Very few actors can manifest the gravitas to properly convey the power behind a character such as Waystar Royco media patriarch Logan Roy. That small list diminishes further when you consider the subtle nuances of a man who’s spent decades navigating turbulent acquisitions and intense, duplicitous negotiations.
For Succession producer/director Adam McKay and series creator Jesse Armstrong, the only choice was veteran Scottish actor and Golden Globe winner Brian Cox. The only question was how long Logan would be on the series?
“Initially the idea was a one season role for Logan,” shares Cox. “When Jesse, Adam, and I were speaking on the phone it became clear that they were caught on the idea of what they could do with Logan in the long-term.”
After capturing lightning in a bottle with season one, Armstrong and his writing staff doubled down to deliver a thrilling second season.
In the premiere episode, the Roy family discusses selling off the company versus fighting off the “bear hug” corporate takeover instigated by Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) in the final episodes of season one.
With Kendall sidelined after season one’s finale, it’s Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) that convinces her father not to sell Waystar Royco. The two have an honest conversation and come to a private understanding that she’ll take over as Logan’s successor in the near future.
Logan determines that the best defense is to secure an acquisition for Waystar Royco that’s robust enough to give them impunity from attack. Enter Holly Hunter’s Rhea Jarrell, who attempts to broker the acquisition of liberal-leaning Pierce Media for Waystar Royco.
The multi-billion-dollar deal is nearly torpedoed by Shiv’s premature announcement that she’ll take over for Logan at the Pierce family retreat. However, the deal is ultimately capsized by a very public scandal with Waystar Royco’s cruise line division.
Following that failure, Hunter’s Rhea Jarrell accepts and quickly exits a position at Waystar Royco, leaving Logan Roy in an incredibly vulnerable position going into the season two finale. Thanks to poor congressional testimony from son-in-law Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and the growing cruise line scandal, it’s clear that someone on the board has to take the fall.
Emmy nominated for directing the finale, Mark Mylod brilliantly builds tension aboard the lavish yacht serving as a makeshift courtroom for Judge Logan Roy.
One of the key scenes, a twelve page breakfast table conversation, shows the Waystar Royco board members turning against each other in an attempt to avoid the guillotine.
In the end, Logan sends his emotionally compromised addict son Kendall to the slaughter. However, things take an unexpected turn that leaves the Roy patriarch in a very interesting position entering season three.
Brian Cox spoke to Awards Focus about the roller coaster of family dynamics in season two, his feelings on Logan’s veracity, and whether or not Logan underestimated Kendall in their closing conversation.
Awards Focus: This latest season, there’s the scene where you and Sarah are talking about if you should sell the company? There’s such a humanity to that scene, and I felt that Logan was being truly authentic in that moment. Talk about how you read that on the page, and how you perceived Logan’s offer which ultimately didn’t pan out for Shiv.
Brian Cox: It’s a deceiving to the audience a lot of the time with Logan, but he is actually being authentic. He’s a bastard, but he is being authentic. In episode two, when he brings her (Shiv) on board and says “I want it to be you,” he genuinely wants that.
But the problem is she can’t keep her mouth shut. This is where Logan is slightly misunderstood: he’s a demon, but he loves his children and his number one priority is his business. People think he’s deceiving, but he’s more clear than people give them the credit for.
AF: In the beginning of the pilot, the audience wonders if Logan might be losing his mental faculties and it turns out to be a brain bleed that’s treatable. Do you feel like that storyline has been closed now? Logan is back at full strength with residuals from that condition?
Cox: Logan was originally a one season role, but that was quickly abandoned in a conversation with Jessie and Adam. They got caught up with the idea of what they could do with Logan, so it made a lot of sense for Logan’s trajectory throughout the series to start with this weak and fragile thing.
Slowly, he emerges through season one and especially in season two with the “Boar on the floor” episode. He’d had a few drinks and really reaches full demonic levels there. He’s quite honest in that scene, it’s just not a very nice kind of honesty.
AF: In the “Boar on the floor” scene and the scene where the Roy family is meeting with the Pierce family, you’re shooting with over a dozen actors. Can you talk about the energy and how that process differs from the intimate scenes?
Cox: There’s nothing better for actors than to work with other actors who can deliver the goods. The great thing about working with Holly Hunter, Cherry Jones, Danny Huston, and all of the cast, is they know how to shoot the goods.
I’ve always admired Holly and Cherry and to be working with them is a dream. We get that wonderful conflict between the three of us. All of that leads to that kind of quality that you can’t describe, that you can create with other actors. Acting is about reacting, but you have to have somebody to react to.
