Everything has been leading up to this – the bloodbath between HBO’s most dysfunctional, despicable family as they fight to the bitter end for the CEO position. After 4 seasons worth of scheming, backstabbing, and WTF moments, the “Succession” finale is almost here. Given everything we’ve witness so far, it seems unlikely that the penultimate episode will be tied up in a neat bow.
So what does Kendall Roy’s endgame look like? In this interview, Jeremy Strong talks about the sibling rivalry in the award-winning series, his view on Kendall’s story arc, and some of the best moments he’s experienced throughout the years of filming. Scroll down to read:
Q: In the opening episode of the new series, we meet an ebullient Kendall. He, Shiv and Roman are “the new-gen Roys [and] we have a f**king song to sing”. What, for the siblings, is that song?
Jeremy Strong: I love what you said – I think Kendall is ebullient at the beginning of this season. We last saw him in the dirt, on the ground of a parking lot in Italy, blown into a million pieces. And so he’s put those pieces back together in whatever precarious way he’s able to. I think he’s been living in LA and driving around Mulholland, singing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and popping sunflower seeds. And he’s ready to find a new anthem to sing with his siblings.
I think the “new-gen Roys and [having] a song to sing” is about the triumvirate. It’s about the three of them together, in opposition to their father. In that counterpoint that they’ve always been in. And about how they’re going to make their mark in the world, individually and as a trio. Threesome.
Q: As Roman says in that scene: he’s the only one who wants to start a business for business reasons. Shiv is doing it to “f**k Tom”, Kendall to “f**k dad”. Why is Kendall still so gripped by this desire to, paraphrase Roman, f**k his dad?
Jeremy Strong: Well, I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think, as ever, Kendall’s motivation is complex. I think he sees a really good opportunity on the deal front, with acquiring Pierce media as a legacy media brand. He’s got the same nose as his father does. Part of what we see in this season, I think, is whether or not Kendall has Logan in his DNA. And whether or not he will become his father. That question has been hanging over the writing all four seasons.
But the Pierce acquisition, having that in Kendall’s laser sights, is something that makes sense to me on a business level. With the added bonus – and I think there’s a moment about it [in the episode] – that it’s pretty fucking funny to screw dad over his lifelong white whale obsession.
Q: You referenced the scene from the last episode of the last series, when Kendall breaks down out by the trash cans. You had that great line: “There’s something really wrong with me. I don’t know what the f**k is wrong with me?” What is, or was, wrong with Kendall?
[Pause] I don’t know. I think when he says I don’t know, I don’t know either. I mean: don’t we all sort of feel like that sometimes? [Laughs] Something is out of alignment with him, in his life. He has a Grand Canyon-size hole to fill, that he’s been trying to fill. First through addiction, and now through ambition. He thinks that if he becomes CEO, if he becomes the alpha, if he becomes the dominant person in this family drama, maybe that will do the trick. But with Kendall, we’ve seen him so desperately try to hold things together, and to cling to whatever positivity and buoyancy he might be able to cling to, like a life-raft.
If he lets go of that positivity, and self-belief, he’ll drown. Kendall is always straddling that razor-sharp line. So when he says there’s something wrong with me, part of it, of course, has to do with the accident, and the death of the boy in England, and the pain he’s been carrying around. But I would say there’s more wrong than that. And the feeling of unease, or dis-ease, is what they talk about in [recovery] programme, of course. That feeling that something is wrong, and something is out of joint.
Q: I wanted to ask you about that point. You have that other line in the first episode: “I’ve smoked horse and it’s really, really f**king nice.” The backbeat, or the throb, of being an addict is always there for Kendall. How did you, as an actor, go about building that aspect of his personality? What research were you able to do, I guess going back to the beginning of the show?
Yeah, it does go back to the beginning, doesn’t it? Of course I’d feel, as always, a tremendous obligation to try and understand whatever struggle the character is in, and whatever turmoil the character’s in, so that I can hopefully embody that in a real way. You can only do that approximately. There’s only so much you can understand if you yourself haven’t had the experience. And that’s whatever the mystery of acting is. That’s part of that mystery.
I set myself a lot of achievable tasks. I went to some meetings with friends of mine. I talked to a lot of people. I read a lot of memoirs about addiction. I just tried to understand it as best I could, in a visceral way. And then you load that into everything. That’s there in the substrate of everything you’re doing.But I think when Kendall says that, he needs… that thing – he’s a mountaineer. He needs an Eiger to climb. He needs some kind of high. He needs something to fill that void. That sort of howling void. And in this case, it’s The Hundred, this new project that is like – what do I say in the episode? – “Substack meets The Economist meets Masterclass meets The New Yorker”. Which both sounds great and is hilarious.
That becomes the new thing. And I think he approaches those things with a certain zealotry, and almost fanaticism, that one does when one needs that thing to stay on track and stay afloat. Because without it, you might fall apart.
Q: There’s been much discussion of your all-or-nothing commitment to this part. How did knowing this was the final series impact on the rigour which you approach Kendall for one last time?
It’s a really interesting question. But the honest answer is: “not at all”. On the one hand: I didn’t know if it would be the final season. We didn’t know until we were close to shooting the final episode. On the other hand: I also believed, and felt ready, for it to be done for my character. So I’ve always had that in my mind – because he also felt that way. There’s only so many more moves he has left.
We’ve seen Kendall essentially lose everything. We’ve seen him at the highest altitude, and at these summit moments. And we’ve seen him in the ninth circle of hell. And dramatically, an arc can only go so far [with] moments of incredible catharsis, and moments of incredible transformation, and road-to-Damascus moments along the way. So I felt not surprised when Jesse decided to call it.
I guess, when we filmed the final scene, and the last take of the final scene, I became acutely aware of what that meant, and the momentousness of it. Which, to be honest, has no place in a take. You can’t put that onus on anything. So it probably wasn’t the best take! But, yeah, no, the rigour is the same, no matter what.
Q: How satisfied are you with the conclusion of Kendall’s story over these final 10 episodes?
Very. Very satisfied. With Jesse Armstrong and these brilliant writers, every season we get to the end, I’ve had this sense of: how can we possibly go any further than that? How are these guys going to clear that bar? And then they do. This season felt like a double black diamond, again and again, to me. That we all had to go down in unison together.
One of the beautiful things about working on something for so long, is the ensemble that it creates. I had a lot to do with my siblings this year. And just the sheer flight time that we’ve had together allows us, as actors, to be present and trust each other, between action and cut, in a pretty profound way – that you don’t get when you just work on a single film or a single thing. And that was very exciting.
I still think how Jesse actually is going to end it, for my character, I don’t know. There’s some choices still to be made, and it’s up in the air. So I won’t know until you know.
Q: A tough one to end on: if push comes to shove, what’s been your favourite – or most memorable, tough, rewarding – scene to film over these 40 episodes and 40 hours?
I mean, it’s impossible really. But the scenes that I’ll carry with me for my whole life include the finale of season one, walking into the room with my father and Marcia. My mother’s kitchen. Going to the [deceased] boy’s house in Scotland, with my father. The boathouse with my siblings. The press conference. The birthday party gifts room. That dirt parking lot in Italy. The dinner table in Italy with my father.
It goes on and on. It’s really– I can’t– It’s incalculable to me, the size of this gift, as far as the writing and what it’s given me to go through as an actor.
Catch the final season of “Succession” only on HBO (Astro Ch 411) and HBO GO.