Spoilers for season four, episode three, of Succession, “Connor’s Wedding.”
Four seasons and three episodes into Succession, in the middle of his son’s wedding — which he was too busy to attend — death comes for Logan Roy. In typical fashion for the HBO series, human frailty strikes suddenly and unexpectedly: Brian Cox’s media magnate succumbs to heart failure on a charter jet somewhere over the Atlantic, on his way to broker (again) a deal to sell off most of his empire to a Swedish billionaire. Stuck on a party yacht in New York Harbor, Logan’s children can only listen in via a phone call with Tom as medics perform chest compressions on their father. Logan’s death, as Cox points out, was an inevitable part of the series: It’s called Succession, therefore “you need something to succeed from.” But after three seasons of Logan’s plowing through health scares, his final breath comes as a shock, setting the stage for the last seven episodes in which his children and associates will surely jockey to fill the Waystar Royco power vacuum.
Cox, however, treats his character’s passing with equanimity. He doesn’t like to linger. He’s pleased with the fact that he kept Logan’s death, which he filmed in July, and Logan’s last few scenes with his security guard Colin (Scott Nicholson) and his assistant turned lover, Kerry (Zoë Winters), a secret for all these months. He has a practical approach to the whole experience, comparing playing Logan to Shakespearan kings like Lear and Henry IV, and not much interest in getting sentimental about the end of the series. He’s definitely not one to ponder what happens next or muse on whether Logan would approve of the messy way his kids try to get a statement together about his death. “I’m dead, so I don’t know!”
Given the show’s title, I imagine you knew Logan would have to die at some point. When did Jesse Armstrong tell you about the events of this episode?
He told me just before we started season four. He said Logan was going to be killed off in the third episode.
Did he give any reasoning for that?
The explanation was that the reason was obvious. It’s about succession. You need a corpse. If it was a different kind of show, it could have gone into a more mysterious frame — Is Logan dead? That kind of stuff. But I think Jesse realized it had to be the way it had to be, and he made the decision to do that.
What was it like to film Logan’s death? Were you just lying on the ground as they did chest compressions on you?
We had to be very careful about giving away the game. I came in three episodes later [than when the rest of the episode was filmed] to do the death thing, and I didn’t do anything. I just lay there and had the phone by my ear. That’s why I think there was a very strong contention and very strong reason to think that maybe he’s not dead at all. Maybe it’s all a ruse! If you think about it, the last image is a body bag. Anybody could be in that body bag … There’s a possibility.
An American Titan
‘Succession’ ends an era.
The last conversation Logan has with all his kids is in the second episode at the karaoke bar where he says “sorry.” Did you film that scene with the awareness it would be his last moments with them?
No, no, no. Because you don’t anticipate. I think he has reached the end of his tether with them, and there’s a deep disappointment at the fact that none of them have stepped up to the mark. And his loneliness is reaffirmed. I mean, he’s not good at relationships at all, Logan. The female relationships in his life have been pretty disastrous. What I think is nice is it boils down to the two people who matter to him most, which is Kerry and Colin, his bodyguard. He’s got a very distinct relationship to Colin.
What is it about Colin that makes him trust him?
It’s a proper relationship. Colin doesn’t ask for anything. He’s not avaricious like Logan’s horrible children. I think Logan has always treated Colin well. That’s why Logan does think he is his best pal, because there’s never been any ulterior motive with him. He’s a simple guy, and he’s always there. And I love the fact that Jesse wrote that scene. It was such a beautiful scene to play. What’s so extraordinary about the show is that something we’d started as a satirical comedy has ended up as a much more rounded drama.
I don’t know what happens to all those characters now, but I think it was difficult for the actors. They didn’t quite know where they were going because I had abandoned them. Sarah Snook, who’s a wonderful, wonderful actress, didn’t even know the series was finishing until the read-through of the last episode. I knew it was going to be the last season, but Sarah didn’t. I think she was devastated by that.
So were you coming to the read-throughs even after Logan’s death?
No, I don’t do any of that. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. It was hard to keep a secret all that time. It was a long time. When did I die? God, I think it was last July.
It must be a relief to know the episode is airing and you don’t have to keep the secret anymore.
From one sense, it is. I’m very proud of myself because I’ve never been able to keep secrets and this is one secret I actually did rather well on.
It’s interesting that Logan sticks with Kerry and brings her on his trip to Stockholm even after her mess of an ATN anchor audition. What do you think he sees in her?
Well, Zoë Winters is an actress of considerable depth and intelligence. Because she was cast in the role as Kerry, Kerry understands she’s in a dilemma. And I think the ATN thing was not necessarily her desire; it was just an idea that she should maybe do that. But she hasn’t got that skill. She would be the first to realize that. But she went through that particular hoop and came out the other side of it. It’s the constancy. The characters that are really interesting in the story for me are Colin and Kerry, because they’re constant, they never waver. They’ve dedicated themselves to that man, come what may, and he understands that. He treats them well as a result.
