Emmy nominee Kieran Culkin of HBO’s Succession discuses his role as Roman. He also talks about some of his favorite moments on the show and his new appreciation for how hard it is to work in animation. Finally, he discusses how, if any Succession actor wins, it is a win for the entire team.
Awards Daily: There are so many great scenes for you this season, but one I found the most interesting was in “Too Much Birthday” with Roman at his highest after he has cut the deal with Lukas, and he leaves that voice mail for Logan saying he is the only kid his dad needs. It is him at his highest while also his most cruel. What did you do to get into that scene?
Kieran Culkin: Oh, that’s interesting, uh, drugs. No, actually never done. That might have been my favorite episode of the season because where Roman was at felt like such a victory, and by the end of the scene almost invincible. We actually did a couple of takes where I thought nothing could affect me because that’s how good I felt about everything, starting out with dad saying, “Here, give Ken this card.” As cruel as it is, and to some extent Roman does feel bad about that, I do think there is something good about that position of Ken trying to kill dad and dad’s saying, with me by his side, “F*** you, you are done.” We do that, and then I alone land the f***ing deal. Who else is the guy if it is not me? It’s got to be f***ing me. It just feels that way, so I felt invincible. We did a couple of takes where Snook threw insults my way and I just wasn’t letting it hit me because I just felt invincible. They were, like, try to let some of them land, and I just couldn’t. I was, like, I am impenetrable right now and that felt right. But then it was interesting still being able to be hit by her a little bit. Like her saying, “Why? Because you are the CEO who can’t f***.” Like that, ooo, you hit me with a personal thing, but it was cool to get hit and still feel like I had vulnerable spots, and then regroup and be like, I have a comeback for that. Then it was great because here comes Ken, who is just broken, and I am on the complete opposite side and just feel no remorse, just beat him and kick him while he is down. I got to say that is a real joy to be able to do. (laughing) As long as it is my job, and not in real life.
Awards Daily: One of the defining relationships Roman has on the show is with Gerry. Have you and J. Smith-Cameron talked about what you think is behind that?
Kieran Culkin: Not really. I think what we do in the scenes is most of their interactions besides him sending the occasional pic to her. They will let the camera roll so we can dink around so we get a sense of what is going on in between, but for the most part Gerry doesn’t give Roman much of anything that she feels towards him that is anything beyond a business standpoint, or this guy is kind of annoying–she doesn’t give it away. So it always keeps me guessing. She doesn’t push him away hard enough so there is part of me that thinks she is kinda into this. But she may find him annoying and find him useful in terms of her career. So I do not know to what degree it is sincere, and I think that is what keeps it interesting and exciting for Roman.
Awards Daily: I know you can’t say anything about season four, so I will ask what is it like back filming after everything that happened in season three?
Kieran Culkin: I was just very excited, because I am just sorta a geek and fan of the show so I want to know where it is going to go. When I saw the last episode I was, like, man I can’t wait to get the scripts. And when they come I do not know ahead of time. I do not know how the season ends. We just got the table re-draft for episode four so that is about as caught up as I am. So I don’t have any spoilers, it is exciting. I just want to see if we pick up exactly where we left off, because three picked up on the exact same day about an hour after season two ended. That was cool because the whole narration of season three is not very long, it’s about six weeks or something like that. Sometimes we do a season and it is just a couple of weeks time, so it is really interesting. Are we picking exactly where we left off? Because I have to get into that head space. Or are we a few months down the line or a year? I don’t know, it is exciting.
Awards Daily: Speaking to that, I read it took longer for you to get into Roman for the fourth season. Do you know why that was and how do you get into Roman’s head?
Kieran Culkin: I just read it, that is usually it. Just say the words and follow the text and it guides you. This year I am not sure because I hadn’t properly worked on anything since and I just had the second kid and had been living the life of being the father to two young kids. We had to move and then, suddenly, I was on set wearing the costume and there was this feeling of, Was I just here yesterday or has it been a year? So it was a bit of a mind-f***. I think I was just trying to make sure that I wasn’t just doing Roman. I was fighting that all day. I don’t want this line to be so jokey because I don’t want it to be so on the nose. I was combating that to some degree. I guess throughout hanging out and doing a scene with Snook, Jeremy and Alan Ruck– it was the four of us at a table–and it was how we ended the night, and the last couple of takes they let us be loose. The loose ones are really fun for us because it informs the dynamics of the characters and what is actually happening in the scene, but what ends up in the show tends to be the stuff that is in the text. I think once they opened it up and we got to play around making each other laugh in character in the scene it started to come alive. Then we would go back to the text and the text would feel more informed, and it would feel like oh, this is it, this is the show, it is alive again.
Awards Daily: I see you have been doing some voice work recently with Solar Opposites and The Boys: Diabolical and that The Hospital was announced. What got you interested in doing animation work now?
Kieran Culkin: There are also like two more on there. I have always been interested in doing that, but there were a couple things I was naive about. I tried doing voice-over work for commercials and I never booked anything. It always felt strange and I thought well, it’s because I am not an announcer, I am an actor. So I thought, I want to get into animation because it is acting. One thought was that my thirty plus years of acting can translate into voice work. I was wrong about that, It’s a completely different skill set, it’s a completely different muscle that I have not trained at all. The other thing that I was naive about was thinking that you go into the booth for an hour, piece of piss. Done. Easy. That s*** is hard, that is not an easy job. I feel like I am learning a new instrument and I spend hours and hours in there and I come away going man, that was hard work. But it is still fun.
Awards Daily: Have you had a favorite moment playing Roman throughout Succession’s run?
Kieran Culkin: We had this absolutely fantastic scene that we shot. I feel like the stuff that comes alive the most is when you get the four kids, Connor, Kendall, Shiv and Roman in a room and that’s when I feel like we have the best dynamics. We shot a scene for season two on a boat in Croatia, the four of us, and it was the last thing we shot. It was kinda late so we were wiry, it’s late night and on a boat, and we did this thing. It was just so alive and had all this movement, and they kept giving us lines and we would just play with it. It was so great, and there were crew members that kept coming up to us to say that it was an amazing scene and we felt it. That might be the best scene we ever shot. Then we went to watch the episode and it was cut. And I saw in real time why, it was the last episode of season two and it is right before Ken goes to make the press announcement. I heard the music cue and I was like wait, the music, are they not going to do the scene? And it just cut to the next morning with him walking to the helicopter, and immediately I understood why they had to cut that scene. It was just a momentum thing. Here is this thing where Ken has been asked to fall on the sword and here he goes to the press conference, it just flowed better and made sense. But if you go to HBO Max and look at the picture, the picture is the four of us sitting at a table and it is that scene. So they used the image but they didn’t use the scene.
Awards Daily: Maybe it is on a special features DVD somewhere.
Kieran Culkin: Maybe they will do that if anyone watches DVD again.
Awards Daily: You are up against two of your co-stars at the Emmys. Do you guys talk about that or pick on each other about it? Is there any dynamic there?
Kieran Culkin\: No, it hasn’t really been mentioned much. ‘Up against’ is a very peculiar way to see it. That’s not how we see it. I don’t speak for them but I am sure they feel the same way. All it is is more nominations and more things for the show and it really just feels like a collective. It feels like when one person wins something it is like we did it. There isn’t even a jokey banter about it. It’s if you win great, if I win great, if nobody does that’s fine too.
Awards Daily: Probably a very healthy way to deal with that
Kieran Culkin: Eh, it’s not really why anybody does this s***. It’s just a lovely, nice little compliment. It is not the end all, be all.