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Why Brian Cox Says Wealthy Family Drama ‘Succession’ Is Both Timeless and Timely

At the premiere of “Succession” at New York’s Time Warner Center, star Brian Cox told Variety that he was impressed that the new HBO drama somehow managed to be simultaneously both timeless and extremely timely. “Succession” tells the story of a wealthy media conglomerate owner (Cox), and the fighting among his squabbling adult children over who gets to take over his empire after he retires.

“What I was influenced by in the screenplay was King Lear. There’s a very classical element of dysfunctional royals. It’s gone on through history,” Cox said Tuesday night, while praising creator Jesse Armstrong’s Chaucerian script. But while it explores classical themes of family warfare, he said he was also attracted to the story because it’s “a premise for now, about the entitled rich and what they are doing, it’s a satire and a morality tale about people who are highly dysfunctional, and about how entitlement removes people from a sense of reality.”

The UK-born Armstrong co-wrote the British political satires “Four Lions” and “In The Loop.” This is his first time working on a television show for an American audience, but his trademark arch humor remains intact. “If you write something true about the world, it should include some comedy,” he said. “Otherwise, you take these people at their own estimation of themselves, which is more glamorous and capable than they are. A lot of times, these people are smart, but can do ludicrous things.”

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Armstrong said he was attracted to the idea of a wealthy family because “I’m interested in power, and how power works, and if you look at the cultural climate in the U.S. and internationally, it seems often that these small groups of families are very important in the way we view the world,” he said. “They’re also often writhing nests of dysfunction, which is fun to write.”

One of the most dysfunctional characters is Roman Roy, a charismatic but entitled manchild played with oily charm by Kieran Culkin. “What was appealing to me was playing someone who never has to pay for what he says. The guy starts running a movie studio with no idea about how to run a movie studio, and he fails, and that’s all right! He moves on to the next thing.

“He can say whatever he wants, and it’s your fault that you’re offended by the thing I said,” Culkin continued. “Especially in society today, where people are rightfully watching what they say, it’s fun to be a character that goes in the exact opposite direction of that.”

“Succession” premieres June 3rd on HBO.

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