Jazz Tangcay catches up with Succession’s J. Smith-Cameron to talk about Gerri’s character arc, Roman and motives.
Jesse Armstrong’s Succession has fast become a must-watch show and is essential Sunday night viewing. Each week, we follow the antics of the Roys; Kendall, Roman and Shiv as they battle it out to be Logan’s “number one” and succeed daddy dearest at Waystar Royco – lest us not forget the other child, Connor. There’s also Greg who now goes by “Gregory”, Tom and Marcia all shady and all just as conniving. And then, there’s Gerri. Excellently portrayed by J. Smith-Cameron. She’s the most observant. She plays legal counsel to Logan Roy and seemingly benign, like a soldier flying under the radar has become a stealthy high-stakes player as she keeps her cards close to her chest, listens and seems ready to pounce one day…We know she has the brains and the ammo. What will happen remains to be seen.
Follow Twitter during the episode and you’ll see how much Gerri is loved. The most surprising twist this season was seeing the dynamics between Roman and Gerri and their “thing”. We should have seen this coming when all the way back in season one, Roman said, “I’ve always thought of you, and I mean this in the best possible way, as a stone-cold, killer bitch.” Of course…the sparks flew. When I caught up with actor Kieran Culkin earlier this year, he joked, “I’m always making inappropriate advances towards her but she always takes them and throws them back at me. I would love to see what would happen if Gerri and Roman took that a bit further.” Culkin got his wish! Cameron laughs as I tell her about Culkin’s wish.
I spoke to Smith-Cameron earlier this week to talk all things Gerri.
Well, I love what’s happened with Gerri this season, but weren’t you only meant to be in the show for a few episodes, Gerri wasn’t a permanent character when you first got the part?
When I was first offered it, it was for four episodes in a row starting the second episode of season one with the possibility of coming back at the end of the season. Then they just kept writing me in which was delightful.
It’s been so much fun because we got to see Gerri out of the suits, in those pj’s and not in the office. What has that been like for you to see the evolution of Gerri?
It’s been fantastic and I am just so happy. I feel like it was a fantasy of mine that I willed to happen. After my four episodes were up, I remember thinking in the back of my mind, to stay available without meaning to in case they wrote me in. They kept writing me in, and I was like, “I want to be a regular on this show.” It started as one of many interchangeable executives. I feel like I was a contributor to the character that developed as we went along as to how it felt. My idea to wear glasses and a lot of the personality was a group effort and that was so exhilarating for me. It’s been something that I keep pinching myself because I love that she’s becoming this dimensional person.
Even the idea of her apartment and getting to say it should look a certain way and I imagine it being this way; it’s so thrilling.
I was a lead on Rectify, and it was incredibly gratifying. I think she was somewhat based on Ray’s own mother and was very prescribed. With Gerri, it’s a whole different way to go about creating a character for something. It’s turning out to be such a good and fun character that people really respond to. It’s so delightful.
What are her motives with Roman and Logan? What does she want?
Well, hmmm…I don’t want to speak out of turn because I think that’s still evolving. I think they floated the idea of a flirtation between Gerri and Roman and they were enjoying the way it was playing. I think not until shortly before it started airing was I even convinced that it would still be in the episodes because it just seemed so far out to me. That was a great surprise.
I feel one of the joys of Gerri is that she plays everything so close to the vest. She’s far too cagey to show her hand, so it leaves the writer’s room to elaborate on that. I’d hate to preempt anything they might be beefing up for her by inserting my own temporary concepts that I might have.
I remember early on in one of the very first shots where Kieran’s character offered me CEO. I turn it down. I said to Jesse at the table read, “So, I’m not ambitious for this, is that right?” He said, “Well, you’re too clever to want to run the company when it’s in this much debt.” I thought OK. It’s very ambitious because it’s like figuring out a stop-gap while keeping your name in the ring.
This season, the way Logan keeps reminding me that I’m on paper and everyone knows that. It feels as if I’m a bit on the backburner with Logan this season. I feel as if maybe Gerri is used to this. I would guess she’s worked with him for a long time and she knows how that goes, you’re hot and cold and if you weather it, it will turn around again.
I feel she is ambitious and with good reason. I don’t think she knows yet how she feels yet about Roman’s advances. I think she likes him in spite of herself.
That scene in Hungary when I’m giving him business advice and buttoning his shirt, there’s almost a tenderness like they’re genuinely fond of each other as well as whatever other perversions are going on. It’s really interesting especially compared to the world of the story where everyone is out for number one and cold-hearted. I think without wanting to put too fine a point on it, I think she looks at Roman and sees someone who is a diamond in the rough. I think she sees him as someone who she can maybe shape. Maybe she’s found an ally. If you think about it, they have a lot of common goals. He’s very charismatic. He’s more clever than people realize. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it to be revealed how Gerri feels. I don’t write the show; I would never presume. [laughs]. I have to check myself because sometimes actors do it without realizing it. You kind of go, From this bit of news…if I hadn’t asked Jesse I would have assumed she does not ever want to be CEO. His answer was, “She’s too clever to want it in that shape.” It was such a clever distinction and it was never on the page. It was just between the lines.
