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Adam McKay — executive producer and director of HBO’s Succession, centered on the Roy family, who control one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world — joined The Hollywood Reporter‘s TV Director Roundtable to discuss the importance of improvisation on the show.
“When you have your ideas for how scenes go, you want the actor to play it a certain way. I always get a little itchy when everything’s lining up too nicely,” McKay said. “I want to make sure there are some mistakes flowing around, so I always jokingly say on the best day of my life, I was right about 68 percent of the time, so I throw improv in there to make sure that there’s some collisions and accidents.”
While McKay loves to incorporate improv in his projects, he admitted to THR that he did receive some pushback from the Succession cast.
“It was funny with this cast because usually when I cast people, I make sure I tell them, ‘You’re OK with improv,'” he explained. “But in this cast, we had some classically trained actors who just looked me straight in the eyes and told me, ‘There’s no way I’m improvising,’ and sure enough, on the day, we would get there and I would yell out, ‘Hey, try this,’ and they would go, ‘No.’ The whole crew gets still for a second and I would just say, ‘We’re rolling. You might as well,’ and then they would start to do it, and of course, they would fall in love with it. I mean, every actor does.”
McKay went on to explain how one scene in Succession, featuring a birthday dinner for Logan Roy (Brian Cox), was “entirely improvised.”
“I gave everyone their own conversations they were going to have and I just did the dolly track around the table, and we just circled the table for a full mag and did it three times in a row, and they were incredible.”
McKay has one career Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Big Short, and four additional Oscar nominations for his work on The Big Short and Vice. He joins Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Jean-Marc Vallée, Ben Stiller and David Nutter for the full TV Director Roundtable, set to air Aug 4. on SundanceTV. Follow all the Emmy season roundtables at THR.com/Roundtables.
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