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[This story contains spoilers for Succession season four episode six, “Living+.”]
Big, big shoes. Big shoes. Big… nervous breakdown? Not so fast.
In the latest episode of Succession, the sixth hour of the final season, the Roys went to Hollywood. Waystar Royco’s Investor Day brought new co-CEOs Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), along with sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) and the entire executive team, out to the company’s Los Angeles headquarters for the annual presentation where all eyes end up fixated on Kendall as he steps up to fill the big, big shoes left to him (either in an underlined or crossed-out manner) by his late father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox).
Despite expressed concerns heading into his presentation — and the major hiccup of Waystar’s likely acquirer Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) comparing Kendall’s pitch to the Nazis in a viral but later-deleted tweet — Kendall ends up pulling off a very well-received unveiling of the company’s new Living+ product, a bold vision he delivered with the help of Dad himself, as Logan Roy appeared via video in a surprise moment that welcomed Cox back to the Succession set.
Lorene Scafaria directed “Living+,” an episode that effectively closed out her trilogy on Kendall Roy. Scafaria, who directed season three’s infamous “Too Much Birthday” episode as well as season four’s “Honeymoon States” — the first episode after Logan’s death — spoke to The Hollywood Reporter below about getting to resurrect Logan Roy, while unpacking all of the major moments of the episode, from Kendall’s win to Roman’s rock bottom and Shiv and Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) semi-rekindling, and weighing in on this season’s prescient events to recent real-life media headlines: “I am endlessly wowed.”
I read a recent article in Time about the uncanny similarities between this season of Succession and what’s going on at Fox News that said, “Succession supports a theory to which we already subscribe: The people making momentous decisions about our news, democracy, and society are often power-starved egotists.” That’s no better exemplified than in this episode, which shows the Roys’ grief manifesting into power-starved behavior. So, what excited you about directing this one?
Oh, gosh. This was such a treat. It was my third episode on the show. I was lucky enough to do Kendall’s 40th debacle [“Too Much Birthday”]. I had the daunting joy of doing Logan’s wake [“Honeymoon States”]. Now, “Living+.” They’re all different. “Too Much Birthday” was like a spectacle, but perfectly contained. “Honeymoon States” was like this intimate ensemble play. When I read “Living+,” it just felt like a movie. All of these episodes focus on the siblings without Dad in the room, though he’s still pulling the strings. And in a way, they’re all very full Kendall arcs, even though all the siblings have so much going on. But yes, the inner grief and how it manifests, I think you see it creeping in the way that grief does. Grief never moves in one direction, especially immediately after. I think they’re all in different stages of grief and they’re all, in a way, running in parallel lines by the end of this episode.
We get to see Kendall in one of his manic states and the writers subvert our expectations by giving him a win. And we see Shiv putting a wedge between Kendall and Roman, and Roman goes from being on top to sort of a new rock bottom for him. He certainly has his manic episode here. And we see Shiv manipulating things with Matsson and Tom, and trying to find her footing. What a joy to get to do all of these Shiv and Tom scenes and bring them back together. There was nothing about this episode that didn’t excite me. Seeing Logan up front! I’m endlessly spoiled by Jesse [Armstrong, creator] and the writers.
How does it work when they approach you to direct these two?
One of the producers, Scott Ferguson, called me up I think in May of last year — and walked me through the entire season! I wasn’t sure which episodes would fit my schedule, so I didn’t know which they were going to offer. I was just so excited to be invited back. But I was taking notes on a Post-it and when he said what happened in episode three I wrote down, “Logan dies,” and just immediately crumpled up the Post-it! I was so afraid of having this information, and somehow successfully kept it a secret from absolutely everyone I know, which sort of added to the feeling of being on the inside of the Roy family.
