In HBO’s Succession, Brian Cox plays Logan Roy – the family patriarch. Early on, Roy suffers a health problem and his children scurry to see who will succeed him. Except it’s not that easy when these children.
The gripping series follows the ruthlessness, the entitlement and the dysfunction with humor thrown in. I spoke to Cox about the Shakespearean parallels between his character and King Lear. Cox should know, he’s played the King over 150 times.
We look back on season one and Logan’s parenting abilities. Perhaps that’s the answer to his children’s inability to function. Does Logan have self-awareness? What about his marriage? Cox fills us in and teases a little bit about what happens to that father and son dynamic after that epic season one season finale.
You’ve played King Lear many times and there are many parallels between him and Logan, is that what attracted you to this part?
Yes. There was an epic universality about it. A man in the twilight of his life, trying to deal with his kingdom as it were. In Lear’s case, it’s giving his kingdom away, he’s giving his kingdom away. In Logan’s case, he’s taking it back because of the ineptitude of his children. They seem to be stunted and there’s very little he can do about it except hope that they grow up. Of course, they’re spoiled too and they have this whole thing of entitlement and it’s a vicious circle.
Logan as the progenitor is partly to blame, but it’s also as the series is – and as what Shakespeare did, Lear is a late play. Very much it’s about his own failures and his relationship to his own family. If you read Lear, I’ve played him over 150 times so I know what it was like, that endless rejection that goes on night after night after night I know it gets you down. Logan’s thing is different, in a sense he is responsible, but you can take these horses to water, but they don’t necessarily drink. That’s what makes it very hard for him. He’s ruthless. He’s self-made and he’s self-governed. He takes no prisoners. The problem is that all the defeat he’s experienced really comes at the hand of his own family.
This series is slightly different. Kendall’s spirit has now been broken and so Logan is very protective of him after Kendall pushed himself to the brink. Children are both a blessing and a curse and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Is there any self-awareness to Logan? Talking about parenting, is there any thought that these children are the way they are because of his parenting skills?
There’s always that possibility, but I don’t think he’s interested in that possibility. He doesn’t give a fuck. He believes they should be responsible. They’re grown-ups, they’re not kids. They’ve had every advantage and every element of education. Probably the one element that they haven’t had is unconditional love, but you can only love unconditionally under certain conditions. Unfortunately, they don’t meet those conditions.
The final episode shows those fundamental differences between Kendal and Logan. Talk about shooting that scene and what that was like.
Everybody was so impressed. Jeremy is a wonderful actor and gets so involved in the whole thing. He really subsumes himself. I don’t because I’ve been around the block so much [laughs]. But he does it and it’s so successful and it works. He was so broken and so fragile. The proof of the pudding is in the second series because what you’ll see is Logan being very protective of his son. He realizes how broken he is and in order to mend him – he doesn’t know how to mend him. He thinks it’s to do with the business.
We’re at the end of the food line in knowing what’s going on, the writers have all the secrets. I really would like to know what I’m doing occasionally. I’m a classicist. [laughs]. It’s the most original piece to be working on and really it is such a wonderful show.
In terms of those particulars, it was clear we had reached an exhaustion point in that relationship and something had to give. People underestimate Logan’s own wisdom. He didn’t fall off the turnip truck. He’s a self-made man. He understands the route that he’s taken. It’s a selfish route. It’s a bloody route, but it’s the route that he’s taken. It’s the route that a lot of self-made successful people take. Some are in a wonderful position to be munificent like Bill Gates. Logan is not that. He’s trying to keep ahead of the game. He sees it as a game and the kids don’t get that, they take it far too seriously.
Logan takes it seriously, but only as you take a game seriously. Logan’s sense of life is a mystery and will possibly always remain a mystery. He knows what functions for him. He will then fight tooth and nail to protect these children. He’s not shown much love, but he’s made the conditions for them to succeed. Unfortunately, they fall short because of their dysfunction. Any dysfunctions go back generations. We haven’t even gone into exploring Logan’s background, which is probably a dysfunctional one anyway. He was taken to Canada at an early age and brought up in an environment which was quite cruel and brutal. He came back to become a journalist and he went on a revenge kick and that motivated him. It’s his drive, but when it comes to children, the damage could be irreparable. He’s trying to reclaim his kids, but it’s like spinning tops, you have to keep spinning them all.
You think he’s the worst dad and that quote, “It’s all a game” in the series really lets us into who he really is and what this means to him. It’s just as you say.
They don’t understand that. They think it’s life, but Logan knows it’s far harsher than that. He has nothing but contempt for his contemporaries. He knows there’s this ruthlessness required. He’s an old horse, he’s not going to change. He wants peace and quiet, but he doesn’t get that.
The one thing we don’t really know is what’s really going on with that marriage.
Nothing is without cost. You don’t get anything for free. Even in his relationship with Marcia. Everybody wants something. Logan is aware that nothing comes without cost and that includes affection and care. He knows that because of how much he’s worked. Money talks in a way that is vile, vulgar, creepy and reprehensible. I’m an artist and I don’t want to know about any of that. I think all of that is vulgar. People like Donald Trump are poisonous and should not be around. They corrupt everything. Now we live in an age that’s so reflective of what’s really been on the cards for a long time. I think that’s the strength of the show, that it’s been holding a mirror to a certain horrific reality that’s very prescient at the moment about values and entitlement. Marianne Williamson talks about the roots of society and what American society was firmly based on at one point, and that was the notion of community and the love that goes into the community. In the 21st century, that love evaporated into just money. People want financial affirmation that proves their worth. Ultimately, that’s what this show displays and that will corrupt in a very deep way. There is no way out of that. You see it with a lot of philanthropists who try to do great things with their lives. Carnegie tried to circumvent the world war and died an unhappy man. There is reaping what you sow and it seems to be that with Logan. He is reaping all the stuff that he has sown. He’s still in the paddy field and not about to let go. That’s the morality aspect of this show and that’s what’s interesting from the creative point.
Logan Roy is human. He might be reprehensible, but he does have a viewpoint, albeit an awful one. He has a viewpoint in which he himself has been neglected. I’m not justifying him, but that’s the root matter with what we’re dealing with.
You talk about being a classic actor. Talk about working with McKay and working with his improv style.
It’s a weapon. It’s a way of getting into something. If you look at Vice, it’s clearly a written piece of work with a clear point of view. He’s written it and he didn’t improvise his way into that. Armando Iannucci is very much the forerunner and mentor of Jesse Armstrong, he uses improvisation to disguise the writing to make it look as though it’s freeform. To a certain extent, it is and they don’t want to make it look so on the nose. It has to be funny, entertaining and stuff to make someone say give me more. That’s the skill. The weaponry is to use improvisation. It’s been going on for years and I’ve been using it. It’s a tool and you use it as one to enhance the truth.