Succession may have wrapped up its Emmy-winning four-season run, but the sentiments of the May 29 series finale linger. Viewers of the Roy family saga were haunted by the final boardroom showdown between siblings Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), with many wondering how each of them could pick up the pieces after the Jesse Armstrong-created series faded to black. Longtime director Mark Mylod admits he too thinks about the trio as he shares some insight into the characters’ endings as he talks about the show’s record-breaking 27 Emmy nominations.
“I feel really good about[ending with the fourth season]having seen shows and being a part of shows that I think may have stayed on too long,” says the helmer nominated for “Connor’s Wedding” , the episode where the series’ patriarch Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, died. “But the beauty of the nominations is that it’s a celebration not to mess up the last season. When we started each new season, there was always this fear: this is going to be the season that isn’t as good as last season. It was such a huge relief that it was so well received. Mylod spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about simultaneously missing the Roy family and recognizing the right place to close Succession.
We spoke after the series finale, when everyone was still digesting the ending. You said, “I find myself wondering in the strangest way what they’re doing now, like a friend I’ve lost touch with.” It’s a very strange feeling, like a phantom limb.” How often do you think about Kendall, Roman and Shiv now?
I still miss them. I miss the characters. But it has turned into the real person, into the actors I miss more now. Especially those who don’t live nearby: Sarah Snook is back in Melbourne, Australia with her new daughter; Jesse Armstrong, Becky Martin, Tony Roche, Lucy Prebble and Will Tracey are all in London. So I miss the camaraderie. And that has become more present than that haunting feeling with the characters. That feels like a bit of a fever dream on some level. It doesn’t feel the same way. But I know I will always miss it.
I have some questions that are still burning. How do you imagine Shiv playing her hand as CEO Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) wife?
It’s a strange question. It’s obviously very subjective. But I do play those games. Shiv, from one of the siblings, is the one we stayed with in the strongest position. Albeit a very delicate position with a radically redrawn power dynamic between her and Tom. But she’s in a position. You can call her Lady Macbeth. She borders on power; adjacent to the crown. And while Tom is now at least an equal in terms of the power dynamic, she’s clearly still in a position of enormous influence.
When it comes to Kendall’s final shot, do you think he’s still alive in the world of Succession? And if so, do you think he made atonement? (Editor’s note: Jeremy Strong said he didn’t think Kendall would survive.)
I really hope he’s still alive. I think he is. That’s subjective. Other players on the show may disagree. My subjective opinion would be that he will probably go through some stages of grieving with some arrogant schemes that may not amount to much. But I have to be optimistic in the sense that if someone has a relative or even a child who is having problems with their identity and role in the world, you have to hope that they will find themselves and their place in the world.
Jesse Armstrong revealed that there was a broken line of dialogue from the final scene of Roman. Can you share it? And do you still see him sitting at a bar ordering Gerri’s (J-Smith Cameron) drink?
I feel like that character wears a mask for a lifetime. It is a false attitude to slip behind and emotionally pull up the drawbridge. His happiness or long-term satisfaction, I’m not optimistic about that. His ability to connect in a meaningful way is so torpedoed by his upbringing that I dread any meaningful emotional connection. But I do not fear for his physical well-being. I think he can wear that mask so efficiently, it probably feels like the real him at times to be that witty, deliberately abusive court jester.
I’m happy to share the line we’ve crossed. He walked into the bar where in our head was a bartender he already knew from fairly regular visits, and the line was, “What’s up, asshole?” That was a bookend to the very first line of dialogue we heard Roman speak in season one, episode one. I imagine Jesse’s intention was to show the cyclical nature of Roman’s journey. That for all that illusion of evolution, on some level those four seasons where we followed Roman was kind of like a fever dream, and he’s right back where he started.
The finale gave the audience much food for thought with the main characters. And then there were smaller questions that were intentionally left blank. What is the most common question you get since packing Succession?
The real answer is that I don’t get many questions because I kept my head so low. When they do happen, it’s usually, “Have you considered doing a fifth season?” More of that delicious hunger from fans of the show to continue the story and for us to continue to be voyeurs or passengers or whatever we go through on the ride before their various disasters. It’s usually that kind of fantasy wish fulfillment of, what if we could keep watching what happens next?
