For the last three seasons of HBO’s Emmy-winning drama series, director and executive producer Mark Mylod has been responsible for the grand visual scope of the series.
Having cut his teeth directing episodes of The Affair, Game of Thrones, and Shameless, Mylod continues to engage audiences by maintaining the rough edges that an otherwise esteemed show may lose. The international locations are incredibly lavish and engage the family’s wealth and stature alongside the characters’ emotional journeys.
In the final two episodes of season three, the Logan family attends the wedding of Logan Roy’s [Brian Cox] ex-wife Caroline Collingwood [Harriet Walter] as the Roy siblings try to affirm their position within the company.
Mylod, who directed both episodes, deliberately placed the revealing conversation between Kendall [Jeremy Strong], Shiv [Sarah Snook], and Roman [Kieran Culkin] on a dirt patch beside trash cans at Caroline’s wedding to emphasize the abrupt intimacy of the confessional moment.
“The first few takes were just way off, and the actors couldn’t connect. We kept lobbing in different stimulus, whether it be waiter’s coming out with the trash or sitting the characters down on the ground,” shares Mylod. “Then it just clicked at one point because Kieran [Culkin] reached out and touched Jeremy [Strong]’s shoulder, and that set off a chain reaction with the other two actors… Those three siblings were touching for the first time in my head, at least since they were kids.”
Mylod spoke with Awards Focus about his upcoming feature Menu, the relationship between Tom and Greg in Succession’s third season, working with Brian Cox on that final scene of the season, and what he’s looking forward to most with season four.
Awards Focus: How has it been since you wrapped on Succession’s third season and started on your upcoming feature film, Menu?
Mark Mylod: It’s been exhausting. I finished in Italy, returned, kissed my wife and kids in New York, then went to Savannah for pre-production of Menu. It was full speed right into the shoot, and we’ve been editing ever since.
By a weird synchronicity, we’re actually locking the cut today. It’s just in time to start shooting season four of Succession, so it is a bit non-stop at the moment.
The experience of the movie was actually tough because of budget challenges and COVID, but the saving grace was just this incredible cast.
I wanted to shoot in this Altman-esque style, which basically needed all 14 main actors to be on the set every day and improvising up a storm. They were just completely into it, and it was just a blast. I’m really proud of the film.
AF: I want to talk about the cast of Succession and how they’ve grown over the last few years. How does the familiarity of the cast and crew influence some of the choices we see on screen?
Mylod: Everything is really in service of the script, particularly when the script is that extraordinary. This season I knew we wanted to have this slightly wasteland feel to it, and that was what was on offer with some of the locations.
The location of the scene with Kendall’s confession was a real gift because it was perfect creatively, in my opinion. It also happened to be beautifully practical in that it was literally around the corner from where we were shooting the wedding. It was one of those that just fell on your lap, which doesn’t happen often.
The familiarity is lovely. I know what the cast needs to do their best work, so I’ve got that shorthand in setting up the environment so everybody can do their best.
AF: When you’re trying to keep everybody in the shot, what practical set-ups are you thinking of when you and Jesse sit down? Are you reacting live to what’s happening?
Mylod: The journey of a particular scene is one of chaos. The three characters during Kendall’s confession are going in completely different directions and yet somehow find their way together through this extraordinary revelation. That was a powerful arc for a single scene, so everything is in service of that.
Jesse and I talk a lot about the intention of a scene, but it’s there on the page. Everybody knows their characters so well, and I know the style. I know this particular moment, but I’m trying to set up an environment where they can find that.
The first few takes were just way off, and the actors couldn’t connect. We kept lobbing in different stimuli, whether it be waiters coming out with the trash or sitting the characters down on the ground. I was getting really scared with the practicals of the hot day and dust blowing in Sarah’s eyes, which made it literally impossible for her to see by halfway through the take.
I don’t want to do pick-ups with an intense scene like that. It doesn’t even occur to me. So we shot the whole scene from start to finish on a ten-page scene. It’s arduous, but that’s the process.
Then it just clicked at one point because Kieran [Culkin] reached out and touched Jeremy [Strong]’s shoulder, and that set off a chain reaction with the other two actors, and it just gelled. You could feel it in that three-shot. The beauty of it for me was how extraordinarily brilliant everybody was in character. Those three siblings were touching for the first time in my head, at least since they were kids. So I’m really proud of how that came together.
AF: The relationship between Greg and Tom is so fascinating because of the power dynamics and mentorship. Have you discussed how Matthew Macfayden plays those scenes and the intention behind the unpredictability?
Mylod: It’s one of those things where when something is working, we don’t deconstruct it too much for fear of breaking it or just making it too self-conscious. Kieran has said every year that he’s so worried about lovely compliments he gets from people, which is such a Roman thing to say. The fear is that the characters become a meme or something and the characters becoming a catchphrase and two-dimensional cutouts. I think we’re all aware of that.
The dynamic between Greg and Tom does continue to brew, so it thickens, doesn’t it? There is codependency there because, for Tom, it’s one of the few situations where he does get to be the high-status person in the relationship. He needs that, and underneath is that almost English public school bullying element. He’s just roasting the younger kid. But, there is also a genuine affection too, and genuine excitement to be on an adventure together.
There’s a boyish quality to Tom, which I think is one of the redeeming qualities in Tom’s character. Underneath is that vulnerability of just feeling an insatiable kind of imposter syndrome. He doesn’t feel that when he’s with Greg, so it must be a relief.
AF: Can you talk about that final scene with the siblings and Logan and the process of breaking down that moment? What discussions took place with Brian Cox regarding the ebb and flow of Logan’s hostility?
Mylod: There was a real debate. Brian’s first instinct was for the character not to break at all and for Logan to be ice cold throughout, which was how we did the first couple of takes. If the scene had been two pages shorter, that dynamic would’ve held, but Jesse and I encouraged him to have a go at breaking, to lose his patience with the kids at a certain point, and use the idea that the conversation is not getting anywhere.
Everything is a calculation and Logan is always two steps ahead of everybody else. It made sense for the character to stay controlled, sweet-talking as long as we could until all those avenues were exhausted.
We started messing with it just because we like to explore the scenes as fully as possible. There was something so utterly satisfying about Logan breaking there because it felt like the stakes were so high for him as well. It felt like the stakes were loaded on the sibling’s side and not entirely on his. It was never even jeopardy for him, but his cleverness and the manipulation of his ex-wife Caroline, as well as a healthy tip-off from Tom, had to be a big deal for Logan as he was really close to having a big problem.
AF: What’s exciting for you this upcoming season regarding locations and maintaining the authenticity of this privileged, rich world?
Mylod: Jesse is very fond of saying, just to torture me, that he’d happily shoot the season in a letter box or a small garden shed. I do play the role of the kind of protector of the visual scope of the show. I think it’s important to represent these characters, this billionaire world, as accurately as we possibly can within our budget, which is a healthy budget.
The show’s success has opened doors, and it’s easier to get indoors now too. We want to keep the rough edges and not get too polished, but we go where the scene demands. We follow the story and the characters and don’t make the mistake of thinking we can just set a scene somewhere because it has become available to us. That’s when some of the authenticity in a multi-season show can start to slip, and I remain completely paranoid that we don’t go down that road.