I know how it ends, but I never read ahead. I’m such a fan. I still want to be surprised. So even though I know how it ends, it doesn’t matter. The show cannot be spoiled. It’s all in the execution — pun intended! The writers and producers of the show do a great job of delegating episodes to the different directors. Directing TV is obviously incredibly different than film. I’m working with a well-oiled machine and Jesse is at the helm, but I think the beauty of Succession more than any other shows is that there’s a lot of creative freedom for the directors. Even though there’s a certain visual language, I think you can see how distinct each episodes is depending on who is behind the camera. And the brilliant writing that calls for something different every time. They all have different philosophies and rules applied to the camera. Even for me, I had to approach each one of the episodes like a different director. I think I’ve been very lucky with those full Kendall arcs and very Kendall-heavy episodes.
You are the Kendall muse. That’s wild you knew about Logan’s death for that long.
(Laughs.) I know. I couldn’t tell people what I had worked on at all, because I couldn’t say a word about episode four, obviously.
That means you know how long ago they plotted this season. Then this week in the news, there were memes of Kerry’s (Zoë Winters) anchor audition, suggesting she should be hired at Fox News after Tucker Carlson’s exit. And amid the trio of Carlson’s, CNN’s Don Lemon‘s and NBC’s Jeff Shell‘s abrupt firings, this episode saw Roman hand out not one, but two abrupt terminations, to the Waystar Studios head Joy (Annabeth Gish) and to his formerly beloved Gerri (J-Smith Cameron). Knowing what’s coming in these episodes, are you amazed at how prescient the writers are?
I am endlessly wowed by them. Jesse obviously is a political writer. He is a voracious reader of current events and just about anything. All of them have their fingers on the pulse. They couldn’t be more relevant, more timely. You are absolutely right about that quote. It’s funny to think of anyone working in politics, media, entertainment — you, me! — you have to play your part. And so to think of the people at the tippy-top who are absolutely deciding the fates of the rest of the world? I think that’s what’s so fascinating, is getting to see the inner-working of these three kids really playing dress up. That’s the feeling, is that often who steps up isn’t necessarily the most appropriate person in charge.
I just have to say that Zoë Winters is so good. Could she be better? That’s one of the exciting things about working on a show like this. So much comes from how Jesse runs this show and keeps it so alive that someone like Zoë Winters shows up as Kerri and you want to see her doing all these different things, so you just keep writing new, exciting stuff for her. From her audition to her smiling grief [after Logan’s death] to her tearful scene at the wake, she’s such an exciting actor.
Logan’s wake was basically a bottle episode. But “Living+” had many moving parts and locations as the Roys went to Hollywood. There’s the Waystar offices in L.A., the industry reception and the Living+ presentation. What vibe were you going for with this episode?
Even though how it appears, we were not in L.A. as much as you’d think. When I read it in the script, it really felt like a movie on the page. And since it was the L.A. episode, I think the approach was to have a little fun with that and lean into it. Certainly there’s enough on the page to mine from. But there are little moments that I wanted to infuse as a person who has lived in L.A. since 2001. I couldn’t help but want to see Roman on a golf cart. This brutally honest person surrounded by all this artifice. I couldn’t help but want to see Kendall at the beach, even though that was something that in the script came and went. And came back, thankfully.
That Kendall beach scene was going to be cut?
It wasn’t always in the script. It appeared in a draft and then it disappeared. I have to admit, I was just adamant about the beach scene. There were days where I think I was the only person who wanted to shoot it! But I’m just such a superfan of the show, I was excited to see Ken face up in the water even if there are dark clouds on the horizon. That was one of those scenes that felt like a very important final beat.
It’s such a full-circle moment from seeing him face down in the pool (in the penultimate episode of season three).
He was face down on that raft, and that did feel like the lowest of lows for him. And here is an episode that subverts expectations, which the writers were always so brilliant at, that Kendall actually has a win, in spite of all the anxiety and tension that comes with just knowing he’s about to take the stage. And all of his manic ideas that went into it. That to see him victorious in the end, and to see how Roman gets taken down in the episode, they really do switch places from the beginning to the end.
I know no one can say if Kendall’s name was actually crossed out or underlined, because the point is that we’ll never know. But as Kendall is happy and floating in that ocean water, is he thinking his name was underlined?
