Kieran Culkin Reveals 'Succession' Fans' Surprising Reactions to His Rich Bad-Boy Character

Courtesy of HBO

The actor also shares what brother Macaulay said to him about his Golden Globe nomination and what he really wants to be asked on the red carpet.

Kieran Culkin was fast asleep in his L.A. hotel room when his phone's incessant ringing woke him at 5:30 a.m. "I saw I had like seven or eight texts and I thought, 'Damn it, someone died.'" To his relief, it was actually good news: Culkin had been nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as the cocky media mogul's son Roman Roy in HBO's satirical summer hit SuccessionThe Hollywood Reporter caught up with Culkin to talk about the absurd reactions he gets from fans on the street, what his brother Macaulay texted him on nominations morning and why his nom — the sole one the dramedy received — feels like the first for him even though it isn't.

Were you surprised by your nomination?

I really was not — and I'm not just saying it — I really was not expecting anything. I wasn't even sure if the show was eligible this year. I'm dead serious. I know we were not eligible for these past Emmys, so I'm a little confused.

This is your first nomination in a long time. How does it feel?

It's my first in, like, 16 years. I got nominated in, like, 2003 [for Igby Goes Down], which is kind of nuts. But it feels like the first time, I guess. After that time in 2003, I took a break for a while. I kind of walked away from everything. It just feels like all the work I've been doing since has just been not under any kind of spotlight. So this feels like this is the first time I've done something that people are actually seeing in a long time.

How will this time be different for you at the show?

Last time I was 19 or 20 and I was a very overwhelmed, acne-ridden, anxiety child, so it didn't go well. I ended up having, like, a panic attack and not working for a couple of years. It was one of those things where I'd been working since I was 6 pretty regularly, and then suddenly I was 19 or 20 going, "Oh, what's going on? I'm in this room of people and I have a career but I never pursued this." I just sort of found myself there and it freaked me out. So it took till now, at 36, to go, "I think I'm ready to pursue this and take a stab at making a career." So I think in this case, I'm just older and more prepared. I don't think I'll be freaked out this go-around.

What does it mean to you to get recognized for this role in particular?

I never really think in terms of awards and shit. That stuff isn't on my mind. But the way that this came to be is the script was sent to me to read for the character of Greg [Hisrch, played by Nicholaus Braun]. I didn't feel like I clicked with that character, but I liked the script enough to continue reading. [In the script] Roman walks in the room and says, "Hey, hey, motherfuckers!" There was something that clicked with me and this character that's something I still don't understand, and probably don't want to understand, considering the kind of guy he is.

What's the most surprising reaction you've gotten from people about your character?

I've gotten weird things from people in the street. I think they hate my character. They obviously know that it's fake so they want to be nice to me, but they can't help themselves but call me an asshole. I've had — and this has been a few times — somebody who was passing by be like, "Hey, man, you're a real son of a bitch. Keep it up." I'm like, "Aw, thanks." People feel like because they watch the show, "Oh, I can approach this guy. I know exactly who this guy is." I'm a little different from that dude, but thanks.

Did you hear from your brother Macaulay on the morning of the nominations?

Yeah, he sent me a text. He'd texted me before I went to bed saying, "Hey, you want to get together on Friday to play Toejam & Earl?" It's an awesome video game. And I just didn't respond, so the next text was like, "Hey, I just heard. Congratulations." So I don't know what to respond to first. I guess, "Thanks," and then, "Yes, let's play Toejam & Earl."

Have you heard from anyone else on the show?

Nick Braun sent me a text. That guy is freakin' hilarious. He sends me, "Hey, congratulations, my man. I'm trying to think of something witty and fun to say, but I'm just happy for you. Good shit." And I wrote, "Thanks, dude. I think a jealousy joke would have worked really well here. Maybe next year."

How did you celebrate?

I decided a couple months ago that I was going to take about three months off of booze just to be healthy and clean for a while. So I was like, I can't even pop champagne — what the fuck? What's the equivalent? I'll have, like, a nice Coca-Cola with a twist? 

A version of this story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.