Brian Cox Talks 'Succession' Patriarch's Violence and "Demonic" Drive

In the sixth episode of the second season, Logan Roy's desperation to maintain control begins to show: "There's an element of him which is raging against the dying of the day."
Peter Kramer/HBO
Brian Cox in 'Succession'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday night's episode of Succession.]

Did Logan Roy finally go too far?

Though seasoned viewers of HBO's Succession are, by now, used to the patriarch's (Brian Cox) scheming, hazing, craven fathering tactics, potty mouth and quick temper, the slap he dealt Roman (Kieran Culkin) in the season's sixth episode was cruel even by his standards. The moment served as a perverse climax to a number of obstacles facing the media mogul: the public-relations crisis that a New York magazine exposé on sexual misconduct in Waystar Royco's cruise division wrought; his flailing attempt to purchase media competitor PGM; the ongoing takeover attempt from media-mogul rival Sandy Furness; and the politesse required by the Sun Valley-esque conference that the Roys attend in the sixth episode, to Logan's chagrin. Ironically, the blow was dealt to Roman at a time when he is genuinely trying to understand his father's business.

The moment also capped off a season where Logan, fresh off of a life-threatening stroke and an earlier takeover attempt, has looked to reassert control in increasingly craven ways (never forget "Boar on the Floor"). By the end of Sunday's episode, however, his power trip has turned blatantly desperate. "There's an element of him which is raging against the dying of the day," Cox says. "He just really, really, really wants his children to step up to the plate, and they constantly disappoint him."

In an interview with the actor, who is currently rehearsing his upcoming role as Lyndon B. Johnson on Broadway's The Great Society, Cox discussed whether his Shiv (Sarah Snook) has any hope of being Logan's successor any longer, why Logan is being nice to Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and the CEO's "tools demonic."

To start off with, tell me about why you think Logan snapped and ended up slapping Roman this episode. Do you think he's inflicted violence on his children in the past, or was this an anomaly?

I think it was an anomaly. I think he lashed out, and it just happened to be Roman who got it. Roman is particularly annoying sometimes, and he pushes his luck; he's constantly being a bit of an idiot, he's constantly making jokes, he's constantly mistiming things. But at the same time, interestingly enough, I think Logan's aware that Roman's achieving a greater viability [as a potential successor], and he's becoming a much more total person. He's very acutely aware that his children have such flaws, especially when he's under the pressure that he's under as the season is mounting up. Who the hell is going to take over? Who the hell can he trust? In "Boar on the Floor," you see the exposed Logan, the Logan that we don't really see too often, the guy who's saying, "The world is against me." He knows how to put on the armor where there needs to be armor. And then later on he apologizes because I think he also realizes that Roman is clearly going through some kind of existential crisis. He doesn't know it's a sexual crisis, but he knows there's something going on with him.

This episode really dug into the #MeToo movement through the article about Waystar Royco's cruise line. Does being out of touch culturally actually endanger Logan's business at this point, or does it mostly endanger his perception in the public?

[Amid] #MeToo and what's happening in the world around him, he is slightly archaic. And certainly in the behavior of those people [in Waystar Royco's cruise line] — he knew that they behaved in a certain kind of way and he let it go. It was the culture of the time, it was the way people behaved, but now everyone's getting tainted by that. And I think that Logan, though I don't think he partook in any of that, he understood that Lester [a former employee nicknamed by the Roys "Moe," as in "molester"] was a loose canon in that direction.

To what extent do you think Logan was actually hurt by Shiv saying that Waystar Royco needed to remove its "dinosaurs" in a panel discussion?

Logan is acutely aware of his dinosauric capacity; I don't think it really gets him. He's slightly unapologetic about it. There's nothing PC about Logan; he doesn't buy into all that. He feels it's a load of, [to quote] the English, bollocks. I don't think he goes for it. He is part of the death throes of the white, dinosaur male hierarchy, which the show is also clearly about; that kind of character is dying out, and there's an element of him which is raging against the dying of the day. He's not a fool, and he knows the way the world works. He just really, really, really wants his children to step up to the plate, and they constantly disappoint him. It's also partly his fault as well that they are [incompetent] in some kind of way.

Along those lines, going back a few episodes, do you think Logan's offer to Shiv to be his successor was sincere?

