From show creator Jesse Armstrong, the HBO drama series Succession, which recently finished its second season and will be returning for a third season, follows the ultra-wealthy Roy family, headed by patriarch Logan (Brian Cox), as they struggle to maintain control of their empire. While the future looks increasingly uncertain and the past threatens to destroy them, the Roy children — Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) — are endlessly fighting to carve out their own legacy.
Being part of the family without actually being a Roy means an even bigger challenge to figure out where you fit in, and nobody knows that better than Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). Collider recently got on the phone to chat 1-on-1 with actor Nicholas Braun about what initially attracted him to Succession, the evolution of his character, the undeniably fascinating dynamic between Greg and Shiv’s husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), how Greg operates best when his back is against the wall, and how excited he is about future possibilities for Cousin Greg. He also talked about his role in the upcoming film Zola, about a stripper on a wild road trip to Florida that was documented on a Twitter thread.
NICHOLAS BRAUN: Yeah, it’s fun to see how far they’ll really go, isn’t it? They’re a wild bunch. I’m endeared to all of them now, just from where I stand in the family, so I don’t have that thing that maybe an audience member has towards them.
Well, congratulations on the success of the show and on the Season 3 pick-up. I’m thrilled that we’re going to get to keep watching all of these shenanigans for awhile longer. When this project originally came your way, how was it pitched? Were you told exactly how this family would be and how your character would fit in with them, and from that, could you ever have imagined where they’d be now?
BRAUN: No. When I was sent the project, I just had the pilot, so I knew certain qualities of these characters. Like I knew that Roman does what he does on the baseball field, where he writes that check and rips it up in front of the kid, and I saw Tom’s desperation to be included, and I saw my own stuff, that I’m a little bit of a liar and I have some ambition and I’m clearly determined to be included. They created nice skeletons for all of the characters, but I think the best part about (show creator) Jesse [Armstrong] and this writers’ room is that they keep thinking about the actors with the characters, and then take the characters in strange directions, and give them weird challenges and obstacles. And the more we go on, the more that they understand the sweet spot and what we should explore. So, I didn’t have any idea, really, of what this show would turn into, even while we were working on the first season. You don’t know what’s gonna stay and what’s gonna go, and then, finally, you watch it and realize that they balanced some of that really funny stuff amongst the heavier dramatic stuff. Jesse and (director/executive producer) Mark Mylod really crafted something that felt like it included all of the tones. Season 2 felt like we really knew more of what we are, and we hit the ground running.
Your most memorable moments on the show are undeniably the ones that you share with Matthew Macfadyen. There’s just something fascinating about watching the two of those characters together, especially with how horrible Tom can be to Greg sometimes. Adam McKay has talked about how he didn’t see that dynamic coming, but when did you start to feel that dynamic happening on set?
BRAUN: I remember my first moment with Matthew, and he had this watch that he was bringing to Logan’s party, and we shared a look. I don’t even know if it made it into the show, in the pilot, but on that day, we kept finding each other and seeing ourselves in each other. And so, by the time we shot the baseball field scene, where he’s like, “What would you do, if I asked you to kiss me right now?,” and there was some kind of energetic understanding between Tom and Greg, and between Matthew and I. We both make each other laugh. He’s just so funny. So, early on, we knew. And then, they gave us the scenes in the hospital together, in Episode 2, where Tom was trying to make himself so important to me and trying to impose his will on me and trying to show me that he’s above me in the hierarchy. That stuff felt really funny and really awful for Greg to experience and they were like, “Let’s ride that stuff ‘cause it’s torture for Greg, so why not haze this kid going into this world.” It’s been so fun, watching where that goes. Every scene that I get to do with Matthew is just a blast and really uncomfortable.
It’s such an oddly undefinable relationship. You can’t really call it a bromance because he is so mean to him. It’s more of an odd frenemy dynamic.
BRAUN: Yeah. We have a few moments, where he’ll celebrate me, or give me a pat on the shoulder, or like when I tell him that I’ve still got the documents and he’s like, “Are you trying to blackmail me?” That moment has so much pride and so much love, at least from him to me. I think Tom really needs a friend sometimes and then is proud that he’s my father figure and is being a good mentor because that gives him value. We have these sweet moments that are such a nice pressure release on the tension that he and I usually have together. But we’ve been through a lot – Greg and Tom – so at this point, it feels like a solid long-term bromance.
