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[This story contains major spoilers from the premiere of Succession season three.]
At the start of Succession season three, Logan Roy is both at one of his lowest points in the series and at the top of his game.
The show picks up as the Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul played by Brian Cox is crisis-managing following his son Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) major betrayal at the end of season two, which has opened him up to potentially calamitous scrutiny: Logan’s staying in an airport-adjacent hotel in Sarajevo while concerned about extradition, stepping aside as CEO — at least temporarily, for optics purposes — and trying to court a top lawyer who is more seriously considering representing his son. On the other hand, the king of Waystar Royco is back to throwing his weight around by playing mind games with his (generally cowering) children and coterie of top executives while delivering meme-able moments like growling a reference to “Jack and the Beanstalk” and shouting that he’s going to go “full fucking beast” on Kendall.
According to Cox — who wore a #TeamLoganRoy mask at the show’s New York premiere on Tuesday night — Kendall’s betrayal initially came as a surprise to his character, before the Roy family patriarch realized it was “inevitable.” In the season two finale, after all, Logan told Kendall he wouldn’t be able to succeed him as the head of Waystar Royco because he wasn’t a “killer.” “And of course, what he has to do is prove to me he’s a killer,” Cox says. “So, he does it in the next scene.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about the season three premiere, Cox discussed his favorite scenes to film this season, a COVID scare during production and why he ultimately chose general counsel Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) to be the public face of his family business: “She is Miss Ethics.”
Let’s start with the final moments of the season two finale that set up this third season: Why do you think Logan didn’t see Kendall’s betrayal coming, even though history was repeating itself?
It was a surprise. But then, when he did see it, it was because it was inevitable. Because the final scene that we [Jeremy Strong and I] have together, I tell him he’s not a “killer.” And of course, what he has to do is prove to me he’s a killer. So, he does it in the next scene, he comes on the television and I go, “Oh for God’s sake, this is so childish.” I said, “You’re not a killer,” [so] “Oh, I have to kill, so I’m now going to kill my dad.” And that’s what he does. You go, what a ludicrous boy you are, but how sweet you are as well and how touching you are and what a disappointment you are. I think that smile [in the final moments of season two] said it all.
Yes, and in the season three premiere, Logan actually makes an offer to Kendall to retract his press conference statements and potentially strike a deal. Do you think that offer was in any way sincere?
Well, it’s a kind of desperate offer, in a way; it’s to try and alleviate the situation and curtail it. But it doesn’t work because of Kendall’s vanity. Kendall’s all cock-a-hoop but he’s so like a child in a nursery; he’s ridiculous. That’s the way it is: [Kendall] just says “Oh, I’m going to do it now and it’s great, I’m in this position.” And [Logan] goes, “You’re still a kid.” He doesn’t get it.
Why do you believe Logan ultimately chose Gerri to be the temporary CEO of Waystar Royco while he steps aside for optics purposes — was it really because Shiv and Roman just most recently disappointed him?
They’re endlessly disappointing him. [Roman]’s still weighted to his masturbatory adolescence and doesn’t want to quite grow up and take the responsibility. And Shiv just can’t keep her fucking mouth shut, she just talks herself out of things, as she’s done throughout her young life. So yeah, he just feels that none of these kids are worth it. And also he needs to provide an ethical face for Waystar and the most ethical person he has is Gerri — she is it. She is Miss Ethics. And as a result, she’s a natural. I mean, Shiv isn’t a natural because Shiv isn’t ethical, in any way, shape or form.
You said on The Jess Cagle Show last year that you learned early on from showrunner Jesse Armstrong, before production, what would happen in season three. Did that change or inform your performance in any way this season?
No, not at all. Because you take each episode as it comes. You can’t anticipate, you just have to deal with the material as it’s presented to you. You come and there are a set of circumstances that you have to negotiate in character and have to let that spur you on or deter you. If there’s an obstacle to overcome, you have to have that obstacle and overcome it. Because I have such faith in the writers’ rigor, and they are tremendously rigorous, I know that in the end, the integrity of the show is always going to be in place.
After some stops and starts on Succession production amid COVID-19, did the pandemic change the experience of filming Succession this season for you?
Yeah, it did affect us. We had one scare — one of our actors tested positive. I believe it was a false positive, and [I was] out of action for about 10 days while the actor in question was fine. They couldn’t believe they were in that state, so they were kind of bemused by the whole situation, but they had tested positive so we had to accept the test. But I think there’s a lot of false positives you get. As for the rest of us [those who had been in contact], we took our 10 days and we came back. They always shot something because they could shoot exteriors, so they did some exteriors during that period.
Did the pandemic change the scripts at all this season?
No, not at all. Jesse has chosen to ignore the pandemic as if it never happened. And I think that was the right choice — at first, I wasn’t sure about it because I thought it would be interesting to [incorporate it], but ultimately it would have confused the issue. We’re in another world, so the exigencies of the pandemic were just not entertained.
What can you tell us about Logan’s arc this season?
Of course, he’s got an arc, but it’s just dealing with stuff that needs to be dealt with, so therefore the arc is created by the circumstances and the conditions. It’s the conditions that inform the actions and inform how the actor reacts and how the actor plays, so all of that is falling into place as you’re doing it. When I was younger, I used to think of the arc and of the character, but in a show where it’s all middle act … if you think about it, you do a 10-episode season, you just say that’s what the flow is, it’s 10 episodes. And you have to deal with it over 10 episodes and inhabit it over 10 episodes, and that’s the fun and the joy of it, but you can’t be trapped by that.
Did you have a favorite scene to perform this season?
Yes, there’s a scene with Jeremy which is a wonderful scene — I think it’s either episode eight or episode seven, I can’t remember, and it’s a wonderful scene. And then the denouement scene is also wonderful. And I love the stuff with Alexander Skarsgard, so [that] stuff pays off wonderfully for me.
Succession actors occasionally seem to improvise certain moments that appear in the finished show — was there anything improvised in the premiere episode?
I’m sure there was: I tend not to do the improvisation, I’m one for the script. The improvisation usually is like the bread in a sandwich. I prefer the script, I adhere to the script and I like the line of it to be clear and untrammeled. Whereas improvisation, it’s great, it’s wonderful, it tests the actor’s imagination, but then sometimes with an improvisation, you can get carried away and it’s not about the piece that you’re working on, it’s about something that you’ve invented in your improvisation, and I think that can be dangerous. So I would much prefer doing the script than improvising.
Marcia and Logan seemed to have a falling out at the end of the second season, but she’s reappearing in this third season. What can you tell us about their relationship and where it’s headed — is reconciliation on the table?
I don’t know, it’s very difficult to say. I think one of the difficulties is the storylines of certain characters: Sometimes certain characters are put on a back burner like Connor has been, and is coming off the back burner, like Justine Lupe’s [Willa’s] character has been, too. And I think Marcia’s character has been a bit of a victim of that because she’s had to take a backward seat and also because she wasn’t there, she didn’t turn up to the boat. [Logan] was waiting for her to come and she didn’t because of her own issues. So that hovered over the script. I don’t know what’s happening… in [this] episode in season three, that is still very unclear, what that position is.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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