characters, and is there still a place for mega-rich spoilt-brat families in a world divided by inequality?

Here, the cast strip their characters bare:


On Logan and his children: Logan’s a self-made man ... but it’s a game that you don’t stop playing until you die. The problem with his kids is that they don’t get the game and they take it all too seriously. He understands that nothing lasts, everything moves on and he’s trying to contain things in a way to his advantage and hopefully to that of his children. In a way he’s going, “I love my kids. I just don’t know what to do with them.”

Brian Cox plays Logan Roy.
Image: Supplied by MultiChoice Brian Cox plays Logan Roy.

On Logan as a character: We have a great expression in Scotland, “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.” Jock Tamson is whoever runs the show. I think that’s the case here. You can’t hate Logan and you also understand that he’s a survivor and he survives at the top of the best game he can play. I don’t judge, because it’s fatal to judge a character.

On the Roys and the real world: I think there always has to be a combination of nature and nurture. These kids have been born into a world where they’ve not had to ask too many questions. They're casualties of this — we’ve seen it with the Trump kids, this entitlement. It’s something that’s happening in our lives at the moment and which the media has to answer for — everybody feels entitled. In many ways that’s a healthy thing but it’s also destructive. I think it’s what’s given rise to woke culture and cancel culture — these things that are incredibly negative and incredibly damaging and unnecessary but everybody’s gotten on a high horse. I think our show does its job artistically in reflecting a world that we’re all capable of inheriting. It’s a pretty horrific world but it’s also vastly entertaining and that’s the irony of it.

On swearing: I come from the land of swearing. The Scots swear better than anybody. Nobody can say c**t like the Scots — they have a way of making it reverberate and horrific that makes your spine creep. They can say f**k like nobody’s business so it’s a proud heritage ... There’s so much of it, it’s liberated me. I’m not too happy with that because I swear a hell of a lot more now as a result of inhabiting Logan.


On Kendall’s journey in season 3: We’re in a different place, one in which Kendall Houdinis himself free from his father and from that need for approval and then it’s a whole new set of things. Jessie and I talked about F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up before this season. There’s a passage where he says he finds himself at twilight on a deserted range, a smoking rifle in his hand and all the targets down ... simply the sound of his own breathing. In a way, that’s a new problem. The target is down, this was a kill shot and it’s like, “What now?”

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy.
Image: MultiChoice Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy.

On Kendall’s self-destructive impulses: Jesse [Succession creator Jesse Armstrong] wrote once on a card in the writer’s room, “Kendall wins but loses”. There’s a sense of overshooting the mark, never quite hitting it. There's a core belief that I’m not deserving or worthy of happiness or success or any of the things that I’ve also being taught to want. There’s a push-me, pull-you thing that’s part of the legacy of damage in this family. It’s been drilled into us to want something but also we’ve been robbed of the ability to have it or to believe in ourselves.


On Roman’s weird, sadistic relationship with Gerri Kellman, general counsel of Waystar Royco: I try hard to not know more than Roman does. I don’t think he understands his sexuality at all and therefore I don’t, but it just can’t be on the nose. The Gerri thing is so fascinating because there’s the sense that it’s probably not going to happen and that we keep going and he keeps pushing her. If she’s ever like: “Roman, I like you and I want to date you,” I think he’d get in the fetal position and start crying. I think he would hate that because it’s the wrongness of it that he likes.

Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy.
Image: MultiChoice Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy.

 On Roman’s ambitions: He loves the game — loves trying to tear his siblings apart and trying to win. Being CEO is about beating them as much as it is about actually being successful and running the company. The mistake he makes is that he mixes it with the emotions. He actually loves his family — he'd never use that word, it would make him vomit — but he cares deeply and has a real sense of family. You’d think that would hold him back but it’s actually one of his strengths in the long run.


On playing an unlikeable character: Certainly as an actor you have to love your characters, and each one has to feel right in what they’re doing up to a point. With Shiv, in terms of her redeemable qualities, I think she’s very determined, strong willed, confident and quick thinking. These are qualities I’ve liked to learn from her and will hopefully be able to incorporate into myself with the optimistic, nice aspects, not the back-stabbing and the Machiavellian ones. I like her strength.

Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy.
Image: MultiChoice Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy.

On whether the pandemic moment will change perceptions of the Roys: It will be interesting to see how audiences respond to the show in light of what’s happened recently. Unfortunately, it was clear that the pandemic wasn’t affecting the elites. The pandemic wasn’t the great equaliser. If anything it only exacerbated the inequality. We’ve seen people go into space — billionaires going into space during a pandemic? That’s like a lampoon sketch, not what’s happening in the world right now.

On what Shiv really wants: The Roys want their father’s love and affection and being successful in business is not actually going to give them that even if one of them is the head of the company. Logan and Shiv are ambitious in the same ways but Shiv has grown up in this world of wealth and privilege that probably affords her an entitlement which makes her think she deserves it. Just thinking you should get it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you.


On Connor’s White House ambitions: Connor suffers from delusional disorder, which is on the same spectrum as schizophrenia. A schizophrenic will say, “I’m going to be a dragon,” a delusional person might say, “I’m going to be president”. He has no doubt that he could be president, it’s not even a question. We’ve seen stranger things happen in this country than someone like Connor, an obscenely wealthy person with no qualifications, become president. It happened.

Alan Ruck as Connor Roy.
Image: MultiChoice Alan Ruck as Connor Roy.

On the relationship in the Roy family between dysfunction and wealth: The truth is, if you’re screwed up, money won't fix you. If you’re damaged, money turns up the dial on whatever your reality already is. None of them have any clue as to how the real world works or what most people do just to survive. They’ve lived in a bubble their whole lives.

On the current tensions in US society: If people are scared for their livelihoods or scared they’re going to lose their lifestyle or standard of living and somebody says, “You know your problem is these people over here ...” I think America is divided in three. There’s a group on one side that believes the world is about all of us and there’s a group at the other end that says, “No the world is about me and my friends and f**k off.” Then there’s a big group in the middle that can lean either way depending on their situation but they’re sitting on the fence and if you ask them anything they say, “I don’t know.” It’s getting to that group in the middle that’s important and convincing them that they’re better off if they get with the group that wants to maintain the planet and believes in education and healthcare — things we all deserve.


On the Tom and Greg relationship: I love playing Tom. Particular standouts from last season were when Cousin Greg [Roy, played by Nicholas Braun] tries to break up with Tom. They’re just delicious scenes to play — they’re funny but they’re only funny because they’re shot through with meaning, otherwise they’d be sketches. I believe them all.

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Nicholas Braun as Greg Roy.
Image: MultiChoice Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Nicholas Braun as Greg Roy.

On Tom’s role in the family: Tom is constantly ducking and diving to be accepted. Like all siblings he’s desperate for attention from his father-in-law, Logan. He’s not stupid — he has ambition and he has ability but it’s a struggle, it’s not an easy path as he tries to shinny up the greasy pole.


On Gerri’s relationship with Logan: Her big skill is that she’s a cat who lands on her feet every time she gets pushed out the window. She’s a cunning businesswoman and she has a bead on Logan — they go way back and they operate like an old married couple. She knows when to not be scared of his bluster. She says he’s an inspired businessman and a maverick but she knows best, she does! They make a good couple but it’s rough going.

J Smith-Cameron (middle) as Gerri Kellman.
Image: MultiChoice J Smith-Cameron (middle) as Gerri Kellman.

On Gerri and Roman: It’s not conscious — they have chemistry that’s more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think Gerri understands it and I’m not sure Roman does either. If she’s confused and a little flattered and a little horrified, that’s appropriate.   

On roles for women in the show: There are more and more women on the show. I was watching the premiere last night and my husband and my niece were with me. We were struck by the many smart, savvy female characters in episode 1. Jesse's been good at writing not just women but women of a certain age who have smarts about them. They know they’re in a boys club and they’re good at dealing with that.

'Succession' season 3 is now on Showmax.