That’s just how it is with TV, things unfold and are created as you go along. If you think about it, no one knows at the outset how many seasons something will go for. It’s impossible to really chart the whole story. Something that goes along with that is the need to make the characters very fluid and able to change course. That’s just one of the challenges of TV as opposed to a play where you know the beginning, middle and end. With TV, you don’t, so you have to be on hold.
I love that there’s a third season. I love seeing how everyone started catching up to the show and they still are, there are new viewers discovering it and binging it and you see on social media how much they love Gerri’s arc. What has that been like?
It’s thrilling, Jazz. It really is. I thought from the beginning when I saw the pilot, I thought this was very sophisticated. It’s very funny and it’s very edgy, but they’re also not spelling out anything. The audience has to work for it. There’s an audience out there that appreciates that you have to pay attention and it’s work to watch it. It’s not just a fun, veg-out escapist kind of TV pleasure. Nothing against those because those are fun too. It’s the kind of show were people want to compare notes and guess what’s going to happen. The characters are crafty and it’s plotty in a fun and satisfying way. In my experience, nothing is overtly explained, and you have to pay attention. That to me is delightful to learn that people really want that. It’s really reassuring.
It certainly does have its crazy moments. I think for Boar on the Floor my jaw was on the floor. It’s cringey but insane.
It was thrilling. It was so fantastic. When I read it, I thought it was so sadistic and harsh and so Lord of the Flies. When we were doing it, it was so funny. Even for someone like Gerri who is sort of a bystander for a large part of the scene and not the one under fire. Gerri in the scene is appalled and laying low trying to stay out of the way. As we were doing it, I was so amused. They yell, “Cut” and you feel so conflicted because you feel evil that you thought it was funny. [laughs]. I was passing Tony Roach on the way to hair and makeup and he was in his director’s chair looking at the monitor and I said, “Thanks a lot.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Now, we’re all going to hell because we were all complicit in this really evil thing and we enjoyed it. We know something about ourselves that we do not want to know.” He laughed so hard and took it as a compliment.
It was really fun. You can’t tell from the way it was shot, but people were vacillating between laughing, towering and tearing up. When he called on me, there were takes where my eyes were pink because I was trying not to cry. Cut to two hours later, you’re biting inside your cheek and it was so wild.
I was afraid it went too far, but I don’t think they did in the end.
No, it was just shockingly superb. OK, what about working with Michelle Matland and collaborating on the evolution of Gerri’s wardrobe. I loved those silk pj’s.
She is fantastic. She’s very collaborative. When I started working on it, I was there for a few episodes. I knew she was a lawyer, but I didn’t know much more. I wasn’t a regular straight away so I didn’t know how integral I was. Remember that Frank gets fired in episode 6. It could have been Gerri when I look back at my memo and the deal I originally had, it was to go through the episode and that was that.
We’d started with this idea, which isn’t wrong, of this work uniform for her. It’s very Brooks Brothers. Her look has been a classic, tweed, string of pearls corporate uniform. Maybe she has a closet of them. As I got to the set, and when I got to Gerri’s office, it’s this huge corner office with this huge view of Manhattan. I thought, “Uh oh. I have misjudged my character. She has much more money than I realized at first.” I didn’t even realize I had it. I thought wealthy and powerful is just that, wealthy and powerful. Between seasons, Michelle and I put our heads together, and we would revisit what her wardrobe was like. This season afforded us to show her at different events, in travel clothes and on these long international flights where I would not be in a Brooks Brothers suit the whole time. It was really fun because we got to expand that idea and she’s much more chic this season.
The PJs was a rewrite.
Wow. That’s amazing.
I had assumed she was in the same costume. The last version of the scene I got said she was in silk pajamas. We were shooting in Long Island, and Michelle had gone back to the city. I text her and said, “Silk pajamas?” The next thing I knew, they had bought several pairs. They were hanging in my trailer, and I didn’t even have a fitting. I tried them on and took a selfie. The pants were too long, and Michelle wrote back that they were coming to pin up the trousers. I picked the floral prints, and she liked them too.
Really it’s so much fun to be texting your designer at 11pm. We shot that scene at 4 in the morning, it was the very last scene we shot of that episode. It’s just so thrilling that you can have that relationship and that your ideas and your comfort level is so high. I remember saying to her; I know what Gerri would think about this interaction with Roman, but I don’t know how she feels about it. Michelle said, “I don’t think she knows how she feels about it” That’s interesting and I thought that’s so true. If you think about it, a lot of things happen and that’s exactly the operative thing that’s at work, is that you don’t know how to feel. You’re back and forth. The way they cut it was brilliant. In one moment, she’s disgusted and in another, she’s kind of laughing and in the next, she’s flirting. When he’s in the bathroom, she’s kind of relieved. It’s so wonderful. It’s a mistake to reduce anything to one reaction.