finale thoughts

Succession’s Alan Ruck Is Still Unraveling Clues About Connor

“He doesn’t want to read the latest novel and have an opinion about it because he might be wrong. So he’ll read Fitzgerald or Proust or whatever everybody has talked to death and spout criticisms people have already made.” Photo: HBO

About a month ago, Alan Ruck had a dream in which he was watching Succession. “I started to call up people to tell them to watch, but they were all dead,” he says, laughing. “I think that was my subconscious saying it’s over.” Ruck spent four seasons playing the eldest and most tangential of the Roy siblings, a man who had never held a real job in his life and yet decided to run for president on a whim and whose eccentricities covered for a difficult childhood with a mother who was institutionalized. While Kendall, Shiv, and Roman competed to inherit their father’s media empire, Connor stood just to the side, focusing on politics and his relationship with Justine Lupe’s Willa, whom he paid for companionship and then married (after spending a lot of money on her flop Broadway debut). By the end of the series, Connor and Willa have moved into Logan’s old place with cow-print-related plans to redecorate and Connor potentially jetting off to Slovenia as the ambassador for future far-right president Jeryd Mencken — though if Mencken’s election doesn’t go through, Willa might end up stuck with Connor in New York.

Like most of the endings for the characters on Succession, you can read Connor’s fate in many different ways: He loses his dream of the presidency but remains ridiculously wealthy and comfortable, though bereft of affection from his close family, and he’s in a transactional marriage. (Or is it real?) Ruck relished playing in the ambiguity: “With Jesse and the rest of the writers, we always got what we needed when we needed it.”

I was thinking about how Connor might have had the happiest ending of the Roy children. Would you agree with that?
Jesse Armstrong has this theory that people don’t really change, and I think it’s absolutely true for these characters. Even though Willa and Connor come together in the third episode and they seem pretty good at the end of their wedding, Roman has the line in the finale about how Mencken’s win is going to the courts and Connor may be back in New York. Willa seems pretty disturbed by that. She had a big plan for me to go to Slovenia! I think she’s looking forward to some separation. It’s not saying a lot, but even though our relationship is better than any other romantic relationship on the show, it’s still really messed up. So I’m not sure. If she leaves Connor, that’s kind of the end of his life.

How did you think about playing the extent to which Connor’s relationship with Willa is real or transactional in any given scene?
This is a guy who’s created his own reality from the time he was quite young because the money was there to do that. I don’t think he ever really went on dates. He found out there are women who will let him rent their bodies and went, Okay. That has been a lot of his interactions with females. I don’t think he’s very good at talking to people at parties. When Willa came along, he was like, “You need money; I have money. I need a girlfriend. This is perfect.”

All the way through, she has been resistant. She’ll tell Connor what he needs to hear, but her body language will say she would rather be anywhere else. It wasn’t really until the third season — when we were at Kendall’s birthday party and they get weird about coats and she jumps in to defend him like a mama bear — that it seems like she has, if not love, then some affection for this guy. It’s still transactional, and we have that nice moment at the wedding where we were really just talking with each other. But by the finale, you get the feeling they might be drifting.

In the wedding, right in the wake of Logan’s death, I thought there was a bit of mania going on between Connor and Willa — deciding to commit to going through with it because they needed to do something.
It was emotional, filming that wedding scene. We actually shot quite a bit and then used just the piece we needed, but Mark Mylod said he wanted us to get into the right emotional zone and “to see in your body what has happened today.” I think when somebody passes, you try to do something life-affirming. That’s the way it’s been in my life: Someone passed away and then I got married.

Willa has plans to redecorate Logan’s place with a cow-print couch. How do you imagine it’ll end up looking?
It’ll be pretty bohemian, pretty eclectic. He’ll have his objets d’art and the penises of famous personages and then there will be other funky, hip, downtown stuff. I actually think it might be better than it is now. Logan’s version is so austere and overwhelming.

Did you ever talk with the writers about why Connor’s so fascinated with Napoleon specifically? Logan, for instance, is more of a Greeks-and-Romans guy.
I just think they thought it was so absurd. Something we decided along the way is that Connor’s not a moron. He does some really stupid things, but he actually reads a lot; he just only reads books that are a hundred years old. He doesn’t want to read the latest novel and have an opinion about it because he might be wrong. So he’ll read Fitzgerald or Proust or whatever everybody has talked to death and spout criticisms people have already made. With Napoleon, there’s also that he came from nothing and then became emperor. That kind of heroic tale really appeals to Connor. In his own twisted way, he sees himself as having come from nothing.

With the description of the “loony cake,” we get a fuller understanding of Connor’s mother’s institutionalization. How much of that backstory did you know earlier in the series?
Early on. Jesse said something like, “I don’t think Connor’s mother is on this planet anymore.” That was the first big clue. Then, I was figuring out the timeline of when Logan divorced Connor’s mother, how old Connor was, and what kind of effect that had on him. Somewhere in the second season, Roman had a line where he said, “My mommy was in the crazy house,” and I said, “None of you had it as hard as me.” In the third season, there’s some mention of alcohol and substance abuse. I started to fill in the gaps.

