This story about Jeremy Strong and “Succession” first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
It’s probably worth pointing out to fans of HBO’s “Succession” that Kendall Roy is not, in fact, a real person, that he is a character played by Jeremy Strong. But Strong, 41, so fully inhabits the brooding, broken eldest son of Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox, also an actor) that you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Strong’s Kendall has been at the center of both seasons of “Succession,” but in Season 2 he deepened his portrayal from a guilt-ridden son who lashes out with a public betrayal of his powerful father — a media mogul on the order of Rupert Murdoch — to a guilt-ridden son who lashes out at other people to win his father’s approval. Throughout, the fate of the Roys’ company teeters on a knife’s edge edge: a restless board seems poised for a coup, an inter-sibling drama erupts over who will lead the company post-dad and a bid to take the company private emerges.
And then there’s a big old twist in the very last episode, featuring a side of Kendall we hadn’t seen before.
Strong has spoken at length in interviews about how inhabiting Kendall — “playing” seems too slight a word for what he’s doing here — takes a very real toll on him as a person. As a Yale-trained actor with a background in the theater, Strong brings an astonishing amount of psychological research to his work. There is more thinking than rehearsing going on, so when the shooting season begins, he plunges himself deep into character and does not quickly surface for air.
“The work I’ve tried to do is internalizing the writing in such a way that it becomes a part of me and it kind of takes over my life, in both good and difficult ways,” Strong said. “It does take a hold of you. So when we’re working a seven-month shoot, there’s this sort of pallor hanging over everything, which is Kendall’s experience. Especially in Season 2, that anguish that he’s in — the silent anguish — it’s a very internal, collapsed place.”
That internalized anguish creates a palpable undercurrent of tension throughout the show, usually without words. When Kendall enters the room, an aura of seriousness and tragedy comes with him that electro-charges his exchanges with father Logan, sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) and brother Roman (Kieran Culkin).
The one exception was the season’s seriocomic climax when Kendall rapped a tribute to Dad, “L to the OG,” in front of a ballroom packed with family and friends for Logan’s birthday. Outside of the show, the rap went viral and has become a cultural meme. Strong was surprised to find himself as a Halloween costume.
As for doing the scene: “It felt like walking the plank,” Strong said. “And it was fun. We didn’t rehearse, no one saw it until we had cameras on it. What I also liked about it was because the whole season was structured as recessive, it turns tables momentously. I had to sustain the sense that this is a shell of a person. There was very little for me to do that was expressive.
“Rapping feels very empowering — that alone was nice to have a way for me to express my love for my father. I thought it was committed, and that was something I really like about it.”
Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here.