HBO’s blistering Emmy- winning drama “Succession” saw the Roy clan continue to battle it out for control of the Waystar Royco empire. In the middle of it all are Shiv, played by Sarah Snook, and Gerri, portrayed by J. Smith-Cameron, and this season, they establish power.
Gerri is made interim CEO, and Shiv continued to mistreat her husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), while solidifying herself as a corporate power player. As the third season ended, Shiv faced the ultimate betrayal but found strength in unity with her siblings, while Gerri chose her side, betray- ing Roman (Kieran Culkin).
Here, they look back at that ending and discuss being part of a man’s world.
Did you know how Season 3 was going to end? That shoulder tap was such a betrayal. How did you unpack what Shiv was feeling?
Snook: I got a little bit of an outline before we started the season. It’s evidence of what might happen, but it doesn’t feel real until you read the script. But I don’t think Shiv knows yet. She’s just in free fall. What I think is the most interesting is the way they ended it. It’s where they decided to cut to black. No decision has been made yet, and she doesn’t know how she’s feeling, which I think is betrayed and hurt.
J Smith-Cameron: That’s what’s so cool about your performance there because it’s in the back of your brain and then this episode is over for now, until we know for sure you’ve digested it, but you look like your cheeks are flaming. That look when someone’s angry and you feel the blood in your cheeks.
Snook: She doesn’t know all the details, but she can’t help but feel in a moment like this — which I think is maybe more shocking to her as well, that she’s feeling all this stuff. She can’t, because she doesn’t have all the information to make a decision yet about what she’ll do. That’s a gift for actors to get those muddy bits to sort through.
Just before that, there’s Roman on the floor at Gerri’s feet, which is so sad and tragic. What is Gerri going through at that moment? What has she decided?
Smith-Cameron: Well, if you back up to the scene with “the items,” and her potentially being in hot water as well as Roman — I just lectured him about this, a million times during the season. When I get tapped to be included, I think I’m playing catch-up, figuring out everyone’s piece of the pie, but I think I’m still both angry at him and disappointed in him and also guilt-wracked for having to say, “Grow up and fend for yourself.” It was awful. I couldn’t meet his eye and I kept shuffling my papers. I have no idea whether they’re going to ever speak again.
Let’s talk about that moment in the hallway with Shiv and Gerri. You think Shiv is an ally, but she’s really not. How did you both navigate that scene?
Snook: For me, the juicy bits for Shiv are the part when I’m morally against what she’s saying. I would want her to go, “I can stand up here.” I can stand up to Kira in Season 2. She’s never saying any- thing that’s not wrong and that is not a company line that you could argue. I like that because she is not an ally — she’s not display- ing and behaving like one. And yet, you can’t pin her for actively being against women. If you were to write down what she said, and like go, verbatim, “But how did she say it? Was she convinced that she was on your side?”
Smith-Cameron: Given our history, you’re very pushy, and neither one of us trusts each other very much. It’s a shame because in my mind, Gerri picked the wrong protégé. [laughs]
Snook: I think in business as well, where you’re competing against the one other person who offers what you could offer, but, if you joined together, you’d be stronger. Maybe that happens a bit. When we were shooting this scene, as actors, we had to join together because we had 30 minutes to shoot a scene. We’re doing it on a bend in a corridor, but we don’t have time because we’re leaving Italy in two days. I had a great team partner, so it was like let’s get it done.
Smith-Cameron: You could tell that Gerri wants to keep talking, and Shiv is trying to get her to stop and talk, and there’s no obvious little place to perch. So, there’s this wonderful little subplot playing.
When I first got the script, I asked to talk to the legal consultant that they use in the writers’ room. I asked, “Could I get fired for not having reported all these different things before now?” She said, “Well, you could have, except you are your own boss. Someone would be expected to tell your boss that they want to talk to HR. You could sort of make the legal point of [saying] ‘I spoke to my boss who is me.’” We decided I did not feel threatened enough to confront HR to pull them into it.
