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Aaron Sorkin has responded to The New Yorker‘s recent and viral profile of Succession star Jeremy Strong, writing in a letter that his contributions to the piece may have helped create a “distorted picture” of the actor and his approach to his performances.
The lengthy note was posted on behalf of the director by actress Jessica Chastain, who worked with both Strong and Sorkin on Molly’s Game, to her verified Twitter account on Friday. At various points, it addresses the answers Sorkin provided to the magazine for the profile and why he believes Strong’s approach to acting doesn’t inherently endanger those who work with him.
“After reading Michael Schulman’s profile of Jeremy Strong, a profile in which I participated, I wanted to speak up,” Sorkin’s letter reads. “I think I helped Mr. Schulman create what I believe is a distorted picture of Jeremy that asks us to roll our eyes at his acting process.”
In the letter, the director shares the “five questions via email” he was asked by the profile writer as well as his responses in full about the actor, whose process he likens at one point to Dustin Hoffman’s. This includes Sorkin’s answers about Strong’s use of a kazoo during a Trial of the Chicago 7 scene with Frank Langella, who played Judge Julius Hoffman, as well as Strong’s request while filming that same movie to be tear-gassed.
“Jeremy is not a nut,” Sorkin wrote, defending the Succession star’s process. “He doesn’t make people call him by his character’s name on the set. But he built himself an on-ramp so that he’s already started to give the performance by the time the director calls action.”
Sorkin states that “only one and a half” of his answers were reused for the profile — those answers about the tear-gassing request and the kazoo use on set — which he admits “is perfectly normal” for the kind of reported piece the New Yorker profile was. Still, the director clarifies that his comments on either of those issues were merely him “telling the story affectionately and as a way of demonstrating [Strong’s] commitment.”
Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have social media so asked me to post this letter on his behalf xx pic.twitter.com/3Ol1KGoJKM
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 10, 2021
“Let me be clear, Jeremy would never suggest endangering a member of the cast or crew or anyone else,” he wrote. “Nor would Jeremy ever consider disrespecting an actor. And certainly not Frank Langella. Frank, a four-time Tony Award-winning actor who himself asked to not be in the makeup trailer at the same time as the actors playing the defendants, would tell you himself that he encouraged the defendants to annoy him.”
In a tweet Saturday morning, Succession executive producer Adam McKay also responded to the profile, throwing his support behind Sorkin’s letter. “I couldn’t agree more,” the Don’t Look Up director tweeted. “Jeremy is not only a lovely guy but a brilliant actor who was cast in Succession precisely because of his passion the New Yorker writer mocks.”
In a statement, a New Yorker spokesperson told THR, “This is a nuanced, multi-sided portrait of an extremely dedicated actor. It has inspired a range of reactions from people, including many who say that they are even more impressed by Jeremy Strong’s artistry after having read the article.”
Strong’s tear-gassing request, which was known before the profile was published, was an effort to replicate the experiences of Jerry Rubin, the real-life ’60s and ’70s social activist, anti-war leader and counterculture icon played by Strong, who was charged by the U.S. federal government and acquitted of conspiracy and incitement charges related to anti-Vietnam War protests in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Sorkin declined the actor’s ask given that there were around 200 other performers on set along with 70 crewmembers.
Sorkin ultimately praises Strong’s approach to his craft, writing, “The actor Jeremy most reminds me of someone I’ve never worked with — Dustin Hoffman. He’s got that much game and actors get better as they get older. So It’s exciting to think that Jeremy Strong hasn’t yet given one of the three best performances he’s ever going to give.
“Jeremy Strong is a great actor and a great company member,” Sorkin concludes his letter. “There isn’t a writer, director or producer on Earth who wouldn’t want to grab at the chance to cast him.”
Strong’s acting choices have been publicly discussed before, with his Succession co-star Brian Cox — in an interview on Late Night With Seth Meyers only a day before Sorkin’s letter was published — voicing concerns that Strong’s style might lead to burnout.
“The thing about Jeremy’s approach is it works in terms of what comes out the other end,” Cox said. “My problem — and, it’s not a problem, I don’t have a problem with Jeremy because he’s delightful. … He’s an extraordinary dad. He’s a pretty unique individual. But, he does get obsessed with the work. And I worry about what it does to him, because if you can’t separate yourself — because you’re dealing with all of this material every day. You can’t live in it. Eventually, you get worn out.”
Dec. 11, 12:40 p.m. Updated with statement from The New Yorker.
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