I think he thinks his name was highlighted! His middle name is Logan. I think he’s plagued by whether or not it’s crossed out or underlined, and maybe in that moment, it doesn’t even matter to him because he’s taken the reins. The pen is in his hand. We don’t know what he thinks. At the end of “Honeymoon States,” when he’s staring at his crossed out or underlined name on his phone before he goes and tells Hugo to action the “bad dad stuff,” I don’t know that he knows when he’s looking at it. I think he just knows that this is his father’s will. I think he believes no matter what he was left this in the will. So I think he feels like it’s rightfully his positioning. I’m not sure he cares, anymore.
His initials are KLR. That has to mean something!
It’s gotta mean something, right? (Laughs.)
Brian Cox previously said that every episode this season takes place in one day and that they are consecutive days. Is that true and did you talk about that?
It sure seems to be true. And we talked about it up until this point, through “Living+.” Again, no spoilers. But I think Brian did say that and if that’s true, I’ve heard people saying, “Oh, God, these are the craziest 10 days in the Roy family’s lives.” Of course it is. That is what what these events are like. They’re such seismic shifts. Of course, Shiv also has something else going on that is also uniquely seismic. But, when it rains, it pours. I can remember the week of my father’s funeral, almost every single detail of it. Every hour was a new shift. And so things like that, especially in a family like this where they still have to fly the plane — there’s so much for them to juggle. When you lose a member of the family, the patriarch of the family, there’s already so much you have to sort through, rather than the lives of the entire world!
That must have been intense for you to film this arc, I’m sorry about that.
It was a long time ago, but thank you. I think it brought out a lot in people. It was just something I could always talk to any of the actors about, so that was helpful.
You filmed the first-ever Succession episode without Logan with “Honeymoon States,” and now here he is returning to open the “Living+” episode. You filmed this after his death episode, so this was Brian Cox’s return to the set?
Yes. As you can imagine, after episode three, I did not think I would be working with Brian again. And then suddenly at the table read, there’s this opening scene, which of course it’s so thrilling to think of the audible gasp the audience would have seeing Logan again. And I love that we’re seeing him in this surreal setting, with a green screen behind him [filming the Living+ video for the launch]. I don’t know if you know this, but I happen to play the director in that scene as well (laugh).
I did not! So, you got to be verbally abused by Logan Roy?
It was my honor, obviously! At some point Jesse asked if I’d like to play the role, and I mean, I can safely say it was the most nervous I’ve ever, ever been on any set, certainly on the set of Succession, hands down, acting opposite Brian Cox. Even though I was off camera, I was sweating down to my waist and I brought a change of clothes that day! It was so great to have Brian back on set and resurrected. Everybody was very excited, on their best behavior. He told me that day, he said, “I never watched the show.” I said, “Oh, you really should, you are quite good — it’s a pretty great show!”
Was it a closed set that day, to keep it quiet?
No. It was everybody. Everybody was tight-lipped. I think maybe after having Brian not around for a couple episodes, should anyone have seen him on the lot that day in costume, it maybe wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world to show that he’s still up and about.
Can you say if this is this the last we’ll see of Logan Roy?
Oh, I don’t know. What’s fun for me is that I know how it ends, but I never read ahead. I’m a fan and I want to be surprised. It’s one of those shows where even if you know, you don’t know.
Was the cast and crew reunion with Cox on set an emotional one?
It was. It was emotional. I think this whole thing is so emotional. I’ve only worked on three episodes and I’m deeply saddened that it’s over, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for everyone who has been on it from the beginning, for the actors who have crafted these characters. They all have such real, intense relationships with each other. They really do feel like family. And the crew is so incredible and Jesse, all the writers. It’s just the loveliest group of geniuses, and I will miss it dearly.
Logan’s behavior when filming the product launch video is something people in this industry have certainly dealt with. What was it like to lean into that behavior amid this Hollywood episode?
Yes, it comes with the job. It comes with the territory. You are right, there are a few different send-ups this episode that I think the writers had fun with. And being a fan, I can’t help but want to lean into them as well. You have Logan barking and you have Kendall manic and you have Roman just going off on everyone and Shiv has just gotten herself into quite a web, and Tom; it’s just an embarrassment of riches.