At the time, I was so rattled by what happens in a boardroom, and Shiv catches Gerri while she’s at her most vulnerable and can’t think straight. I feel it was the only time I did a scene where I felt like what I just wanted to do was get to the ladies’ room so I could cry. But I would never let anyone at Waystar Royco see me cry, much less Shiv Roy.
Shiv walks into a room and she owns it because of how she has grown up. Is she the smartest person in the room?
Snook: I think that’s an interesting thing with human nature because there’s not a lot of people who would say, “Prove it.” When someone tells you something socially, we have like an implicit contract that no one’s a liar. So, if someone comes in and says, “I’m the smartest person in the room” by behavior, you’re more likely to self-doubt first than to actively challenge somebody. She’s smart, but she’s not the smartest.
Smith-Cameron: Gerri is the smartest. How many times in the last season did I tell Logan that he had to cooperate? Until finally I’m yelling at him and the FBI is downstairs. I have to prove myself all the time. That’s probably part of why Gerri must resent Shiv.
And, speaking in my Gerri mind, I think Shiv is the most intelligent of the siblings by far, but she feels that the snap judgement and the authoritativeness. That’s how it has to be because it always comes off as if it’s the first thought and it’s not all careful and measured like my character.
Gerri thinks she’s smart, but she’s smarter than she is.
How do Gerri and Shiv navigate the sexism of it all? How do they face it and handle it?
Snook: When I first got offered the role, I said no, because of that. If the world is going to be interested in a bunch of white dudes talking about business, and if I’m the only woman in that, then I’m likely to get sidelined and be like some sort of prop. I don’t feel like that personally, nor do I feel like I want to compete for that. No, I don’t want to do this job, and then it came back again.
Through blind faith, I thought, well, the creatives are interest- ing. You may be one of the only women in the pilot, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get sidelined necessarily and maybe this is an opportunity for you to just fight for female characters. There’s a focus lens toward that kind of sexism. It is present in the show because it’s present in real life, it’s there, and that’s inherent in the characters’ behavior, as well as the things they say.
Smith-Cameron: It’s not only patriarchy, but that Republican stronghold kind of culture. It’s also raunchy, disgusting and full of deliberate chicanery. It’s like being in a pack of thieves. It’s not just being in a boys’ world, it’s like being in a pirate ship.
Snook: There is so much sexism and so much misogyny against you just having an opinion because you’re a woman. It’s so frustrating but brilliant to play with and chew on.
Talk about the evolution of Shiv and Gerri and how that’s almost reflected through hair and costume. How has Shiv grown?
Snook: She’s been through evolutions with her hair and looser clothes. There was the more officious buttoned-up look and the asymmetrical bob thing happening.
By the end of season three, we get this frustration energy and her hair has gone curly again. There’s less attention to being buttoned up. I think it’s a Fuck You to the family. I’ve tried to play the part and dress the part, and you just keep overlooking it.
The shapes that our costume designer chose with the halter neck and not necessarily something Shiv would have worn a year ago. There’s no second-guessing, if she’s standing in the room, she’s in the room.
Because she is wealthy and because she is entitled and because of all these circumstances of her birth, she feels the right to be anywhere. That’s a really important distinction, often women can come into a room and feel like they’re not necessarily meant to be there but if you just pretend you are and you feel like you are meant to be and for Shiv, that’s like the circumstance of her l family and upbringing.
Smith-Cameron: I came on in season one as a recurring character. I was meant to be in episodes two to six. I had this mad desire to stay in every episode of the show.
In the beginning, I have like my hair is done up. I’m colorless and wear these uniform-like Brooks Brothers suits.
As time went on, and I was around enough to have a scene in my character’s office, I was like, ‘Michelle, have you seen my office? I have a corner office with a view of all of Manhattan. I bet I don’t have to buy off the rack at Brooks Brothers.’ So next season, I had outfits that were more relaxed in a way, and I started wearing my hair down.