During his recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Kieran Culkin revealed that he was almost cast as cousin Greg instead of Roman Roy. “They wanted me to read for cousin Greg, which I just didn’t feel right for. They asked me to read for Greg and I knew I was wrong, and normally in any other script, I would be like ‘OK, I’m not right for the part. I’m going to close it, I’m not going to continue reading on’,” he said.
However, he really loved the script and read on until he found the role that spoke to him. “I thought, ‘Well I kind of like this guy. I like the way he talks. I can do that’,” Kieran Culkin recalled when he came across Roman. “Succession” season 3 debuted last month and it deals with the aftermath of Kendall’s press conference that threatens to shatter the Roy family and their empire.
1) How did we leave Roman at the end of the last season?
“It’s a bit complicated for Roman. I think there’s maybe a not-so-healthy dose of competitiveness within the siblings, and Roman is quite a good competitor. I think he wants to win – and not just win but crush his siblings. And at the end of the last season, when he saw what was supposed to happen to Kendall in that he was supposed to take the fall, he thought that also could have been a nice opportunity for Roman in that he gets a promotion. But equally, while Roman wanted to crush Kendall, he didn’t really want to see him crushed to that extent. So Roman couldn’t really enjoy the moment. It’s a tough call. He’s in a good position going forward in terms of the company, and it’s what he’s been angling for. But when Kendall did the thing he did to their father, which was very shocking, I think Roman would take the position that that was bad. But in a way it’s probably exciting because the enemy is back, and Roman can continue fighting.”
2) How would you describe Roman’s state of mind at the start of the third season?
“Combat, I guess. There’s a picking-sides thing going on, but at least from the start it’s pretty clear what side Roman is on. It’s competition and Roman is good at that – that’s his comfy zone. Having feelings of sadness for Kendall is not a nice comfort zone for him. But now: ‘Oh good, Kendall’s the bad guy – I can fight with that. That’s a nice feeling. We’re back!’”
3) Roman has had a profusion of particularly choice lines in the show, brilliant examples of the brilliant language of “Succession”. But as well as finely calibrated scripts, the actors are given the chance to riff and improvise as well. How rewarding, but also challenging, is it to have both great lines but also some improvisatory freedom?
“It’s good, because it is free. I know that the written word is great, and it works, and we do it, and that’s the show. But then being allowed to play and explore is great. For me, being allowed to do freebie lines and improv is more useful for me to inform what the characters are doing, how they’re interacting, in between scenes. It fills in the gaps for me. Most of the stuff that we are improvising or playing with very clearly is not going to make it into the show. But being able to stay in character and perform still on the camera just helps fill those gaps. And it is for free. And sometimes I’ll ask one of our directors: “Did we get it? OK, we got it, it’s in the show – I can play now.” It’s like: I know that the scene is good. Now I have the freedom to fail, because it just doesn’t matter. The show has been filmed, now you’re just going to film me doing some crap that isn’t going to make it!”
4) By this stage of the show, do you have more of a Roman – or more of a Jesse Armstrong – brain? That is: you can come up with your own lines that you know is in the wheelhouse of what the writers like.
“Yeah, I suppose. To me it feels almost like my competitive nature comes in sometimes. I’ll get a page of different ways that this joke could work, and you can tell that it’s the writers in the room competing, throwing in their funny lines. I see that and I’m like, I want to play too – I want to throw in my stuff. Yeah, absolutely fun. So, yeah, three seasons in, I have a pretty good sense of how Roman speaks. And I feel like all the writers have that sense as well. It’s hard for me to be particular about which writer, because I don’t know which writer writes what thing. But it’s great when I get a script and I’m like: “God, this is really nice, they get it! The way Roman speaks is great!””
5) The Hollywood Reporter describes Gerri as “a strange hybrid of mother figure and psychosexual foil to the deeply damaged Roman” – fair comment?
“Ha ha ha! That’s a pretty good assessment there, I got to say! I don’t know how to elaborate on that one.”
6) How are those scenes to film with J. Smith-Cameron?
“I love working with J. She’s one of my favourites ever to work with. We were friends for years before we started doing this. And just to have that bond and respect with someone is really helpful – she’s incredibly talented, and I’ve seen her work on stage a lot and she’s always just fantastic. So knowing I have a scene partner that I can trust, that’s a friend, who’s also incredibly talented, and likes to play, is just fantastic.”
7) You starred in her husband Kenneth Lonergan’s play “This Is Our Youth” on Broadway with Michael Cera and Tavi Gevinson in 2014. Is having that theatrical connection helpful?
“Yeah, I think so. I’m always open to a scene partner who wants to play. And especially in this show there’s room to just throw stuff at your scene partner and play, but it’s nice going in that I already know it’s a safe zone, that we like each other and that we make each other laugh. It’s nice to have that history.”
8) What’s it like being on the end of, or even in the vicinity of, Brian-as-Logan’s volcanic rage?
“God he’s fantastic! And when there are these outbursts that Logan has, I don’t have to make any effort to come up with some kind of reaction or wonder what Roman thinks of it. It’s just dad shouting! He can be quite an intimidating presence…”
9) Roman has a thing where he enters a room and never just sits down. He’s hanging off the bannister, or looking out the window, or perched on the arm of the chair. What is it about the character that he has prowling physicality?
“I don’t know, I try not to analyse it. I could probably give some clever answer here to make myself sound smart. But I try not to put words to just yet because we’re still doing it. I don’t know what the hell that is. But maybe when the show is over I can start figuring it out and talking about why he has that energy.”
10) Is that you, or is that in the script?
“The physicality is us, I think. It’s not usually written, or there’s not too much direction. There’s a lot of freedom when it comes to the blocking of scenes. I don’t really prepare where I’m gonna sit or stand, or any of that stuff, because I don’t know what the room looks like yet, or what the other actors are doing. And it’s funny – we have very limited time to rehearse ‘cause there’s so much to cram into a day. We walk in, you kinda just rehearse it once, speak up if there’s a problem and then it’s “OK, get the cameras up,” then we shoot it. It just happens so fast. So you’re stuck with going with your first instincts a lot of the time. But there isn’t usually “Roman sits” or anything like that written in the script. Occasionally, if there’s a very, very big scene with 14 or 15 of us, the director will be like, “here’s where I think you guys are, you guys are all seated here, Roman and Shiv are in this section of the room,” so they can block it out in order to make the day work and make the scene happen.
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.