From show creator Jesse Armstrong, the HBO drama series Succession (already picked up for a third season) follows the ultra-wealthy Roy family, headed by patriarch Logan (magnificently played by 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.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Alan Ruck (who plays the son who doesn’t want to be a part of the family business) talked about why playing this character on this show was appealing to him, telling a story where there really isn’t anyone to root for, shooting that incredible dinner table sequence in Episode 205, how he views his character, that Connor is not prepared for a presidential run, the relationship with Willa (Justine Lupe), and what Connor thinks of his siblings.
Collider: First of all, congratulations on the Season 3 pick-up! I have never liked and enjoyed watching such an unlikable group of people so much in my life, so I’m glad that I’ll get more time to watch their horrendous behavior.
ALAN RUCK: Then, we’ve done our job. Everything’s going according to plan.
The Roy family is basically terrible and awful, and I couldn’t imagine ever having to spend time with them, but they’re delightfully fun to watch. What was it that originally drew you to this project and made you want to play this guy, in this family?
RUCK: Truthfully, I’m not at the level where I get to pick and choose. I do decide to do things, or not do things, but I still audition for things. I almost missed this audition because I was working on another show in Chicago and my wife (actress Mireille Enos) was being single mom a lot. I came home for the weekend, and she wanted me to take our little boy to mommy and me music class, and I said, “You bet. I’m there.” And then, my manager called up on Monday morning and said, “Listen, I’ve got this HBO thing for you to audition for.” And I said, “Honey, it’s HBO,” and she started to cry. So then, I said, “I can’t do it,” and I took our little boy to music class. And then, when I got out, there were about seven messages on my phone that said, “Go to Adam McKay’s house.” So, I went and I had an off-the-cuff audition for Adam in his home, and then they cast me, later that day. Most of my life has not been about picking and choosing. It’s been about happy accidents. But I’ve been waiting for 30 years for a show like this because it’s no fun to play the nice guy, or the best friend who has problems, or the sensitive guy in a western. I’ve done all of that stuff. It’s just really fun to play people who are sociopaths that have no checks on their appetites, and who really don’t understand or care about the world around them. They pursue what they want and they brush everything away that might be in their path, and that’s fun. They’re monsters.
It’s so interesting because the entire family is like that, so there really is nobody to provide any checks on their behavior.
RUCK: Even Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who came from a Midwestern, privileged backgrounds and his parents are lawyers, certainly didn’t have an upper class upbringing. At one time, maybe had some sort of moral compass, but he quickly lost that. There is no one to look to say, “That’s not how grown-ups behave.” There’s no one. The Roys don’t allow people like that into their circle. Nobody is allowed in to disrupt their diseased flow.
When you started doing this show, were reading these scripts, and learned more about what this would all be, what were your initial impressions of this family, and how has that changed or evolved, over the course of doing these seasons?
RUCK: I think it was apparent pretty quickly that they’re all insane. I know that’s a broad stroke, to paint these people with, “Oh, they’re crazy,” but they are, in different ways. Connor is clearly suffering from delusional disorder. Shiv (Sarah Snook) is just like the old man. She’s a sociopath. She’s charming, she’s beautiful, and she’s smarter than anybody else in the room, but if you were in her way, she’d slit your throat and say, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t personal, it was just business.” They have a very stilted way of looking at the world. I think this has been true since the beginning of time, but the ruling class has always looked upon other human beings who are not of their class as just another natural resource to be utilized and managed, and sometimes exploited, but mostly to be kept in their place. The Roys are all about that. If anything, my feelings about these people has just strengthened. I don’t know that I’ve changed the way I feel about them. It’s just grown stronger.
In the very first episode, when Roman taunts the little boy and says, “I’ll give you a million bucks, if you can hit a home run,” and then the little boy fails, and Roman tears the check up up into four pieces and it gives him a corner and says, “Here you go, it’s a quarter of a million bucks,” that sums up what this family is about, in a little crystal nutshell. That’s who these people are. So, I don’t think that my feelings have changed. They’ve just deepened. What’s really fun is that we have these despicable people who have no redeeming qualities, but they’re all played by lovely human beings, which isn’t always the case. I’ve been around a long time, and usually there’s one person where you’re like, “Wow, this would be a great show, if it wasn’t for them.” But everybody in this show is all about the work. Everybody brings their A-game and it’s just a pleasure to go to work. And since everybody’s doing their best, it’s a challenge and it’s a really exciting way to work.