I want to talk about Lukas Matsson and the casual richness of him walking barefoot over to Shiv’s private jet, as if hopping off a bike. We’ve learned a lot about him lately, like his bizarre blood confession last episode. On the official Succession podcast, host/journalist Kara Swisher said she could think of about four people in the world like him, and there is an obvious Elon Musk comparison. He’s heightened, yet based in some reality. How did you strike that balance with Alexander Skarsgård?
What’s funny is I got to direct his arrival in this story. The first time you meet him is in the tree house at Kendall’s birthday party. I remember when his name came up to play the role, I thought, “That is the most exciting person for this part.” He’s not a Roy. That’s what’s so exciting about him. He may have a lot of shared qualities, perhaps, as Logan or some of the Roys, but he does not fit in this family. He is something else. And you’re right, as heightened as he is as a character, he is oddly, horribly familiar.
The decision for Matsson to be barefoot came from Alex. He said, “I think I should be barefoot when I walk over.” I said, “Of course you are.” (Laughs.) My only regret is that some of the coverage didn’t get to continue to show his feet, like him having his feet up in the chairs on her jet. The casual richness of it all is kind of in step with what they’ve always talked about from the beginning: how rich people don’t have to wear jackets because they don’t get cold and they have no sense of direction; they just get taken in planes and cars to wherever they need to be. They don’t wear coats, and they don’t wear shoes!
The jet scene was so fun to shoot. I thought it would be fun to have them sit next to each other the way a couple might, where someone is in the driver’s seat and someone is in the passenger’s seat. Which is which, exactly? But you get to see them side-by-side, especially since those chairs can twist just a little bit, and in something that felt more like a couple rather than a showdown or face-off.
This episode, Kendall and Roman… I’ll call them the Disruptor Brothers. Kendall wears that more comfortably than Roman, and it ends up working out for him. But he internalizes so much leading up to the presentation. Was there a scene you and Jeremy Strong spoke about or workshopped the most?
I’ve been so lucky that these episodes I get to do are very full Kendall arcs. They package as a nice Kendall trilogy, actually! Because you really do see the full spectrum. I talked to Jeremy so much about this, I just love him as an actor. And love the thoughtfulness that he brings. And, like all the actors, they all know their characters better than I do. I certainly have a lot of conversations with them, but my job is mostly to calibrate and give them freedom and space to make sure we are where we need to be.
We talked a lot about how he has that gleam in his eye. We’re taking the birthday boy from a fully manic state of all these grandiose ideas, and the writers subvert expectations and give him a win. The day on the schedule that I feared the most is certainly his presentation, the product launch. So we went in with a solid plan. This season I got to work with such a brilliant DP, Katelin Arizmendi. We wanted Jeremy to be able to run his presentation from beginning to end, including talking to the press all the way through Tom coming on stage. We did I think five full takes; two setups on stage with him, in front of him and behind him, looking at the audience. That gives us the visceral feeling of him public speaking. And then two setups from the house, seeing him connect with the audience and the press and the old guard. It was like a seven-camera day. And so that was sort of the Super Bowl for me, was making sure we got that right. There was security and 300 extras who kept it all a secret. And I think they did that honestly because they knew how important they were to the scene. Jeremy had 300 scene partners. And he went out and thanked them all after and the whole room just erupted in cheers. I think they were all so impressed and felt deeply appreciated by him. I think that’s how we got away with it.
There was a lot of talk about what Kendall would wear for this scene. I have to give Jeremy full credit for coming up with this flight jacket.
He looked like Maverick.
Exactly! There were times we might have been playing the Top Gun theme on set. Just to get pumped up. And of course, costume designer Michelle Matland, who I think told the entire story with the placement of that red ATN patch on his arm. There is, on the one hand, this fun-loving Top Gun homage, but on the other it’s this incredibly fascist imagery that just conjures up such a feeling. And so I think that was this balance we wanted to strike in how we covered it.