Something that made a strong impression with me about Connor early in the series was how mad he gets about the fact that the butter is still cold at the gala he’s running. It provided an insight into him not just being a bumbling character but caring intensely about these very specific small things.
That was delicious. He’s actually very emotionally fragile. He’s not a leader. He comes undone rather quickly. I mean, it’s a big venue; there’s a lot of people; the food probably wasn’t that great. It’s not like we were at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but he wanted it to be perfect because he wanted to impress his dad. Connor has quite a short fuse.

At the end of the series, nobody has told him that Shiv’s pregnant. Do you think he knows?
Yeah, that hasn’t been made clear in the text, but I don’t think he’s that unobservant. He probably knows she’s pregnant.

It’s interesting what the family involves Connor in or not. He’s out of the loop on so much, but he knows all about Logan’s mausoleum and funeral-planning. How did you consider the logic of what he gets included in?
I think those are the kinds of things the old man would call up Connor and say, “Could you do me a favor? Could you go to this cemetery and see if this mausoleum is worth a damn? Because I’m thinking about buying it, but I need eyeballs on it.” Connor would jump at the chance to do anything for Logan and go, “Yes, of course. That’s important.” With Connor, a lot of it is willful ignorance because the backstory we decided upon was that Connor had tried to go to business school when he was 18 and just couldn’t cope. It was like, These numbers are screwing me up, and I can’t focus. Logan probably realized at that point that Connor did not have what it took. He’s protecting himself by not getting involved in the business stuff. He can’t stay in a conversation about business because it doesn’t make sense to him. He’s got a disconnect about it.

When I talked to Brian Cox, he told me he thinks Connor is on the autism spectrum. Did you discuss any specific diagnosis for him?
Pretty early on, I had that conversation with Brian. It was in the first season. I had a scene with him riding around in the car. He said [imitating Cox’s Scottish accent], “Oh, yes. Connor’s on the spectrum someplace.” That makes sense because he seems to have a very hard time processing the real world. I read up on delusional disorder once I found out that he seriously wanted to run for president because I thought, This guy’s not swimming in the same water most of us are. He probably has ADHD, though it wasn’t addressed as a kid, and everyone was like, “He’s fine,” because Connor’s mother was incapable of really attending to him. But aside from that, we never came up with anything specific. Jesse was like [imitating Armstrong’s British accent], “I don’t know … perhaps.” That’s the whole show, to an extent. He loves that everybody has a different opinion about it.

If Mencken really does become president, how do you think Connor would fare in Slovenia? I was realizing that it would, in fact, be his first job ever.
He would lean so heavily on the staff. God only knows how long he would last. But he would delegate everything. “Could you take care of this, please? I’ll go shake the hands. I’ll go have the luncheons. Please do the work.”

Connor’s last scene on the show is him watching the “virtual dinner with Pops,” of him hanging out with Logan and Kerry and some of the higher-ups at Waystar. What was that like to film?
We filmed it earlier that day, before the other scene. Brian came back for it because he hadn’t been with us since the third episode. He did show up for the funeral, but only as a fake-out. It was also mine and Justine’s last day on set. We filmed the virtual dinner and then right into the next scene with the siblings. Brian had an elder sister who had just passed away, who was sort of the one who raised him, and he had just come back from Scotland. He was in a tender place. The whole thing was very emotional.

Well, with David Rasche singing Robert Burns, too, I can imagine …
It was really hard not to cry. I mean, it was great. And then doing the impression of Logan with the teapot song. I think what Logan appreciates is people basically saying “Fuck off.” He likes dirty lyrics. He likes stories about people failing. So I had to imitate him as much as I could because Logan would have been mad if I did a half-assed attempt.

Did you and Justine do anything to say good-bye when you wrapped?
No. I remember we were in the studio that day in Queens. J. Smith-Cameron was there and Georgia Pritchett, who’s one of our wonderful writers. Other people were still working and doing stuff, so we went across the street and sat in a bar for a minute like, Okay. We’re all kind of bereft. Everything about it was the perfect job. Even for me, as Connor, the way it was constructed fed how I did the part because Connor was not involved in the central drama, so I wasn’t on set as much as the other guys. I was in and out.

There’s the scene in the finale when Kendall is shouting about how he deserves the job as head of Waystar because he’s the eldest, and even then I was thinking, Well, actually, Connor’s the eldest. It’s an echo of the meltdown Connor has in Italy in season three, when he shouts about being the eldest son and they still ignore him.
You saw in that moment Siobhan just shake her head like, “No …” But from Kendall’s point of view, he’s the eldest boy of the people who matter. At the end of the third season, when Connor did have that little outburst, it was a long time coming. I was so pleased that Jesse had finally given me some teeth. I also think Connor knows his brothers and his sister are never going to change. He actually could do something wonderful if he got out of his own way. He could start a charity. He could do a lot of good. And even then, his brothers and his sisters would still be like, “You’re the first pancake. You don’t matter.”

A funny thing is I actually think Connor has a lot of money — because when Logan divorced Connor’s mother and wasn’t around, even for a weekend, he threw money at the kid. There’s this trust fund, these bonds, all in Connor’s name. When he goes up to the old man and asks for a little hundred-million dollars for Willa’s failing play at the end of the second season, I don’t think it’s because Connor doesn’t have it; I just think he doesn’t want to spend it. He’s wondering if he can get his old man to pony up.

Succession’s Alan Ruck Is Still Unpacking Clues About Connor