It’s funny, last season, a lot of people were complaining that there was no one to root for. As an audience member, I’ve personally never had that problem with any show. If they’re all bastards, so be it, as long as they’re interesting or funny. I don’t need to identify with anybody. But then, this season, all of the reviews were glowing and very positive, except for one guy who claimed that we were making these people too likable. I actually think that’s just the charisma of some of the actors that we have. If you have Sarah Snook playing Shiv, she’s seductive. She’s an attractive person. If you have Kieran Culkin playing Roman, this horrible fratboy on steroids, you can be seduced because Kieran is a very charming, witty guy. I think some of that is going on now. Since I’ve grown to know my castmates and love them, I’ve been seduced a little bit, as well.
That insane scene at the dinner table in Episode 205 was incredible to watch. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to shoot that, with so many people. How long did it take to shoot that whole sequence at the dinner table with the Pierce family, and what was that experience like?
RUCK: I haven’t actually watched any of the season yet, but as I recall, it took two solid days, morning to night, to do that dinner scene. What was wonderful was that we had all of these great theater actors from New York, and it needed that energy. Everybody was on their toes and alive in the scene, and ready to pick up their cues. The way we shoot, the cameras roam around, so you never actually know when you’re going to be on camera and you always have to stay in it. Among others, we had Cherry Jones and Holly Hunter and Mark Linn-Baker, who’s an old friend of mine, and all of these wonderful actors from New York, who are just terrific people. That was just another gift. The most remarkable thing about that sequence was how well the props department did. They knocked themselves out because every time we reset the food on the plate, it had to look exactly like it looked, at the beginning of the previous take. They have photographic memories and everything was perfect. It takes so many people, with all of these different skill sets, to get something made, and that was an instance where the props department really shined.
I loved that whole episode because we don’t often get to see the Roy family interact with another family, especially when it’s one that’s like them. It was fascinating to learn more about who they are from watching them interact with their counterpart from this other family.
RUCK: We take our orders from pop, and if he tells us to kiss the liberals’ asses, then that’s what we do. It was funny because it was a little tense. Everything about this job is a joy. Even when you do the same scene 20 times and you shoot until two in the morning, this whole thing is a gift. The writing is so great. That just doesn’t happen that often. At least, it hasn’t happened to me.
Have you already started to have conversations about where things could go in Season 3, and are there things that you’d still like to learn about or dig deeper into, with this character?
RUCK: The truth is, definitely Brian [Cox] and perhaps Jeremy [Strong], just because he’s doggedly determined to find out everything that he can find out, maybe have some sense of where things are going, but the rest of us do not. We get our scripts at two in the morning, the day before you read through it. (Show creator) Jesse [Armstrong] and the gang are so talented. They’re really committed and they just cannot leave it alone until it’s perfect. We only have hints of what might happen. Jesse’s been hinting that there is going to be a presidential run for Connor, but we’ll see how it pans out because it has to mesh with everything else that we’re doing. Connor is a mess. They all are, but Connor, in some ways, is more lost than others. We’re talking about a man who hasn’t worked a day in his life. We’re talking about a guy in his 50s, who’s never worked a day in his life. He’s just lived off of a trust fund. He’s dabbled in different things, none of which have panned out, and he’s not needed anywhere, by anyone. So, this grandiose stab at a very public position, like everything else that all of the kids do, is just to win the approval, the love and affection of the old man, or just the respect or an affirming nod, or anything. It’s all done to impress Logan. That’s where we all are. So, we’ll see what Jesse has store. As of right now, it’s a secret. I don’t know. But wherever Jesse takes me, I’ll be happy to go.
Do you feel like Connor is even remotely prepared or ready for what a presidential would actually be like?
