Jeremy Strong worries that people believe ‘Succession’ is a comedy

I basically started watching Succession because everyone else watches it and raves about it. I had picked up episodes here and there in its first two seasons, but Season 3 has turned me into a Succession fan. It’s like they’ve worked out all of the issues and they’re giving the actors and writers free rein to be as magnificent and bonkers as possible. The show IS a comedy, but it’s tragicomedy, with Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy acting as the clueless “straight man” to much of the proceedings. The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman did a lengthy profile of Jeremy Strong and it ends up explaining so much about why Kendall is such a cringey character: Strong has always intended to play Kendall as straight drama, as hyper-earnest. Some highlights:

Strong initially wanted to play Roman (played by Kieran Culkin): McKay said that he was executive-producing a new HBO show called “Succession,” which he described to Strong as a “King Lear” for the media-industrial complex. McKay gave him the pilot script and said, “Tell me what role you connect with.” Strong picked Roman Roy, the wisecracking youngest son of Logan Roy, a Rupert Murdoch-like media titan. “I thought, Oh, wow, Roman is such a cool part,” Strong said. “He’s, like, this bon-vivant prick. I could do something that I hadn’t done before.”

Being cast as Kendall: “I’ve always felt like an outsider with a fire in my belly. And so the disappointment and the feeling of being thwarted—it only sharpened my need and hunger. I went in with a vengeance.” He tore through books about corporate gamesmanship, including Michael Wolff’s biography of Rupert Murdoch, and cherry-picked details he liked; apparently, Murdoch’s son James ties his shoes extremely tightly, which told Strong something about his “inner tensile strength.” At the audition, Strong, his shoes tied tight, read a scene between Kendall and the C.E.O. of a startup that he’s trying to acquire. Armstrong was skeptical. He asked Strong to “loosen the language,” and the scene transformed. “It was about, like, Beastie Boys-ing it up,” Strong recalled. “I was missing the patois of bro-speak.” By the end of the day, he had the part.

On Kendall: “Kendall desperately wants it to be his turn,” Strong said. Last year, he won an Emmy Award for the role. Strong, who is now forty-two, has the hangdog face of someone who wasn’t destined for stardom. But his mild appearance belies a relentless, sometimes preening intensity. He speaks with a slow, deliberate cadence, especially when talking about acting, which he does with a monk-like solemnity. “To me, the stakes are life and death,” he told me, about playing Kendall. “I take him as seriously as I take my own life.” He does not find the character funny, which is probably why he’s so funny in the role.

Jeremy Strong does not believe he’s in a comedy: He references Raskolnikov, referencing Kendall’s “monstrous pain.” Kieran Culkin told me, “After the first season, he said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.’ And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding.” Part of the appeal of “Succession” is its amalgam of drama and bone-dry satire. When I told Strong that I, too, thought of the show as a dark comedy, he looked at me with incomprehension and asked, “In the sense that, like, Chekhov is comedy?” No, I said, in the sense that it’s funny. “That’s exactly why we cast Jeremy in that role,” McKay told me. “Because he’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.”

He’s not a Method actor: Strong does not consider himself a Method actor. Far from mining his own life, he practices what he calls “identity diffusion.” “If I have any method at all, it is simply this: to clear away anything—anything—that is not the character and the circumstances of the scene,” he explained. “And usually that means clearing away almost everything around and inside you, so that you can be a more complete vessel for the work at hand.”

[From The New Yorker]

When this piece dropped on Sunday (ahead of last night’s episode of Succession), I saw a lot of people on the timeline complaining about Method actors and actors who take themselves too seriously. Strong is absolutely taking all of this too seriously… but, like, y’all know that half of Hollywood acts this way too, right? They just don’t talk about it as openly as Strong unless they’re trying to win an award. Strong sounds like an intense, self-involved man, for sure. But his general small-m acting method is remarkably similar to, say, Leo DiCaprio or Lady Gaga.

Also: Matthew Macfadyen, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin are turning in completely incredibly performances week after week as well.

— Michael Schulman (@MJSchulman) December 5, 2021

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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