Did you know that there are rules in “Succession”. The succession to inheriting Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is ultimately a game and the players are fairly obvious – Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin). Oh, not to forget eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck), although many would argue that he doesn’t qualify.
What will it take to succeed in Logan’s eyes? Before we get ahead of ourselves, Brian Cox talks about his character’s relationship with Kendall, working with Jesse Armstrong and the more challenging scenes to film during “Succession”.
1) How was it filming the final episode of season two, in which Logan Roy makes it clear that a blood sacrifice is required by the family?
“It was great. It was a great scene and it set up a wonderful thing about what was going to happen. And of course, all my expectations of what was going to happen – it’s not that they haven’t been met, but it was more surprising than I imagined. (The story) has gone on a route that only Jesse Armstrong could take it, a really interesting route. So this new series has been really quite surprising in its development. Jesse isn’t linear – he seems to be, but he’s not. He does the tangent but at the same time never losing the central focus. So that’s very exciting about it. And of course there’s lots of stuff happening – none of which I can reveal! But it is an amazing series.”
2) In the final shot on your face at the end of series two, Logan has this almost-smile playing on the corners of his mouth as he hears Kendall going public with his accusations about his father. Is that Logan saying “that’s my boy“?
“To a certain extent, yeah. Because we’d had the discussion (earlier) about how (Kendall) has to be a killer – he has to learn that. But he has to be a killer not at his own cost. He has to be a killer that kills and doesn’t get too involved. So I think that’s the difference. And therefore Logan is kind of proud in a way that Kendall has made the effort – good on him! But also, with his own character, it’s going to be difficult. Because fundamentally, he isn’t a killer – he’s assuming killing and he’s at it like anything. But at the end of the day, he’s Kendall Roy, he’s not Logan Roy.”
3) Jesse Armstrong runs a writing room full of writers who are constantly finessing the script, even as you’re shooting. And he also lets the actors try the lines in a variety of ways. As someone who’s done a lot of stage work and collaborated with theatrical companies, does that way of working appeal to you?
“Oh, I love the way Jesse works. He’s unique and just simply astonishing, just in terms of his grasp of the show. He worries if it’s too perfect! He doesn’t like perfection; he wants to mess it up! We did this scene the other day and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a bit too (perfect).’ And I said: ‘Well, it’s your fault, because you’re too good a writer! You’ve got to learn to accept the fact that you’re a wonderful writer, and you panic when you’ve got something that’s so (perfect).’ This scene was just so stunningly written by him.
But again, because he’s Jesse and he has the most incredible humility about his work, he kind of panicked! And I said: ‘Well, you’ve got to live with it, kid! I can talk like that because I’m 75 and you’re 50, and you’ve got to live with the fact that you’ve got talent. That’s your curse and your gift, so there you go! No, he’s just fantastic. And everything is always surprising. And it’s so human – he really does understand, and he doesn’t judge [the characters. It’s so easy to take this show and judge everything, and formulate it in certain ways. But he never does that. It’s always surprising. It’s always going in the route that you never expect. Just constant, constant surprise.”
4) In terms of working with HBO, what is it about them that makes them a good home for this kind of epic storytelling?
“I think HBO’s the best place to do this kind of thing. When you watch a show like “Game of Thrones” and you see how that developed and what a great show that was, and then “Mare of Easttown” – you realise: this is the HBO brand. The care is astonishing, right from the word go. A lot of that is to do with Casey Bloys. It’s undergone a lot of changes, with new management, Warner Bros, what have you. But when you’ve got the central core there, Richard Plepler’s legacy, it’s being very much held in check. And Casey’s done an amazing job. It’s a very good organisation. I’ve got no argument with any of it.”
5) You have a very active film career, too. What is it about this show, and this character, that makes you want to return, and to devote so much of your working life to it?
“For me the appeal of Logan is his mystery. We don’t know who he is. I’m still discovering who he is. It goes back to episode nine of the first series, they suddenly decided he was born in Dundee having said he was born in Quebec! I said: “What the hell’s going on?” Jesse’s response: “We thought it’d be a little surprise!” I said: “It’s a hell of a f**kin’ surprise – I’ve been playing this guy from Quebec for the last night episodes and suddenly I’m a Dundonian!” And he said “Oh, you left very early, it’s OK, before the War, they took you away to Canada when you were a kid!” But it was a bit of a shock. And that’s what’s really been interesting for me. Because he’s a Dundonian, and because I’m a Dundonian, I understand the diaspora. We were the people that lived in the land that time forgot for so long. I think it’s Hugh MacDiarmid who wrote this thing about Dundee where he basically wipes his hands of the place. Because they didn’t understand it, they didn’t understand what it was. And there’s the tragic side to Dundee as well, which is the whole heroin side, what’s been happening with the working class, and I just heard yesterday that the annual drug figures have gone up again.
