Toward the end of Season 1 of “Succession,” J. Smith-Cameron and Kieran Culkin — who have known each other for years — improvised a cheeky, flirtatious banter at the conclusion of a scene. It didn’t make it into the episode, but it inspired a running Season 2 storyline in which his Roman gets turned on when her Gerri berates him in the most explicit ways possible. In the fifth episode of the second season, “Tern Haven,” the Roys spend the night at the estate of the billionaire Pierce family. After a tense dinner between the two families, Roman visits Gerri for another one of their special conversations.
Smith-Cameron: It’s a dangerous moment in their burgeoning new friendship. They do have some shared interests, because they both want to have a foothold in the family business. And so it makes sense as some kind of liaison. There’s a kind of an intimacy in place. At dinner when Shiv [Sarah Snook] blurts out that she’s going to be the successor, he’s just devastated.
I think that Gerri thinks they’re all jerks. But she’s also really committed to her job and she’s playing the long game with them.
What interests me about the scene is it’s a roller-coaster ride, an obstacle course. First, I think Gerri feels for him and then when he admits that he wants to somehow fool around, Gerri is horrified. And [when she] starts to scold him, she sees that’s exciting for him. I think maybe it’s a little exciting for her, in spite of herself. And then by the time she makes him go in the bathroom and the door shuts, you can see that Gerri is relieved and feels like she dodged a bullet — but is also kind of victorious in some weird way. It was really tricky, and that was the very last scene to be shot in that episode.
We got to shooting it at like 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. Will Tracy, who wrote that episode, said at one point they were going to backpedal that whole scene. And then Kieran and myself, according to Will, had such chemistry leading up to it that they decided to go ahead. So it was like a grand experiment. I would do takes where I’d be sort of more dominatrix with him, and then takes where I’d be more repulsed. We did so many different ways. And bear in mind that the previous episodes when there would be scenes about our storyline, we would also do many takes of many versions of the line. So I didn’t know, because those episodes weren’t edited yet, what the story being told was so far. It could have felt dangerous anyway, because the guy’s masturbating in the bathroom.
I have to say in my long career, I don’t know that I’ve been in such an unusual story arc. It’s so interesting to me, and complicated and kind of shocking — and it’s sort of sad and fascinating in terms of #MeToo, and in terms of women of a certain age, flexing their power. It’s got many facets that make it really topical.