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[This story contains major spoilers from the finale of Succession season three.]
Social media lit up on Sunday night during the last moments of the Succession season three finale when Brian Cox briefly rested his hand on Matthew Macfadyen’s shoulder.
The gesture, which signaled that Waystar Royco media mogul Logan Roy (played by Cox) had secretly collaborated with Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) long-suffering and ambitious husband, Tom (Macfadyen) — and that both had betrayed her as she and her siblings sought to halt the purchase of her family’s company — showed Logan prevailing yet again, as well as the ascension of a new power player in the corporate comedy-drama. It was a classic Succession season-ending twist slash mic drop.
Cox knew roughly how the season would end before any other castmembers, he says, even if quite a bit of material was left on the cutting-room floor. (In an interview with Hollywood Reporter podcast TV’s Top 5 that will release on Friday, Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong says that he originally intended season three to last eight episodes, but it was eventually extended to nine.) The show’s writers keep things unpredictable throughout each season, he adds, by dropping various red herrings. “One of the great things about our show is that we set up a lot of suppositions for the audience,” he says. “We’ve got to constantly deflect them so that there’s nothing that’s predictable.”
During a brief break from a new film that he’s working on, the political thriller The Independent, Cox spoke with THR about Logan potentially teaming up with Tom and Greg (Nicholas Braun) next season, speculated on whether the media titan really wants to have another child and discussed love being a “root of great pain” for his ruthless character.
You’ve already addressed the Jeremy Strong New Yorker profile to a certain extent. But what do you think about all these artists like Aaron Sorkin, Adam McKay and Jessica Chastain coming to Jeremy Strong’s defense in recent days? Is that necessary, in your view?
I think Jeremy does need some kind of backing, really, for what he does. [Jessica] knows him and she’s very friendly with him; they’ve spent a lot of time working together. And I think it’s right for Jeremy that he does get the backup because he’s chosen a difficult path. It’s his choice, and one has to honor his choice, whatever my views are — they’re different views — but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person because he’s made that choice. I think it’s a very valid choice that he’s made. It’s clearly to do with [what] he believes and one has to respect that. And I think that Sorkin and Adam McKay standing up for him, I completely applaud and completely go along with.
Do you anticipate that post-profile there will be any tension or weirdness on set in season four?
No, not at all. I don’t think so. We all know Jeremy, we all love Jeremy. So we all kind of make space for it. I don’t think there’s going to be any repercussions whatsoever, except to wish Jeremy the best and continue the excellent work that he’s already doing on the show. There’s no question about it: He’s doing excellent work, and one has to applaud that.
What was your reaction to this season’s finale when you learned where the story would go and that Logan and Tom would be collaborating on bringing together a deal that the Roy children don’t want?
Well, I kind of knew that was going to happen. I was the one person who knew about that all the way through — I had been informed. Normally, I don’t want to know about the scripts. But I was informed that was the trajectory we were going to go down. It was a little different from what they suggested, but it actually did come true.
Unfortunately, we had to lose some really wonderful, beautiful stuff because of time, because of edit and writers’ decisions and directors’ decisions. There was a brilliant scene with Peter Friedman [who plays Frank Vernon] where he tells Roman what’s what. And, for me, Kieran’s work has been so excellent this season and his relationship to the father is so crucial. He screwed up with the dick pics, but he’s been included all the way down the line because he’s smart and because he’s grown up quite a bit. And so there was a thing where Peter Friedman kind of turned on him toward the end, so [it was a] double whammy. Because he’s the one who brings up love [with Logan], which of course is a root of great pain. It’s a root of great pain to Kieran’s character, but it’s also a root of great pain to Logan because the one thing he doesn’t get from his children is love. He gets avarice, he gets something else, but he doesn’t get a lot of love. Mind you, there is probably an argument that he doesn’t deserve love, but that’s a different thing. Even so, people cannot exist by being in a dry situation, they need something that motivates them. And in a sense, Logan has understood really what is best for the firm and that’s what he’s following, and all the major people like Karl [David Rasche], Frank and Gerri [J. Smith-Cameron], they all fall into that.