Everybody says in relationship to Shiv, "He's playing her along." I don't think that's true for one second. I think he genuinely believes that she could be a possible [successor] because she's quite clearly his favorite child and he quite clearly adores his daughter. He's tolerant of her idiot husband and he's quite happy to throw him to the sharks because he feels that he is an opportunist. He can see through everybody, but he also understands how things operate. And that's the problem: So he genuinely thinks "Oh yes, my daughter [will be my successor]," and Shiv's problem is that she can't keep her big mouth shut. She's a hopeless poker player.

Though Kendall is still in the doghouse after his takeover bid in the first season, Logan seems to continue to trust him over anyone else in the family at the moment. What's behind that?

Well, in a way, he's the apparent heir. And he's very caring of [his son]; he realizes what Kendall's been through, and he understands the pain. He's empathetic, not sympathetic, and he's very protective of Kendall because he believes Kendall has to be rebuilt in some way. He has to get new programming because his programming has been shot to hell with this insidious relationship with Stewy [Hosseini] and Sandy [Furness]. He is his son, and there's an element of him that is quite fatherly and saying "I'm protecting my kid, and my kid is being abused." He does his fair share of abusing, [too] — it's a very interesting kind of dynamic. And I think it's brilliant of Jesse that he has made Logan so protective of Kendall, because he realizes that with his drug-taking and what he is, he's incredibly fragile.

Speaking of interesting relationships, Marcia seems to be rebelling more against Logan this season than in the first season. What do you think is behind the new dynamic in their relationship?

Marcia is feeling that her position is on very delicate ground, it's a thin-ice situation because of the dynamic that's happening with the children. Of course, she's at once protective of Logan, but then she's also quietly critical of him, not in an obvious way, but she's not as tolerant as she was of him as when he was sick. It's a tricky relationship, but I think he adores her, and I think he actually feels a lot. Everybody wants something, and that's what Logan is so used to: Nobody does anything for nothing. Unfortunately, that is the problem of being that kind of man. For example, in Rupert Murdoch's case, he's gone through these relationships with Wendi Deng and now he's with Jerry Hall, who apparently has now made him smoke weed to calm him down. I don't know if that's true, that's probably apocryphal. He needs to feel that he has a home, he has a safety there, there's a harbor that he can come to. That harbor is under severe threat. He is a man who is reaping what he's sown, and what he has sown isn't all that wonderful.

Looking ahead, do you think Logan is going to forgive Shiv for her performance at the Pierce dinner?

I think he's going to forgive her, but she will not be, I don't think, elevated to the position that she thinks she's going to be elevated to because she blew it. He says to her right at the beginning, "It's a game." He does feel that with the game, there are very strong rules, and you have to acknowledge and play by the rules; once you start to deviate from the rules, you become untrustworthy. That's what his biggest problem is, finding trust. Logan has sacked and rehired people many times, but ultimately they're his animals: Frank, Gerry Karl and Karolina, they've survived with Logan. It's very complicated with Logan, because you think, "Oh, well, he'll turn on them and savage everybody," and he does, but then Gerry said at some point, "Well, you fired me 18 times." They are his extended family.

What can we expect from Logan coming up?

It's very unpredictable as Logan ages. [The creators] were never sure of Logan's fate: When the show was originally proposed to me, it was for about five minutes, but when they talked to me, I think they realized they had something else. [Then] it was a one-season role, he was going to die at the end of the first season and that was it. But I think now they've realized that it's much more complicated than that: They could kill him off, but he's survived his stroke and he's come out stronger as a result. "Boar on the Floor" is where you see his tools demonic; he's driven by these demons, and it's these demons that have made him survive as long as he has. People like that have a tendency to live quite long lives. I keep saying to Jesse [Armstrong, the series showrunner], "Is this going to be my last season?"  And he goes, "Well, we're not sure yet."

Logan, particularly with the Holly Hunter character, likes strong women. His daughter, sadly, is not quite strong enough, she's quite frail, like his children are. The one person in the family he feels still has potential is Roman; even though Roman seems to be a fuckup on so many occasions, there are certain things that Roman actually gets right. And also he's on a huge learning curve. It's going to be interesting to see how that relationship plays out over the third season, for example, where Roman is going to go in terms of his father. Of course, I don't want to give anything away, but there's a lot going on and there's a lot to come, which sets up a really quite sparky third season.