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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Hogan

Logan should be dead by now: 23 things you (probably) never knew about Succession

Definitely not Canadian … Brian Cox as Logan Roy.
Definitely not Canadian … Brian Cox as Logan Roy. Photograph: HBO

TV’s richest and most dysfunctional dynasty is back. The fourth and final season of Jesse Armstrong’s Succession sees battle-scarred mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) swagger back on to our screens, his billionaire brood squabbling in his wake. You’ll already know to expect boardroom battles, luxury locations and industrial-strength swearing. But, to give you some lesser-known bits of info about the Emmy-garlanded HBO hit, here’s a Logan Roy-level wealth of trivia.

1. It was almost a film instead

Creator Jesse Armstrong initially conceived Succession as a feature film about the Murdochs, set on Rupert’s 78th birthday, incorporating the News of the World phone-tapping scandal and simply titled Murdoch. He eventually broadened the story’s scope so it was better suited to TV drama.

2. The cast nearly played different characters

It’s hard to imagine now but Jeremy Strong originally auditioned for the role of Roman Roy. A month later, he tested again for Kendall and nailed it. Meanwhile, Kieran Culkin was asked to read for cousin Greg. After studying the script, Culkin was far more drawn to Roman, so sent in tapes of himself reading Roman’s scenes. Armstrong said it made Culkin a “slam-dunk” for the part.

3. It’s shot at the World Trade Center

For scenes set in the Waystar Royco offices, the production uses towers 4 and 7 of the new-look World Trade Center – partly for the spectacular views of Manhattan, partly so they could invent a very Roy-ish backstory about snapping up the premises for a bargain price after 9/11. For exterior shots, they use the nearby 60-storey skyscraper at 28 Liberty Street, formerly known as One Chase Manhattan Plaza.

4. Logan Roy was supposed to be Canadian …

Logan Roy was originally written as a Quebecer. Actor Brian Cox was the first to suggest the character could be Scottish. The idea was turned down but while filming the first season, the writers relented and changed Logan’s backstory so he hailed from Cox’s home town of Dundee.

Brian Cox as Logan Roy in season two.
Brian Cox as Logan Roy in season two. Photograph: HBO

5. … And he was supposed to die

Logan was originally supposed to die during the first season, leaving his children battling for control of his empire. But after conversations with Cox, the writers decided that having the patriarch survive was more dramatically fertile, hence his miraculous recovery from a stroke.

6. The Gerri/Roman frisson was inspired by the actors

J Smith-Cameron and her husband, the playwright and director Kenneth Lonergan, are among Culkin’s closest friends and all regularly collaborate. While shooting the season one finale in the UK, Culkin and Smith-Cameron jokingly flirted on-set. Writers were amused by this dynamic and made it part of the plot.

7. It’s shot on 35mm film

Executive producer Adam McKay, who directed the pilot episode, successfully lobbied to shoot the series on 35mm Kodak film, rather than digitally. He thought this would give Succession a more classical look which fitted a dynastic saga of old money.

8. Jeremy Strong listens to Kendall-themed playlists

Making a new playlist for each series helps Strong get into character as Kendall Roy. His music selection for season four includes Moon by Kanye West, New Level by A$AP Ferg and I Don’t Care Anymore by Phil Collins. Any clues there?

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy.
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy. Photograph: HBO

9. Most scenes are partly improvised, some entirely

Unusually for a drama, the Succession cast are given freedom to improvise. This began on the pilot episode as it is director McKay’s preferred way of working. Logan’s 80th birthday lunch was entirely improvised, as was Kendall’s bathroom breakdown. The actors now shoot each scene as scripted, then do alternative takes where improv is encouraged and they add comedic flourishes.

10. Connor’s arm injury was real

Eldest sibling Connor Roy wore a sling in series three, explaining how he’d had a fall at his ranch. In real life, actor Alan Ruck tore his shoulder while shovelling snow at home. Armstrong incorporated his arm cast into the script, hence the scene at Kendall’s 40th birthday party when Connor refuses to take off his coat.

11. Matthew Macfadyen relishes a rhyming swear

The British actor – whose Succession role was his first time doing an American accent on-screen – has named his favourite Tom Wambsgans line as “Buckle up, fucklehead!”, said to cousin Greg (naturally) in season one.

12. The show uses ‘wealth consultants’

The production draws on experts to advise on the super-rich lifestyle. This includes clothes, interior design, dining etiquette, social events and even how to exit a helicopter. Kieran Culkin said: “They told us, ‘You would’ve been doing this your whole lives. You know where the propeller is. You wouldn’t duck your head, you’d just walk right the fuck out.’”

Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Strong as Shiv, Roman and Kendall Roy.
Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Strong as Shiv, Roman and Kendall Roy. Photograph: HBO

13. The siblings’ names have hidden meanings

Redditors have theorised that the Roy children’s names deliberately reflect their personalities. Kendall sounds like “Ken doll”, Shiv is slang for a homemade prison knife, wayward Roman is roaming and Connor is a con merchant. The surname Roy itself translates as “king” in French.

14. Sarah Snook is an accent chameleon

Australian actor Sarah Snook, who plays Siobhan “Shiv” Roy, tries to stay in her American accent between takes. However, she sometimes finds herself accidentally slipping into the British tones of co-star Matthew Macfadyen, who plays her screen husband, Tom. They admit to having occasional “accent days” when both stress out about maintaining them and worry about particular words giving them away.

15. Frank Ocean texted Jeremy Strong about his Logan rap

One of the show’s most cringe-inducing scenes comes in season two when Kendall serenades his father with hip-hop tribute “L to the OG”, written by theme tune composer Nicholas Britell. R&B star Frank Ocean texted Jeremy Strong a crying emoji after it aired, complimenting his rapping. Strong told Variety that he appreciated the gesture because “Frank’s one of my heroes … It was small props but meant the world.”

16. Boar on the Floor was in the Hamptons, not Hungary

The Waystar Royco board’s infamous corporate retreat at a Hungarian hunting lodge – featuring the gruelling Boar on the Floor game – was actually filmed at Oheka Castle on Long Island. The 127-room mansion is the second-largest private house in the US. It was F Scott Fitzgarald’s partial inspiration for Jay Gatsby’s estate and stood in for Xanadu in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

17. Even glimpsed phone screens are significant

Roman’s lock-screen is a picture of him giving sister Shiv the middle finger. Her caller ID for dad Logan is a photo of Saddam Hussein.

Gerri (J Smith-Cameron) and Roman.
Gerri (J Smith-Cameron) and Roman. Photograph: HBO

18. Water is a bad omen for Kendall

A running motif is Kendall submerged in water. Season one finished with the car crash in which a waiter drowned. Season two began with him in a hot tub. Season three opened with him hsving a panic attack in an empty bath and ended on his near-drowning in a Tuscan pool. Christ-like poses and Kendall looking down from high ledges are also recurring images.

19. The cast did their first read-through on an apt day

Cast and crew met for their initial read-through of the pilot script on US election day in November 2016. Afterwards, Adam McKay invited everyone back to his house to watch the poll results, presuming Hillary Clinton would win. They were stunned by Donald Trump’s victory but McKay told the cast: “Well, we’re making the right show.” Armstrong said it made writing about inherited power even more relevant.

20. Things got hot and steamy in Tuscany

It was so swelteringly hot on location in Italy for season three that Cox refused to step out of a car. At least he could blame it on his character. “They asked, ‘Why not?’ and I replied, ‘Logan Roy wouldn’t get out of the car in this heat,’” said Cox. Temperatures hit 37 degrees and J Smith-Cameron, AKA Gerri, suffered heatstroke.

21. There’s a reason why interiors are big but soulless

The Roy family’s sprawling properties and spacious offices are deliberately so. “One of the ways we try to portray wealth is to put in a lot of space,” production designer Stephen H Carter told Harper’s Bazaar. “Because in New York City, you don’t get space without spending buck.” Bland interiors are also designed to convey a sense of rootlessness. “The objects in these houses feel expensive but not necessarily like they’ve been chosen by the family members themselves,” adds Carter. “They hire decorators. They all long for Logan’s approval, hence never quite feeling grounded or at home.”

22. Texts and emails are written but never seen

Shortly after general counsel Gerri Kellman (J Smith-Cameron) was appointed as interim CEO in season three, she opened her laptop in the background of a scene. Even though viewers never saw the screen, it was set up with Waystar Royco email and her inbox was filling up with congratulatory messages. “You feel you’re in this complete universe,” Smith-Cameron told Harper’s Bazaar. “Even though the camera never sees it, my prop computer is loaded with emails from other characters. My cellphone has text conversations made up between Gerri and Roman. The verisimilitude is incredible.”

23. Nicholas Braun really is cousin Greg

The cast were once asked which actor was most like their character. Everyone agreed without hesitation that it was 6ft 7in Nicholas Braun, AKA Greg Hirsch. Cox admits that he can’t distinguish one from the other.

Succession returns for its final season on 26 March on HBO in the US and 27 March on Sky Atlantic and Now in the UK.

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