Jeremy Strong on Tragedy Ahead for Kendall Roy – The Hollywood Reporter

(This story contains spoilers for the final season premiere of Succession, “The Munsters.”)

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) isn’t alone anymore. After a turbulent ride through three seasons of HBO’s Succession, the second eldest son of Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and former heir apparent to the Waystar empire now has actual allies on his side: siblings Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), just as he always wanted.

Getting here wasn’t easy for Kendall; just ask anyone who attended the infamous “Too Much Birthday” celebration of his 40th turn around the sun. Staying here might be even harder, as peace never lasts forever on Succession, and indeed usually takes on a harsher form than the previous war. But for now, Ken and his siblings can breathe out their first victorious sigh of relief, having banded together to abandon their plans for a new business called TheHundred (no affiliation with the CW drama of the same name) in favor of buying Pierce Media Group out from under their evil, estranged dad’s nose — on the man’s lonely birthday, no less. Just enough birthday, this time around.

It’s a rare win for the siblings Roy, even rarer for Kendall specifically. It’s also a more subdued affair than the audience is used to, at least when it comes to Kendall. The premiere focuses less on his antics and more on Logan’s isolation, Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) Disgusting Brothers descent into the dark side, and Shiv and Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) dissolving marriage.

For his part, Kendall is chewing up sunflower seeds (Strong specifically chose that snack for the character, naturally) and less on scenery, playing a support role in his alliance’s dealings, rather than his typical grandiosity. For his part, Strong loves the premiere’s subtle use of Kendall — especially since it’s not going to last for long as the final season chugs along. To hear Strong tell it, the nine remaining episodes will see Ken and his extended family back on their race to the bottom soon enough.

Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Strong about the final Succession premiere, Kendall’s new outlook on life, the darkness still there and the darkness still to come, and the ceremony that marked the end of his time on the show.

There’s a significant time jump between seasons three and four. How did you prepare for this iteration of Kendall, and the renewed relationship with Shiv and Roman?

You know, the track is sort of laid for you. Kendall, at the end of season three, on the dirt ground of that parking lot, kind of unburdens himself of this terrible secret he’s been carrying around, that’s been eating him alive from the inside. He tells them: “I’m blown into a million pieces.” He reaches out for a hand and asks for their help. He lets them carry him. They sort of do a fireman’s carry out of that scene, and it continues into the beginning of this next season, where he’s leaning on them. He needs them. They’ve formed an alliance together, and they’re flying in V formation for the first time, really. He’s put himself back together, piece by piece, in whatever precarious way he’s managed. He’s driving his Porsche Taycan around Mulholland, eating sunflower seeds, and feeling pretty good.

Were the sunflower seeds your idea?

Yeah. You try to tell a story with behavior. We were in the Palisades… there wasn’t anything scripted, but I suddenly realized I needed something, and I needed sunflower seeds. So I went and got them.

Kendall says he needs something “super-absorbing” to focus on; sunflower seeds certainly qualify!

It’s a funny line, but it also points to something ultimately so tragic, right? Kendall is aware that he has a sort of bottomless hole inside of him that he needs to fill, that in the past, he’s filled with drug use and substance abuse. He tries to fill it with his professional endeavors and pursuits. He’s going to continue trying to fill it that way, which I see as a sort of tragedy. [Creator Jesse Armstrong] and I talked about Richard III before this season, which is a play about the tragedy of a person who gets what they want, but by the time they get what they want, by the time Richard III sits on that throne, he has mortgaged off himself spiritually and crossed every emotional and ethical moral line, so that the leakage of his soul is complete by the time he arrives there. There’s very little left of him to put the crown on. That’s not to say that’s what this season is, but it’s in the DNA of it.

In those conversations with Jesse, were you talking about this as the shape of Kendall’s final arc? Were you keyed in on this being the end at that point?

No, but I had always known Jesse was thinking about it, and to be completely honest, I advocated for it to be the end of this character’s arc. I feel the arc has run its course, in the best way, in an almost historical way in terms of modern drama. I feel I’ve gotten to play one of the great modern antiheroes. But in an arc, you can only have so much catharsis and so much tragedy. (Pauses.) Although, just when I thought I couldn’t go any lower, enter season four. But it’s staggering to me, the achievement of Jesse and the writers, just the way they’ve continued to raise the stakes and write double black diamond level material for us to go through. But I was ready to be done.

Shiv (Sarah Snook), Rome (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in the season four premiere.

Claudette Barius/HBO

This episode ends with a historic moment of triumph for Kendall, Rome and Shiv with their Pierce acquisition. There’s a lot of room for it to spiral, but for now, it’s a solid position. What was it like to tap into that moment of victory for the siblings?

I actually feel like, in the beginning of this season, Kendall is a bit in the back seat of the car, and happy to be in a band. He’s been such a prime mover throughout everything. But he’s still coming back from the ropes of what happened in Italy, and happy to be along for this ride with his brother and sister. Every victory for Kendall has been a pyrrhic victory. Every victory has contained the seeds of destruction or loss inside of it. This is a nice moment of connection with his brother and sister, and the moment in the river where things are sort of placid and calm… before they become class-five white water rapids.

The move happens so quickly, just as they’re on the precipice of launching their own business, TheHundred. What’s the balance on their decision to go after Pierce being a wise business call, versus it being mostly driven by taking a shot at their dad?

Yeah, I mean, it’s both. I do think Kendall has much more of Logan in him than he thinks, more than anyone thinks. I think Kendall recognizes that it actually is a good business opportunity, and that sometimes you do have to pivot. The idea of building an empire on an established brand and performing CPR on this legacy media brand, in an election year… like, his father started with newspapers. There’s something about the allure of newspapers that he both wants to compete with his father and dominate his father, but he also wants to be in his father’s footsteps.

As we look toward the end of the series, have you processed the end of Kendall Roy? Have you released Kendall yet, or is that process still ongoing?

The sort of rituals you can do… we finished filming on location somewhere I’m probably not allowed to say, but it was very warm and tropical. Maybe 15 minutes after we finished, I had Kieran and Sarah buzz my hair off. That was one step. I think a bunch of other people jumped in with the clippers, too. Anybody who wants to help. (Laughs.) Then I flew to Denmark, where I have a house near the ocean. I went to my house directly from the airport, took a long walk, sat on the beach, watched Kendall go down with the sun, and said, “Adios.”

Interview edited for length and clarity.

New episodes of Succession release Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max. Follow along with THR‘s Succession final season coverage.

2023-03-27 15:20:45