'Succession' Star Sarah Snook on Being "Blindsided" by Shiv's Shift

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Sam Tabone/WireImage

The first-time Emmy nominee weighs in on her character's attempt to rule the Roy empire in HBO's drama series and how she's different from her on-screen persona.

On July 28, Sarah Snook was taking a nap when her friend snatched the pillow off her face and woke her up by asking, "Did you know that you've been nominated for an Emmy?" It took the Succession star, who has been sheltering at home in her native Australia amid the pandemic, a few seconds to understand that she'd been nominated for her first-ever Emmy for playing the calculating Shiv Roy, one of the next generation of a Murdoch-like media dynasty in the HBO drama, which racked up a total of 18 nominations that morning. "It was nice to have someone to celebrate with," she says of the friend she's staying with who delivered the good news. "If I had been in lockdown by myself, I'd be like, 'Is this actually even real?' "

You were about to start shooting the third season in New York when the pandemic hit. Were you already in the States by then?

I had taken six weeks to go see family and friends — to see my sister in Papua New Guinea and go on a surf trip. The whole thing sort of blew up while I was here, and it was just easier for me to stay because we weren't shooting anymore until further notice.

Do you know if showrunner Jesse Armstrong is rewriting any of the scripts to make the season more filmable during the pandemic?

Yeah, I mean, in the way that I think every other show is. Just for safety reasons, we're going to have to look at how many extras are in a scene, for instance. But Jesse is a person who doesn't really want to compromise what stories they want to tell as writers just for the pandemic. They're obviously talented writers, so there will be a very delicate hand on how much is included, but we're not trying to make a show about a wealthy family during a pandemic.

Shiv seemed to really come into her own this season. What was it like reading those early scripts?

It was really amazing. Reading the script where Logan offers her the company, I was like, (gasps) "Really? Oooh, here we go!" I love not knowing what's coming so that you've got skin in the game and you're invested in an idea, so that when it's taken out from underneath you, you're like, "Oh my God, I didn't even see this coming. How wonderful."

She also started off with a new wardrobe and a new haircut. Did you anticipate being a style icon?

Oh, God, no. I mean, right now I'm wearing Ugg boots and "I Love NY" pajama pants wandering outside my house. I'm hardly a style icon, so if I get to pretend to be a character who is, great. I'll live a different life for a moment.

In what other ways are you different from Shiv?

Uh, a lot. Shiv is a lot more confident than I have been in the past. I think a little bit of it has rubbed off on me — not in the bitchy way, though. But we're so different. Like, I could never see Shiv going camping or picking up dog poop on the side of the street. (Laughs.) She would delegate, you know? She'd get somebody to do that for her, whereas I quite like doing things myself.

Do the writers give you a heads-up about where your character is going or are you often totally blindsided?

Totally blindsided. Even when I got the pilot script when I auditioned, I read it and was like, "Oh, so she wants to [take over the company,] and that's a likelihood because she's one of the only female characters in a meaningful sense. So it would be a pretty bad look if they decided no. She's probably going to be in the running somehow." And then in the third or fourth episode, I said to Jesse on set, "Well, she wants to be CEO," and he was like, "Really? I don't think so." (Laughs.) It was so flip and so casual and blunt. That blindsided me. I was like, "I guess I'll put that out of my brain." He just double-blocked me, which I love.

How much of the show is on the page and how much of it is improvised?

It’s not so much improvised as there’s a little freedom of movement. And that can only really happen, I think, if the structure is really sound and if the writers have really written something that works. You’re not really ever improvising on plot but you are improvising on the day-to-day character interactions and that dynamic. And that’s really fun. That, to me, makes the script sing.

What’s been your favorite scene to play so far?

This is going to sound counterintuitive in a way, but I love the scenes where I don’t have to say much because then I get to watch everybody else do their job and do it so well. Like the scene around the table in episode 10 where Shiv is throwing Tom under the bus, that was so much fun because there’s so many dynamics at play. I loved that because I get to do my bit and then I get to watch everyone else do theirs.

Was there a line or a scene that didn't make it to air that you wish had?

I loved the chicken power play. When Tom comes up on the boat and he eats the chicken and is like, “Thank you for the chicken, Logan,” and then walks off, then we have this conversation where he’s very stressed about what he just did. And Shiv’s only calming line that she could say was, “Well, yeah, I don’t know, I’ve never seen a chicken power play before” — which is just so mean and so thinly veiled as helpful. That was really fun but, as it’s edited, you don’t need that.

Has there been a reaction to the show that's surprised you?

I was so energized by the relationship between Roman [Kieran Culkin] and Gerri [J. Smith-Cameron]. I love how much people are behind it — because I was so behind it. It just sort of makes sense in a really delicious way.

Have you seen any scripts for the upcoming scene?

Oh, no. I know nothing. Jesse and I spoke months ago about a potential storyline, but even the things he was telling me, I was like, “That doesn’t mean anything.” It was like, “Shiv woke up and had breakfast.” I think all of it is up for grabs and might change anyway. Also, I wouldn’t have liked to have received a script before we get to the shoot because I really love how Jesse and the writing team reserve the right to change their mind. I’m happy to wait.

What do you hope you get to do in season three?

Shiv's got enough dark-horse history that we haven't seen from her that there's stuff to mine there. And she's got some volatility. So just a couple fireworks from Shiv, I think.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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