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Jeremy Strong Talks ‘Succession’s’ ‘Every-Man-For-Himself’ Atmosphere On Set

“Big Short” actor Jeremy Strong is no longer primarily a thespian. The stage veteran has entered the television scene in a big way, starring in HBO’s “Succession,” in which he plays troubled son Kendall Roy.

What was the transition from stage to television like?

Most of my heroes had started out in the theater, so I was always doing plays, and I think initially it was just an escape and also a transcendent freedom that I discovered on the stage that I didn’t feel anywhere else in my life. The transition into film took longer than I wanted, but I am grateful for the years of hardship that I went through because they allowed me to connect with characters, in terms of adversity, in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise if things had happened more easily for me.

How are you similar to Kendall Roy?

I’ve always been a bit of an outsider with a fire in my belly. I grew up in inner city Boston — scrappy, public school kid who ended up going to a fancy school, and from the beginning of my life, I had a great desire to be an actor and a lot of ambition towards that. Ambition is a complicated thing, and Kendall is very ambitious. I relate to the desire to gain the love and respect of certain people, and that can lead you astray from your own nature. While we were filming this show, you couldn’t look at the news without reading something about the Murdochs, Disney, Les Moonves. While this show is not based on any actual family, those dynastic struggles are all around. It’s rich material.

What went into Kendall’s violent breakdown scene in the pilot?

That’s a great example of the process of this show, which Adam McKay established and is a way that I prefer to work, which is to have no plan at all and to discover the scene while you’re doing it — not rehearse. I had some structural things in mind, in terms of where I might start, and I asked the prop master to place certain objects in the room without telling me where they were. We did one take, and I followed the line of intuition. I ended up cleaning the things on the floor, which I hadn’t planned in advance. I made this mess, and then I realized that I couldn’t leave this mess. You don’t always have the privilege of with a director who will let you live dangerously and trust in an actor’s instincts. It’s a very lonely character. We’re all quite alone in this family, and it was quite a lonely experience making it.

Did the Roy family’s toxicity affect interactions on set?

I find that the dynamic in the script tends to bleed out and exist in the environment. It helps me believe in the reality of the circumstances. While we were cordial and friendly, and I have a great deal of love and respect for all the the actors on the show, I tended to keep a distance and felt quite remote. We were atomized as a family. This felt a little more like every-man-for-himself social darwinism.

How did you find scene partnering with Brian Cox?

Fantastic. We did go at each other. Brian is a heavyweight actor, and I’m very lucky. He’s so completely present, and there is something primal about him that he shares. It’s impossible to not be in the moment when someone like that is your scene partner. I think I may have driven Brian a bit nuts, refusing to rehearse and not wanting to interact, but he has been very kind to me, and I’ve loved working with him. 

What mindset were you in when approaching darker scenes surrounding issues like drug abuse?

My way into it was two-fold. There were times where I got pretty f—ed up for the work, and entered chaos in a way that I hadn’t done before. I have things in my life that that I’m not free of. Ambition is a form of addiction. Workaholism is a form of addiction. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a different ballgame, but you have to take a leap of belief. There is an element of pretend. You obviously can’t be “method” with that kind of thing because you can’t f— around with that. Those were scenes that lived in a heavy place. When the season ended, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest. I experienced a terrible pressure everyday of work, and there’s a great sense of release when it’s all over.

What you didn’t know about Jeremy Strong

AGE: 39 BORN: Boston, Mass. FAVORITE BOOK: “My Struggle” by Karl Knausgaard FILM HE KNOWS BY HEART: “My Left Foot” CHOICE STAGE ROLE: Hamlet CHOICE VACATION SPOT: Tuscany NON-GUILTY PLEASURE TV SHOW: “Chef’s Table” ACTING INSPIRATION: Dustin Hoffman

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