We had some fun with putting three spotlights on him so that for these moments he’s casting three shadows on the floor like echoes of his siblings, even though he’s of course one man up there all alone. Jeremy is so good with showing all the tiny cracks. For me, the big moment in that particular scene is that, here is he is manipulating his dad’s video. His dad’s been the puppet master this whole time, so to have Kendall literally use his dad like Weekend at Bernie’s was this moment that I just hold on Kendall. And yet, when he says, “would I have my dad back for one day?” and he says that quote to “say the unsaid,” you see that’s the line that gets him, because I think it’s so genuine. There is so much left unsaid. There really is that great hinge of losing a parent. Especially when you lose a parent that you’re so disconnected from, I think that kind of death leaves very different and very gaping wounds. And then, for Kendall to be able to come out on top like that.
What were your inspirations for the presentation?
There were presentations that I watched. I’m not sure they’re worth calling out by name; I feel like we kind of know the references! But we wanted to capture that boring corporate excitement. We wanted to be true to what these launches are actually like, but of course there’s the Kendall spin to everything, so he’s going to walk out to Public Enemy and give them a little bit of a mini-rock star entrance with some flashing lights.
Kendall then edits Logan again to send Roman the “micro-dick” clip, which sends Roman into a bit of an emotional tailspin. What were your directing conversations with Kieran Culkin in that ending car ride, and can you take us through his inner monologue?
The scene in the car at the end with Roman listening to that edited video is my absolutely favorite, in an episode with a ton of brilliant scenes. Seeing everything flash across his face in rapid succession. He knows it’s funny, at first, because he’s funny. But then the pain of it just seeps in. And then when he’s holding the phone up to his ear… ugh. Thinking about it now, I’m physically sick. Kieran is such a special actor. He brings so much vulnerability and sensitivity and pain. It’s a very familiar feeling for me, because after you lose somebody, there are no new pictures. There are no new photos or voicemails. So in this weird way, even getting a doctored version of your dad talking shit (laughs) saying this about you, you can’t help but want to hear it. You can’t help but want to hear his voice say something new.
We talked about a lot of different things, but I didn’t tell Kieran to hold the phone up to his ear like that. We talked about the various ways these things might seep in and that I was really interested in seeing it all. But, that’s just what he does. You see it in every scene. I’m thinking of the one with Matsson on the mountaintop; you see his mind working. You see the wheels turning in his head. I couldn’t root more for every single actor on this show; Sarah, I hope she gets all the marbles this year. But if Kieran walks away from this show and this character without getting his flowers? Give that man his flowers. He’s been a knockout from the beginning but I think people are really seeing the range this year, how he’s evolved this character; this steady climb. That is so hard to do. It’s my job for the moment to try to help calibrate that, but I think people mistake how natural he is for doing something easy. He’s just making it look easy, and being funny is a magic trick — he’s disarming you so you don’t see the cards moving constantly. But he’s so present, he’s playing a chemistry set with every actor. He’s like Robert Downey Jr. or something. Whatever, make him James Bond. Give Roman Roy his flowers!
Then you have the Shiv-Tom dance that you are doing all episode. They connect over her “scheduled grief,” they kiss, they have sex, they flirt… they bite! How not-over are they after their final conversation in the car?
Oh, I think they’re right back where they started in that moment in the car. Tom, even the way he’s joking saying, “I can’t help it if I find strategy sexy” and the face she makes. They are back in their most comfortable positions with each other. But there were so many scenes that got us there and obviously I enjoyed my work with them in episode four; they have this great scene on the steps and we know internally what’s going on with Shiv from the phone call with her doctor [revealing she is pregnant]. I couldn’t believe the Shiv-Tom stuff I was given. It’s always a gift reading these scripts but these particular scenes in the cry room, this creature-comfort moment for them. And I think it’s really important that Tom was that voice on the phone when Logan died. He was the calm in that storm. He does do things. Even that scene in the stairwell, I wanted to make it sexy. I wanted there to be that reminder of Mr. Darcy and that guy she once knew. Is it manipulative? Is it pure? God, I don’t know. But then to take that kiss in the cry room into this investor party and this “bitey” scene, that was just so electrifying to watch.