When you’ve got Holly Hunter or Cherry Jones or J Smith-Cameron, that’s just wonderful to play with and I’ve never been in a job where I’ve had such admiration for the cast. We love what we do, and we love the community. There’s a real force in playing such dysfunctional people, when in reality we’re an incredibly functional group.
AF: The arc for Roman (Kieran Culkin) this season is quite remarkable in terms of personal growth and his relationship to Logan. He went from making the rookie mistake that led to the infamous “Boar on the floor” tirade to surviving a hostage situation and ultimately coming through for his father with his expertise in the finale.
Seeing Roman give an acute analysis of the Middle East deal and how it’s wouldn’t work was arguably the most adult moment of his character’s life. It even yields a sign of respect from Logan.
Cox: It’s a tremendous moment. And of course, Logan doesn’t jump on that, he just says, “That’s good, the boy really did good.” In terms of the backhand, Logan isn’t even aware that it’s Roman that he’s lashing out at. In a way, he doesn’t mean to hit him, and that’s why it’s such an awkward apology.
In terms of Kieran, he goes to the full-tilt with the character, and he does extraordinary things with the masturbation and all of that. Roman, the character, is desperately trying to find who he is in this family scenario. And suddenly, there’s this glimpse in the tenth episode, when he looks at this and says, “This ain’t right. This financial situation ain’t right. I’m not buying it.” And he’s on the money. And Carl (David Rasche), who’s the financial manager, goes, “This kid knows.” That’s one of the great twists and turns that sets him up for a brilliant third season. Suddenly, he’s considerable, and he’s not a traitor.
AF: There’s so much emphasis on your reaction to the speech made by Kendall. The most interesting thing is when you approach him on the treadmill, and he says, “did I ever really have that in me?” When he says “you’re not a killer,” is that the moment when Kendall makes that choice?
Cox: He is very caring of Kendall throughout season two. He protects him on Boar on the Floor, because he knows he’s been through a trauma. He’s not unsympathetic to that, but he knows he’s weak. He’s desperately trying to find a virtue, and it happens with the act of treachery. But it’s an open act of treachery, it’s finally somebody standing up saying, “My father’s a bastard, he’s a nasty man.” And you go, “I can deal with that. Bring it on, let’s see where we go from here.” That’s what I loved about it, it’s just Logan’s sense of his son. When he says “no, you’re not a killer.” And he’s not a killer — he tries, but he’s not a killer. That galvanizes him, but I don’t think he’s thinking he wants to galvanize him. He’s just telling him a home truth. Then there’s all this distress, but when he comes on, he goes “there we go, that’s my boy.” He’s finally coming through the openings and owning what he does. And he says, “Okay, now we know where to start from.”
AF: The writers give you guys so much room to grow. We got to see a bit of Logan’s interest in Holly Hunter’s character not only as helping him run the company, but a hint of romance. Was that exciting for you to explore that?
Cox: Holly and I agreed that this was a friendship, not a sexual thing. There’s that moment when he asked her to stay the night but he just doesn’t want her to go home so late. He’s not saying, “Let’s sleep together,” but everybody thinks he is.
If the audience thinks that, that’s okay, but from his point of view, that wasn’t the route. It was the potential of something else, which unfortunately didn’t happen because she lost her nerve. It was wonderful working with Holly. She’s Holly Hunter, good god, she has a pretty formidable legacy. Playing these scenes, it would have been obvious to say that we had an affair, but that’s tedious. It’s much better to say that this is a friendship that could have developed into an affair. He met someone and thought this chutzpah, and she has what his daughter doesn’t have. She’s cunning, she’s very skilled. That scene where I first meet her, she plays it beautifully.
AF: In closing, I want to touch on one of best comic book films in existence, X-Men 2. What you did with William Stryker is so brilliant, can you talk about that project and being indoctrinated into the comic book world?
Cox: Bryan Singer fought for me on that project. He’d been a great admirer of when I played Hannibal Lecter and then he saw this film I did called L.I.E. where I played a CIA operative. Bryan thought this would be absolutely right for Stryker, this dark, questionable figure. What a cast too. Ian McKellen and I did King Lear and Richard III together, and toured the world. I’d known Patrick Stewart for years, but I didn’t know Hugh and everybody else.
Bryan really is the X-Men, it didn’t work with Brett (Ratner), who took over that third film. I slotted into that second film really well because of Stryker’s obsessive demonic side, and what he did to his own son, so that was a wonderful role. It was a wonderful role and they didn’t let me do it again. Danny Huston got to play Stryker, and we’ve talked about it on Succession.
Byron Burton also contributed to this article.