One thing I keep thinking about is that last hug, when Kendall seems to press painfully against Roman’s facial stabs. Any more to unpack there?
Where he opens the wounds? I can’t think of another hug between them. I don’t know if I have more to add. The moment remains so complex that unpacking it almost feels like an over-diminishment of the elements of bullying, masochism, and love that are so inextricably intertwined in that moment (when the brothers embrace). It’s almost impossible to define. That’s why it remains one of our most powerful scenes because of that extraordinary cocktail.
The show broke records with its 27 Emmy nominations — and for the first time, three leads are competing in the same category. How was that day?
There were certain nominations that felt very special, Alan Ruck in particular. He’s been incredibly supportive and patient over four seasons and, often in parallel with his character, Connor, has done a brilliant job that has gone somewhat unrewarded in the terrible Darwinian sort of narrative effort of the latest edit. Our edits always took this long – an hour and a half at a time. In the final edit, we always had to follow the main story, and anything that didn’t follow that A or B story had to disappear at some point. There was a lot of really nice work from Alan and Justine Lupe (who played Willa), and I know that was frustrating for him at times, especially in the early seasons. And in season four, we were able to fold Connor into the main story much more inclusively and effectively, and he was able to shine accordingly because we gave him the material. I was very, very happy for Alan and for all my colleagues – those guest actors who did such a brilliant job. To see so many of them recognized across the board, across the board – nothing but pride.
What are you most proud of being recognized in “Connor’s Wedding,” the episode centering on the death of Logan Roy that you were nominated for?
The team performance. It starts, of course, with brilliant writing from Jesse. When you read a script this powerful and you know you’re somewhat responsible for delivering an episode that does justice to the passing of a great and powerful and important character, at least in our world, there’s tremendous fear and anxiety . We did our best to do justice to that moment in our story with a really interesting storyline, to put ourselves at such a distance from the immediate action on the plane and to keep the focus on the children’s frustration. That frustration of not being able to see around the corner allows the audience to parachute into that sibling experience. And when we can do that, we are most effective emotionally and narratively.
Matthew Macfadyen stayed on the phone for Sarah Snook’s lines. Is there anything else behind the scenes that those performances during the real time recordingwhere they find out about Logan’s death?
It wasn’t just Matthew; the rest of the team who were also on the phone (were) also sitting in a room somewhere for days, waiting on standby for half an hour to put down their cappuccino and gear up to give that emotional intensity to the actors. That was a credo throughout the show: for everyone to be present on the other end of every emotional phone call. It was an honor system. This was definitely the culmination of that idea, because it was over a period of days. What I’ve always done with incredibly exciting episodes is to make the schedule as chronological as possible so that everyone can experience it moment by moment, so that we can build on our experiences page by page. It was problematic in the finale because of the shooting in Barbados (where Roy’s three siblings visit their mother, Lady Collingwood). But whenever we could, we filmed it chronologically, and I think the benefit to the actor’s performance was huge.
Cox recently said he understood the decision to kill off Logan so early, but wished he had more time in the season. Now that he’s been nominated for Best Actor, do you think he’s gained weight?
I hope he’s proud of that (nomination from only three episodes). But I learned a long time ago not to speak for Brian Cox. He is very much a man of his own mind. You can ask him!
The broadcast of the 2024 Emmys remains in the air amid the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. (Note: Following this interview, a new date was set for January 15.) Jesse and your writers have been on the picket lines in solidarity with the WGA, using the Succession writers’ room as an example of why he supports their priorities. What are some ways you have seen Succession work it could be modeled after?
Hopefully, it goes without saying that the huge part of the show’s success is brilliant acting and brilliant writing. They are basically the tentpoles of every film and television project. The way we consume that content in recent years has revolutionized so quickly, and the way we compensate those artists has not. So all I can do is show solidarity with those people until they get a fair wage. This has taken way too long when of course they should be paid fairly. Why isn’t it happening?
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a standalone August issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.