Where did that “bitey” game come from?
Just the brilliant writers, obviously. I think Lucy Prebble is the one who perhaps came up with that. But the writers of this episode, Georgia Pritchett, Will Arbery, Jesse [Armstrong], they’re just all so brilliant. It’s a continuation. It’s so psychologically taut! This expression of love that can’t help but have some violence in it. Who can hurt the other one more? In a way, it’s what they’ve been doing and calibrating and learning from each other. It’s what he learned from her, and something she grew up with so you can’t even fault her for associating love with pain, and all the patterns and early impressions from childhood and the house she grew up in, and her parents’ expressions of love for each other. And everything her mother said. I don’t know if she recognizes the feelings unless they’re painfully familiar.
And then to bring that feeling into this post-coital conversation. That was one of my favorite days on set. It was four or five of us in a room trying to figure out the blocking, and I really wanted to use this wall of mirrors, and they were incredibly generous with me. Because it’s their show, their characters, but there’s a certain tone to that scene. Their love is messed up. There’s something pure, but it’s messed up. When Tom is giving that speech, he’s being so honest about his values. And he’s speaking money, which is the last taboo. And they have it in common. And it kind of does bring them together and make him the right man for her, in a way. With their laugh at the end, which is incredibly playful and still a little suspicious, I think they’re much more comfortable playing this part, instead of this game of chicken. There’s something like, “You know what, what if we just succumb to this loneliness?” Maybe there are a lot of reasons why Shiv is OK to inch back forward. But, they have their reasons.
I think I like them rekindling. But, I’m not sure. I don’t know how they’ll be as parents together.
I think I do, too. But it’s because the two of them are so brilliant together, I just want to keep watching them over and over. I think considering how the dog is being kept, who knows! But you don’t know. These are sizable moments in a person’s life. What could change someone more than the death of a parent or having a child? So I don’t think people know what they’ll be like. But I have to say, it’s all Sarah. She’s made Shiv the most complicated, multi-faceted character. The depths she goes to and comes back from. I call her “the bends,” because that’s just what she gives me during any one scene. There’s so much happening behind her eyes. The stages of grief that she travels through within the same line of dialogue. There’s a lot of accolades to be given to this entire cast. What Alan Ruck is doing this year; Zoë Winters, Justine Lupe, they’re all so special. It’s such a celebrated show as it is, but I’m just in awe of what Sarah and Kieran have done this year.
Do you think Karl (David Rasche) signed his pink slip this episode, and do you think Gerri is really fired?
I don’t know if Gerri is really fired. It certainly felt real. That couldn’t have felt more real between those two.
I feel like Karl might have gotten himself back in good graces at the very, very end. He’s so congratulatory and Kendall calling him out during the presentation I think was a sign. Karl said, “You’ve got my [bleep] in your hands, I’ve got yours in mine.” I think they know that. I think in that moment, there’s a slight truce being made. Davide Rasche is just so brilliant. It was fun to shoot that scene with him and Jeremy. He’s such a brilliant comedic actor. He’s someone who the second he opens his mouth, I’m laughing. So it was so great to see him bring that weight that you know he has and really throw it at Ken in that scene.
With this being your last Succession episode to direct, is there anything else you want to say?
I just love all these actors so much. J-Smith Cameron, Peter Friedman. All my time with them has been so valuable. I just have to give all the praise to everybody else that’s worked on this show the entire time. The cast, the crew, the writers, [director] Mark Mylod, who I have to give credit for just keeping it raw and alive. And really just Jesse’s writing, the characters he’s shaped. They still surprise us, but we understand their psychology. So, unpacking their trauma with them, I think that’s why we don’t hate them as much as we should. This show is actually the greatest exercise in empathy. Can you care about a billionaire asshole’s feelings while they’re out there ruining the world? Maybe. On a human level, everybody hurts.
To quote Tom, “You’re an ATN Citizen” now!
That’s very kind. A little dark of a quote, but I’ll take it!
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Succession releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and Max. Follow along with THR‘s Succession final season coverage.
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