So it’s fascinating — just fascinating — what they have to choose because they have so much material. I think they could have gone to an hour and a half with that show, but they had to edit it. And they might have even got a 10th episode, I don’t know. There was certainly a lot of material that we sadly lost. I’m glad that we kept all that wonderful stuff of Connor’s [Alan Ruck] about being the eldest son; I thought that was fantastic and very important because of the perspective and the selfishness of the three of them, and the fact that they only think of themselves. I mean, I can’t complain about the writing, it’s first-class. It’s a fantastic thing to be part of. I haven’t been part of anything like this in years, apart from working with David Milch, [and] I’ve never had anything that’s remotely at that level of high expectation.
If Waystar Royco were bought by GoJo, Logan would get a prestige position but would surrender control of the company for a major payday. Is Logan really ready for that given everything we know about him?
We’ll have to see what happens. I think there’s always life in Logan that comes up. [The Roy siblings] write Logan off from time to time; they always put impediments in his way, “Oh, he’s got an UTI; oh, he’s hurt his leg.” They’re always trying to scupper him in some way — the writers are as well — but Logan is a force of nature. He just keeps on going. And he’s a man of incredible reserve. He’s an extraordinary survivor — he has been all his life — and so I would not guarantee anything on that front, quite frankly.
Given that the episode doesn’t dive too much into the aftermath of Roman’s dick pic being accidentally sent to Logan, how do you think that actually affected Logan’s view of Roman? Did he decide Roman has “a problem” and therefore can’t assume a leadership role in the company, as Shiv suggests to Roman in the episode?
No, that’s Shiv’s view. That’s not Logan’s view. He also knows that Roman is young, he knows that Roman is talented, he knows that Roman was the guy who really solved that whole thing with the foreign money in the last episode of series two — which was really quite something and a coup. Roman has done so much good because he’s so smart, but the problem is he’s got this potty mouth which just gets in the way. Of course, his father is very brusque with him and quite rightly so, as you are with a child that keeps committing the same offense — you say, “Stop all that.” But he knows, and that’s why it’s sad for Logan in the end: He wants some kind of support from Roman, and he doesn’t get it because Roman has been overawed by his sister and his brother. It’s a very telling subject, that whole area of Roman. Because I do think Roman has tremendous potential, and his father acknowledges that privately. I don’t think he’ll give him enough fulsome praise for it, but he’s watched Roman develop throughout the show and in quite an extraordinary way, but he does have this problem — this potty mouth, this sexual thing — and it’s kind of, for his dad, worrying because it shows this streak of toilet immaturity.
Is Logan really planning to have another kid? Or was Connor just messing with his siblings?
I think there may be an element of that that’s true if we take it historically — if we look at examples of that, guys in late life having children. I think that there is probably an element of truth in it. But it’s not a road I want to go down because it’s still ambiguous. I think it’s pretty ambiguous, but there’s room for a certain truth in it and there’s also room for the fact that it’s just him trying to be healthy.
At the end of this episode, Kendall still has a secret in his back pocket in that he played a role in a waiter’s death and Logan helped cover it up. Logan’s a smart guy: Is he betting that Kendall won’t go public with that story, or do you think he will be planning for that?
You have to plan for all eventualities. One of the great things about our show is that we set up a lot of suppositions for the audience — and that’s partly to do with the teasing of the show. We give them, “Just suppose this,” and they go, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right, let’s go down that road.” It’s a way of deflecting the audience, and that’s what we have to do. We’ve got to constantly deflect them so that there’s nothing that’s predictable and yet it seems predictable, but it’s always going to go a different way.
One of the great things that always amuses me is that scene in episode eight where Logan is meeting Kendall at the house and Kendall points to his dinner, and [Logan] gets the boy [Kendall’s son] in to test the dinner. Now everybody thinks, “Oh my God, that’s so cruel of Logan,” but Logan knows fully well he’s not going to poison his grandson. If you look at the scene again, you see that Jeremy [Strong, playing Kendall] says, “That’s for him,” and [Logan] goes, “Oh, I see, he’s trying to put the wind up me. I can understand that, what he’s trying to do.” He just knows that it’s a typical Kendall act that Kendall does, it’s a habitué thing where he pulls a little stunt. He does this thing and Logan is supposed to rise to it, and he rises to it in a way that seems very, very brutal, but he’s got no intention of poisoning his grandson. That’s the audience’s supposition, and that’s what we have to play with all the time: The audience has these suppositions, and usually it helps to propel the show on a forward momentum. But, at the same time, it propels the show in such a way where, “Oh, you think you believe that, do you? Well, you’ll find out in four episodes that that’s all nonsense.”