RUCK: No. But as we’ve seen, sadly, in our national experience, you can have a person who is obscenely wealthy, who is grossly under-qualified, and who suffers from psycho-emotional challenges ascend to the highest office in the land. I think Connor might have something in common with Trump, in that, when things don’t go his way, Connor will probably just throw some tantrums and walk away and leave other people to clean up the mess. He just wants to win. Connor desperately wants to win. He wants to do something that will make his father say, “Wow, that was really impressive,” and of course, he’s never gonna get it. That’s never gonna come out of Logan’s mouth, but that’s what he wants. Connor has no idea what regular people go through. He has no idea how the world works, and he has no sense of economics or diplomacy. He’s got nothing. He reads a lot, but his brain is a cluttered library, where things are all scattered across the floor. His brain is just a mixed up box of Trivial Pursuit.
What do you think it is that would make him happy, and does he really even actually know what happiness is?
RUCK: No, I don’t think so. Just with Willa, here’s a guy who never learned how to go on a date because he didn’t have to. Then, he met this young woman and it was perfect. He was like, “I need to girlfriend, and you need money. This is perfect. This is a match made in heaven.” He’s very fond of Willa, and I think he would be lost without her, so I do think that Connor could be more unhappy than he is now. Beyond winning his father’s approval, he doesn’t have much of an agenda. This is a guy who suffered from ADHD, and some other things, when he was a kid. What happens in these dynastic families sometimes is that children who aren’t perfect, aren’t talked about. If the children don’t bring further glory to the family brand, then it’s viewed as a detriment. Connor has suffered for a long time, being on the outside with his nose pressed against the glass, wanting to get back in.
Because it is such an interesting dynamic, how do you view the relationship between Connor and Willa?
RUCK: It’s great. I mean, especially with Justine [Lupe]. She’s a great actress, and a great comedienne. Connor doesn’t know what love is. I don’t think he got much from dad, and the little hints that we’ve had about mom was that she had some mental challenges, so I don’t think it was a very happy childhood. I think it was awash with privilege, but there wasn’t much love. Now, he has this beautiful girl who’s willing to spend her life with him, and he thinks that’s what love is. He’s a broken guy. He’s held together with chewing gum. He could fall apart at any minute. I don’t think he’s very stable.
He definitely seems like, maybe if he’d just had a hug, his life might have been a little different.
RUCK: Yeah. The backstory that we came up with was that his mother was some New York socialite, old family person. And then, along came his father, who was this brash young upstart that was making money, hand over fist, so financially it looked like a good marriage, but it was just a marriage for him to gain some visibility and for them to increase their wealth. I don’t think there was any affection there. It was a business deal. And then, the old man divorced his mother when he was about eight years old. He was still really little, but old enough to know that his father is a commanding person, and that doors open when he walks near them and people bow down. Connor had the sense that his dad was a king, and he was a little prince. And then, all of a sudden, that was gone, and he was stuck living with his mother, who was suffering from whatever problems she had and was really unavailable. They’re all damaged, in one way or another. And then, there’s the golden trio’s mother, Caroline, who’s the original dragon lady, so nobody had an easy time. Nobody had a really lovely childhood.
Would you say that there’s a family member that Connor feels closest to or that he respects the most, or does he not feel that way about his own family?
RUCK: I actually think Connor loves them all like crazy. He needs them all like crazy, and he desperately wants them to love him back. Every now and then, there’s a moment between one of them where Connor says, “How you doin’?,” or “I’m worried about you,” or whatever, and I think that’s real. He’s fond of all of them. He’s in love with his father and he adores his siblings, and he wishes that they could just make some time.
Do you ever wonder how nobody in this family has either tried to kill their father, or that one of these kids hasn’t just gone insane and killed off the rest of the family? Do you ever wonder how they manage to keep it contained?
RUCK: Well, it is only Season 2. Who knows what can happen. As we’ve seen, Kendall is in a very dark place. I think anything could happen. The boys are really quite soft. Connor has his issues. Kendall is a mess. The truth is that Kendall was never, ever gonna be CEO ‘cause he doesn’t have the killer instinct. And I think Roman is gonna turn out to be more of a human being than we ever expected. The hunch I have about Roman is that he’s gonna surprise everybody and turn out to be a decent person, in spite of themselves. It’s funny, I know a lot of people think Shiv is the smartest one, which is true, and that she can stand up to the old man, which is true, and that she’s the hope because people want this to somehow have a happy ending, but she’s not it. She’s more ruthless than anybody. That’s why she actually could run the company. She’d do a great job at it ‘cause she’s exactly like their father.
Succession airs on Sunday nights on HBO.