But Dundee is this extraordinary city. There’s a whole Irish and Highland thing – my family all came in the 19th century to work in the mills. Only the women – the men weren’t wanted – they were known as kettle boilers. So, all these wee farmers came. Then they brought alcohol in. There was no such things as pubs in the country – there were bothies. And suddenly in the 1840s and 1850s there (were pubs). And of course they got all their money back from these drunken Irishman and Highlanders who didn’t know where they were! So that’s the interesting thing about Dundee – there’s a complicated history. And what I love about my hometown is the fact that there was no sectarianism. I grew up with Protestant boys – they were my pals. There wasn’t the thing that was going on in the West Coast. So Dundee was much more of a stewing pot in terms of people. And there was music like Michael Marra too…
So in a way it’s a great choice to make Logan come from Dundee, because he represents all that. And the thing that tickled me was that Logan was a journalist, and I kept thinking: he’s also a Catholic – so he must have lied in order to work for [famous Dundee publishers] DC Thomson. My brother couldn’t get a job for DC Thomson’s in the 1950s, even as a guy delivering newspapers in the van because he was a pape! No papes! You can’t say that about DC Thomson’s now, but that was their thing.”
6) So having this deep-seated understanding of Logan’s background, what he’s been through, and of his mettle, helps you do the world-building of his character?
“Absolutely. The Dundonian thing helped, although it confused me a little bit as I had to match my background against his. He had a much more bitter experience than mine – mine wasn’t too wonderful. I’ve written a memoir about my home and history… But Logan came up on a rack in some kind of way. He’s a very disappointed man. And in a way he’s got that Citizen Kane mystery about him. And that’s what you have to keep intact: Logan’s mystery. I’m too much of a blabbermouth, that’s my problem!”
7) Where do we find Logan at the start of series three?
“There’s a new challenge. There’s this usurping son who’s trying to prove himself and Logan knows the boy is in for a bruising, just because he’s such a complicated lad, young Kendall. And he’s such a lonely boy. There’s nothing Logan can do about that. But he loves him. The thing I asked Jesse right from the word go is: “Does he love his children?” And he said: “He absolutely loves his children.” So once you’ve established that, how much his children mean to him, and how disappointing it all becomes, that’s fodder for the whole show: at root, we never see it, he doesn’t express it, but he does love them. That’s where he’s coming from. ”
8) You wouldn’t say any of these people are hugely likeable. So why do we love a show peopled with so many thistly, thorny characters?
“Because I think it reminds us of who we are at rock bottom. It rings so many bells – and dark bells – for a lot of us. But that’s Jesse’s skill, that’s what Jesse does: he’s lured people into this show in an incredibly brilliant way. And people are caught. It’s like a fish – they’re on the hook. They’re on the “Succession” hook, and they can’t get off it. I understand that, because it’s that kind of show. And it’s packed with really great people, all the way down the line – not just the actors, but the wardrobe department, make-up department, camera crew – they’re all second to none. So our community is pretty bloody good, really. That’s the show.”
9) Similarly, it’s a show about the 1 per cent – or even the 0.1 per cent. And yet it’s relatable. How does it manage that?
“I think that’s because we all have ambition. Sometimes it’s thwarted. Sometimes we bury it. Sometimes we go for it. Sometimes we are ashamed of it. I think the nakedness of Succession is what catches people. Because it’s quite naked in that way – the language, the abuse… Even I sometimes go: “Do I really have to say that?” And they go: “Well, we can give you an alt (line)…” “OK, I’ll just say that…”
10) When you have to summon Logan’s volcanic anger, is it easy for you to do that, and then to shrug that off?
“Yeah. Deep down I’m quite angry! I just go into the well of anger and it’s there. It’s quite deep but I can go down there. You know, I have my own reasons for anger – which I’m not going to tell you about! But I can be quite angry, so that’s the easy part. We were doing this scene the other day, Mark Mylod getting every angle under the sun, and it was fine. I could do the emotional stuff. But the business stuff was suffering. I’ve got to have a business mentality, and I have to talk about all this business stuff. But I was getting gaga. I could still do all the rage. That was the easy bit. It was just being the businessman that was suffering. But we got there in the end.”
Catch new episodes of “Succession” season 3 on Monday at 9am exclusively on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411), with a same day encore at 10pm on HBO.