The notion of Logan, Tom and Greg working together in the next season and the three of them taking on the others feels like it has a lot of material to mine, comedy-wise. What are you looking forward to playing next season on the comedy front?
Just more of it, really, bring it on. Even this season, when I met Jesse just before the lockdown and he said, “You want to know what’s happening?” I said, “I don’t know if I do want to know what’s happening, because I like to be in a state of ignorance.” He did actually say, “What about this notion?” and then he told me the possibility of what was going to happen. But I’m very happy being in the dark. I actually quite like that situation. I quite like not knowing so therefore I can keep my own creative mind working as to what if this or that, so I’ve always got those choices I can make so it doesn’t become predictable.
Now that Logan has done a bait-and-switch with all his children about taking over the company, except for Connor, and now that three of them have ganged up to stop him, what do you think his relationship with his children will look like from here on in?
It’s hard to say because, in a way, Logan’s not getting any [younger], he’s not going to be around for that much longer, so in a sense they’re coming to a hiatus of some kind or other. With the kids, of course you’re hoping that there’s going to be some kind of rapprochement, some coming together. But of course dealing with this family, you’re [at a loss] as far as guessing what that’s going to be. So in a way, you have to take each moment as it comes and how the kids are going to deal with it. It’s hard to tell what Kendall is: Is Kendall heroic, or is he just a permanent moaner, full of self-pity? There is that element which of course makes the audience go, “Oh, poor Kendall. Oh, we do worry about him; it’s so sad and terrible, what’s happening to him.” But you go, “Yeah, but, come on.” There’s no smoke without a particular kind of fire. So in a sense, all of that is yet to fall into the mix. The thing is, the kids don’t admit to it, but they are adoring of their father. You’ll see that’s the big bug there, that they’re always seeking Daddy’s approval in some way or another — and of course they’re not getting it. And certainly with the treachery that’s happened, they won’t get it. So they’re going to have to have to find something else or find a proper release instead of a specious and spurious one.
Do you know anything yet about the next season?
Absolutely not and I don’t particularly want [to]. I’ve got a life to lead before then.
Not even around when production might take place?
Well, no, I don’t know. We’re in the hands of so many things, with COVID going on. It’s now gone into its second year, we don’t know where we are with all that, so there’s that to be dealt with. And then, is this going to be our last season? Or is there going to be another season? There’s all that to be dealt with as well. So in a sense, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” [from Thomas Gray’s poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect at Eton College”].
It was revealed this morning you were just nominated for a Golden Globe for your work on Succession and the series got five nods. How do you feel about that honor this year given the controversy around the HFPA?
Well, I mean, I got a Golden Globe last year and I’m very honored by it. I think there’s a lot of criticism of the Golden Globes press, but believe you me, the Golden Globes, they’ve changed so much in the past 20 years. They are beyond what they used to be 20 years ago — it was a pretty moribund organization. I find it extraordinary because I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but certainly there’s a hell of a lot of amazing female journalists on the Golden Globes which were not present before. There’s some really good women there and they’re doing a great job, so I felt very sorry for them that there was this attack on the organization. But then again, I don’t know the depth of it. So I’m a bit in the dark about that. But if you’re honored, you’ve got to respond by saying “thank you,” rather than go, “Oh yeah, you honored me, now fuck off.” I think that would be absolutely the wrong thing to do, and I wouldn’t do that anyway. We always have this ambiguous thing about awards anyway; we always feel, “Is it about awards?” It’s about the work. But of course, you get nominated for something and you think, “Oh, am I going to win?” Christ, I don’t want to go down that road, please, I just want to do my work. That’s why I want to keep working. You know, I’ve done three films since I finished Succession, I just like to keep working as a working actor rather than as though my life depended on Succession. There’s so much mythology about work. You just have to keep going, go on, move, keep moving, not standing still.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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