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At first it is hard to tell where Roman Roy ends and Kieran Culkin begins, as one of them stands in front of me in the Corinthia hotel, assessing the mechanics of a coffee machine while recounting the snatches of sleep he has managed since arriving in London a few days ago. "I got here and slept on top of the bed in my clothes for two hours, woke up to do an interview, did the premiere, then made the mistake of partying all night," he says.
You can forgive the 39-year-old actor for getting carried away, now that Succession is finally underway after a long period of absence. We're currently two episodes into season three, and the darkly comic HBO drama about warring siblings vying for control of the family media business (and for daddy dearest's love) is once again bringing the internet to its knees every week. But Culkin, who very recently welcomed a second child with his wife, quickly leaves any trace of his character behind as he talks about happily forgoing partying on the beach to wash up his daughter's sippy cup and – OK, this is pretty Roman – the joy of trying to make Jeremy Strong laugh when he's doing a serious Kendall scene.
Esquire sat down with Culkin to shine some light on Roman's big decision at the end of episode two (spoilers ahead!), and what exactly is going on with him and Gerri this season.
How is Roman faring in this season?
I think Roman is getting a little more comfortable in who he is and finding his voice. When we’re in that holding pen at the airport [in episode one of season three] I think it’s interesting that he has a pitch that nobody agrees with. He’s not even trying to say stuff that dad will like, it’s that he actually has a position on something and he doesn’t care that people disagree. People don’t really change, the show isn’t about that. I guess there’s a little room for improvement but people are who they are.
The Roy children’s summit in episode two feels especially tense, is the civil war in the family bringing out a nastier side to them?
When it comes to Logan’s kids, it’s like, can you blame them? There was never a parent saying, “Go hug your brother and tell him you love him”. It’s not that they’re shitty, this is what they were given and what their father has taught them. When it comes to the business [Logan] can be as horrible to the kids as he wants because it’s business, and the kids still haven’t adapted to that. A lot of people say, “They're just such awful people”, but they’re not just that one thing. Like people in real life there’s a lot more going on.
Do you think Roman mimics Logan’s cruelty sometimes?
I think Roman in particular is quite like him, except where Logan can shut off the emotional I think that Roman has a harder time of that. In the second episode, even when it makes practical sense to turn on dad when trying to make the right business decision, he’s emotionally worried about how he’d take it and that it might actually kill him. I don’t really know the story behind all the lacerations on [Logan’s] back but he’s had a hard life himself.
Do you feel for Logan being under siege from his family?
There’s that little moment where Marcia comes back and is like, “Those fucking kids of yours” and in that one moment I go, ‘Oh that’s true, his kids are after him!’ You think he’s awful to them but he doesn’t have to keep the kids in the business. They’re not particularly great at it. He keeps giving them opportunities and all the kids try to do is take it from him and tear him apart. Poor guy! His own wife lawyers up and comes after him. He can’t have anybody in his life, not even his fucking kids!
Why do you think Roman can’t betray Logan in that episode, do you think it’s the same reason he doesn’t go against him in the vote of no confidence in season one?
I think [in season one] there was part of Roman hoping [the vote] would fall apart. When Kendall wasn’t showing up and it looked like weaker position he probably felt that whoever goes against dad always loses, so I think it was a last minute chickening out. I think in this instance he never properly considers jumping to the other side. He calls Gerri to talk about it, but I think the idea of working below his brother is just his worst nightmare.
Is part of the appeal of the Gerri and Roman relationship the tease of it?
There’s almost no real sex in [the show]. I remember my mum when she watched it asked why there was so much sex and I said, “There’s one sex scene Kendall has with Rava?”, but then I guess there’s two scenes where she had to watch her son masturbate on screen which is probably two too many for her. It can seem sort of charged in that way but there’s almost no sex in the show. I did have a sex scene with Tabitha where she had to be a corpse, which shows you the kind of sex scene we’re talking about in this show.
You’re not on social media, do you have any sense of the reactions to the show returning?
I have no sense of what reaction the show has had, I think for that reason. People tell me how much people love the show, sometimes I see posters and think ‘Oh people might be watching this now’, but I have no sense of that stuff from the internet. People will say, “Oh there’s this Roman Gerri thing on the internet that people really like”, but I don’t particularly feel interested to google it.
Do you think that distance stops you playing into what people might expect?
Some of the other actors have said they worry sometimes they are going to be a parody of the character and I wouldn’t want to start, like, ‘doing Roman’. Occasionally people say, “I think this would be a really Roman thing to do” and when I hear that I think no, we’re not doing whatever you think that is. I’m not too method-y or whatever but there was one time where I overheard someone saying, “Well Roman would eat a cheeseburger” and I was like, “Can I get the salad with no dressing and I’m not going to touch it.” I think he has a closeted eating disorder and only likes light bites. He likes to talk a big game like, “Yeah a nice big steak and some mashed potatoes”, but really he just orders it, picks at it and then goes home and checks his waistline.
I’ve read that Jeremy Strong has some interesting methods to get into Kendall’s mindset, what's that like?
Sometimes if he’s supposed to be very sad and wants to stay in it that's when it is the most fun to try and make him laugh. Most people are hard to make laugh with the exception of Matthew Macfadyen, who, when any joke comes around turns away from camera to laugh because he can’t contain it. Brian [Cox] is absolutely the hardest but Jeremy is pretty tough.
There was one [moment] at the start of season two where [Kendall] feels responsible for killing that guy and I did a scene with [Sarah] Snook where we’re walking towards Kendall. Jeremy is walking around with these giant headphones playing sad music to stay in character. It was the first take and he came up and I just went, “Hi!” [while giving him the middle finger] and he just went, “Damn”. Then we had to cut because he was actually upset that something had made him smile.
Succession is available on Sky and NOW on Mondays at 9pm and on-demand
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