Greg doesn’t seem like someone who, at least at this point, would go full Roy. He doesn’t seem like he would be the one to knock out the rest of the family, whether literally or figuratively. Do you think he’s just biding his time and waiting for them to pick each other off, or do you think he is capable of fully joining the dark side?
BRAUN: I believe that, if Greg has been put into certain opportunities for certain positions, he’s going to be capable because he knows that he has to be. Greg operates well, when his back is up against the wall. If that happens, and he has to step on someone, I feel like he is capable of doing that. I don’t know why. That’s just a gut feeling. He’s getting more jaded, and he’s got a lot that could be held against him, at this point. You get deeper into these circles, and it feels good, on one hand, to be included more deeply, like when Logan invites me to watch the 60 Minutes special on the whistleblower guy, that feels good to Greg. And he denied his grandfather for this group, and that feels bad, but he’s committing to this crew. Part of it feels good, but the more you go in, then the more accountable you are, for doing this bad stuff, and the more jaded you get. So, Greg is really being spun in, deeper and deeper.
What have you grown to appreciate about him, the longer you’ve played him and the more you gotten to know about him? Are there things about him that you’ve started to appreciate that you didn’t necessarily realize were there, in the beginning?
BRAUN: Yeah. He’s growing up, he’s taking himself a bit more seriously, he’s finding his voice more amongst this group, and he’s less intimidated by them all. I started to feel, in Episodes 8, 9, and 10, that some sort of strength was growing inside of Greg. We shot more of the hearing and the experience of doing the hearing. As an actor, I felt like Greg is not afraid of the moment and he’s going to go for it. He does totally fumble his way [through it], and he tries to speak really eloquently. That backfires in the finale but he wasn’t afraid of the spotlight moment and trying to make himself clean there, even though it didn’t go well.
Have you started to have any conversations yet about possibilities for Season 3 and for what comes next for Cousin Greg? Have you thought about what you would like to see for him?
BRAUN: No, I haven’t. I really believe the writers know the best route for Greg. Alongside Jesse, there are certain things that we’re trying to grow in Greg, but as far as storylines, I’m always just excited to see where they go with it. It’s just an amazing direction that they’ve decided to take all of these characters in, so I’m leaving it to them.
You also did Zola, which sounds like a wild way to inspire a movie. Who would have ever thought that you could do a movie based on a viral Twitter thread? What was your reaction to the script, when you read it?
BRAUN: That was definitely the first time that I’ve been sent something that is a script based on tweets. That’s why it was surprising. When I read the script, I was like, “Oh yeah, this totally is a movie.” It’s very well told, and it flushes out the 148 tweets, in its own way. It’s a wild movie. It’s so trippy, and so gross and grimy and sweaty. It’s awful, what these girls have to endure, and my character goes through a lot of heartache. I loved the part. He’s a very clingy, obsessed boyfriend, with a girl who strips and occasionally prostitutes, and he’s desperate for her to just strip, which is just amazing. He’s totally fine with her continuing to get naked for other men, but he doesn’t want her to do anything else. It’s a weird world and, but it’s also a world that exists. I think the movie is gonna be dope, and I can’t wait to see it. I haven’t seen the final product, but we loved making it in Tampa, and I think it’s gonna be cool.
It’s like the modern version of basing a movie off of a newspaper article, by basing it off of a Twitter thread.
BRAUN: There are a lot of good, funny, smart writers that are writing tweets, so it feels right, but it’s definitely unique. I’m open to it. Wherever anything comes from, as long as it’s a special piece of material, that works for me.
Do you know what you’re going to do next?
BRAUN: I’m working on a play, but for now, we’re just trying to get it off the ground, so I shouldn’t talk about that. And I have these two projects that I’m really excited about, that are just awesome, but I can’t talk about those either yet, just ‘cause they’re not finalized. But I have Season 3 of Succession in April, I think. The other stuff would probably happen after Season 3. I’m not sure if I’m gonna do anything before we go back.
I’m so excited to see what happens to the Roy family next, in Season 3!
BRAUN: It’s fun to hear the theories and how people interpret different things. People were like, “What does Logan’s smile mean?” All of that stuff is so fun to dissect, so I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I can’t wait to get back and make more.
Succession airs on HBO and will return for Season 3.