Regardless of his death, do you think there was ever a universe where Logan would have made it to Connor’s wedding?
There might have been; it’s hard to say. Work comes first. That’s his priority. And also Connor has undergone certain changes. I do think that Connor is on the autism spectrum. I think that’s where his illusions come from. His illusion is that he’s a possible presidential front-runner. The rest of the children, they’re just pushing the envelope and pushing and pushing and pushing. And you can only push so far. Eventually it will splat open.
Before the flight, Logan reaches out to Roman and pushes him to cut out Gerri. It seems like he’s always had a soft spot for him.
Roman was his hopeful child. He doesn’t acknowledge it in any depth, but there’s the fact that Roman saw through the Middle Eastern money in season two, He knew that was fake. He knew they were not going to be delivering. Logan has a lot of respect for that. The only problem with Roman is his potty mouth. He sent the dick picture and all that. And in a way, that lets Logan down because he says, “Come on, son, you don’t have to do all this shit. Be proper.” Kendall’s a dreamer. Kendall is an addict. He does expect something for nothing. That’s his biggest mistake. Shiv, of course, he wanted to bring into the fold. In a way that was her undoing because he realized that she was more nakedly ambitious than actually one thought.
There’s intentional vagueness about the timeline of Logan’s death in this episode. Do you think he heard Roman’s final “Fuck you” voice-mail?
No, it was too late. The only way he saw the dick-pic thing [when Roman accidentally texted Logan instead of Gerri] was because it was a mistake. He wouldn’t have been pursuing it. It was just this alert that came up on his phone.
He does claim only to take the action points from his emails. He’s really distant from all communication.
Logan doesn’t dwell on things. He’s this machine that keeps moving on and on and on and on and on. I mean, that’s his problem. Maybe if he dwelled a little bit more on stuff, he would be in a much better position.
You mentioned how Succession initially felt like satire and built to more of a familial drama. Has your perception of Logan as a person changed over the course of the seasons?
No, I think Logan has just emerged. He’s a very mysterious character in many ways. I have a lot of empathy for him. I think he’s very misunderstood. I think he’s a tragic figure, very much in the tradition of those tragic kings of Shakespeare. Actually, the king that comes to mind more is Henry IV. Obviously there’s Lear connotations, but it’s also the father dealing with a child in his son Hal and not understanding him. He doesn’t understand the whole low-life thing, that his son is involved with Falstaff. The play also has the sense of the world changing and history moving forward. Logan is at this point where he’s making this deal to give up his empire and trying to cling to what he can.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” as it goes. What do you make of the fact Logan is trying to keep ahold of ATN? That’s clearly based on Murdoch keeping Fox News after selling 21st Century Fox to Disney, but what do you think of as Logan’s motivation?
Well, because that’s his baby. That’s his real baby. Television news. We know the state the print stuff is in. You guys have a very tough job. With ATN, he knows the power of television and he understands that he has to be in tune with that power.
Did you have any sort of good-bye once you had wrapped the scenes from this episode?
I do pop back and I have a couple scenes later on, which is flashback stuff. But I didn’t really see the cast very much. I suppose the last big thing we did together was a retake of the karaoke. There, Logan really says, to me, the truest line in the show: “I love you, but you’re not serious people.”
Why did you have to reshoot that scene?
The retake was outside. They didn’t like the position of the homeless man in the original version. He was too private, and we wanted him in the surroundings more, so we shot it slightly differently, just the exit. It’s a key moment because he’s saying, “Look, this is always possible for you, this fate, we’re only a hair away from it.” The Logan imperative is that he knows he’s only a hair away from total disaster at any given stage in his career.
The show has always emphasized that he came from a working-class background and can’t relate to the privilege his kids have had all their lives.
Like Henry IV, Logan’s of a different generation and has a different set of values. We always have it with one’s children. I mean, I’m dealing with my kids just now; my youngest is trying to go to college, and he’s got into a couple of them, which is nice. I was trying to get them to go somewhere, and he rightly said, “No, I want to follow this path.” I had to back off and let him get on with it. Ultimately, it’s their decision. It’s tough for them, but that’s how you grow up.
Logan never backed off.
That’s why the kids haven’t grown up. They’re not very good at making their decisions.
Logan has delivered many incredibly florid insults over the course of the series up to his death. Were any of those lines your favorite?
No, there’s just so many. You don’t dwell on any particular thing. You’re moving on. It’s beads on an abacus. Because if you dwell on something, it becomes sadistic and I don’t think he’s sadistic. Well, I know he’s not sadistic. He can be brutal, but there’s brutal attention to something and there’s also sadistic attention where you’re trying to rub their face in it. He never does that. He’s just trying desperately to hold onto something that is so important to him, which is his business, and now it’s ATN. There’s a sort of mania about that, keeping that in the grip of your hand, but he’s losing it through his children’s ineptitude.
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