There’s a pattern that’s developed once a season on Succession where Kendall, Shiv, and Roman Roy have a run-in with their mother, the biting and glamorous Lady Caroline Collingwood, played by the great Harriet Walter. In season one, she descended upon Shiv’s wedding to make caustic remarks about her daughter’s new husband. In season two, she brushed off Kendall’s vague attempts to connect when the kids drop by her English manor before a trip to Logan’s birthplace in Dundee, Scotland. And in season three, the whole family comes to her wedding to a new man named Peter (Pip Torrens), who, though not that posh (“His father is a doctor,” she claims), seems to be a bit of a social climber, latching onto Caroline after some failed business ventures of his own. Of course, the nuptials are overshadowed by Logan’s last-minute deal to, potentially, sell Waystar Royco. The kids team up to stop the buyout and maintain their stake in the company, but Logan thwarts them by renegotiating the terms of his divorce from Caroline (already opened, we’re told in the previous episode, because Peter wants himself an Eaton Square flat).
In those pivotal final moments, Logan calls Caroline over speakerphone, which meant that Walter herself, who had already gone back to London, called into the show’s production in Italy from the British countryside. Walter spoke with Vulture over the phone about why Caroline goes along with the renegotiation, how her character considers herself a victim in the family games, and shopping for all of Caroline’s wedding outfits herself.
Caroline ends up becoming a key player in the finale, because she’s the one who has to agree to modify the divorce agreement. From your perspective, why did she go along with Logan?
I think she’s been twisted around Logan’s little finger before. It sounds terrible, but she’s looking to the future. She wants to look after her new husband. She thinks the kids have been spoilt, that they need to learn a few lessons and stand up on their own. She thinks they might be better off that way. This is what she’s argued to herself. They have been very unhappy people. They’ve never had the real power that they need; they’ve got money without power. I think that’s a formula for real unhappiness. I don’t think Caroline has necessarily thought that through, but she may actually have persuaded herself that this might liberate them.
On the logistical side, what was it like to film that scene? Were you calling in from somewhere else?
First of all, it’s important to know that when I played the earlier scenes, I didn’t yet know that was how the season would end. I was merrily at my wedding, and didn’t have it up my scheming sleeve that this would happen. It was going to be an in-the-flesh scene, but that would have been really hard to do. In the nature of these things, it’s easier to phone it in. [Laughs] I had returned to England by that time, and I was in the countryside in somebody’s spare room, literally on the phone for three or four hours while they did that scene. I was listening to the whole thing, speaking when I spoke, cutting off when I cut off. Then when they’d rearrange the cameras, I’d have a cup of tea and come back and do it again.
So you had this whole trip to Italy and then they said, “Oh, by the way, we need you back”?
Pretty much, yeah.
Did they have you take different approaches to how Caroline explained herself over the phone?
No, there wasn’t a lot of width of play for what Caroline could do in that scene. She’s being evasive anyway. She doesn’t want to get into it. She knows she’s fucked them over and the shorter the conversation, the better.
Now I’m thinking about that scene in the previous episode between Caroline and Shiv where Caroline mentions that she doesn’t think she’s “ever won a single battle in my whole life.” That seems true to the way she thinks of herself as a victim.
I think a lot of people who have that kind of thirst for power are people who feel powerless in some area of their psyche. I’ve concocted my own backstory for why Caroline has that fear of being poor and fear of being ditched without any money. There’s a real panic that if she can’t be a player, she’ll drown altogether. All of the family have that illness, and nobody has it more than Logan, but Logan’s just better at playing the game.
She seems to have such conflicting feelings about giving over custody in the original divorce negotiation. How do you think she justified that to herself at the time?
I tell myself that, for 15 years, you were married to that guy. Imagine being the wife of that man and how beaten down you would get if you stood up to him. But we’ve seen over three seasons that nobody can win against Logan. It’s demonstrated in various real-life clans, like the Gettys, that if you divorce a member of that clan, you give up your rights as a family member, if you remember that great movie, actually, with Michelle Williams playing her [All the Money in the World]. So Caroline’s clung onto what she feels is the minimal power to keep her children in the picture. She thinks she’s done a self-sacrificial thing. It’s worth remembering what she’s had to deal with and her defense mechanisms — one of them is laughter. She pretends to be having fun. That’s her way of going, “Let’s not talk about nasty things.”
The way she deflects from talking about the agreement reminded me of the way, back in season two, when Kendall tries to open up to her about the car accident. She brushes him aside and asks if they can talk tomorrow morning over an egg.
That is true, but I also remind people that she doesn’t know that Kendall was going to talk about such a deep, dark secret. She thinks he’s going to harangue her with a lot of “you weren’t kind to me when I was a little boy” stuff. The audience gets to know the siblings and Logan over many detailed episodes, and so I hope they’ll appreciate what it might be like to be the mother or the wife of any of those people. Rather than thinking of Caroline as the cause of all that, you could also think of her as the person who has to hold her own with them.
There’s certainly mutual aggression between her and Shiv. Caroline points out that Shiv’s her “onion,” for instance: the thing that makes her cry.
I think that, in this case — and I don’t know if Sarah Snook would agree with me — but from the fact that we look very different, that Caroline thinks of Shiv very much as Logan’s daughter. She maybe wrongly attributes to Shiv some of the steel her father has. Shiv’s looking to her mother for something, and her mother is a little bit scared of her own daughter.
One funny glimpse into Caroline and her new husband’s dynamic is that he seems to really want Logan to be at the wedding. When Logan doesn’t show up in the finale, Caroline jokes about how Peter’s just going to have to make do with her.
It’s like, “Do you only love me because I’ve been attached to Logan Roy?” I don’t think she really believes that, but there is a kind of taunt in there. There’s certainly a suspicion in Caroline’s heart, in some way, that Peter was attracted to her in the first place because of her link with that amount of money and media power. Peter’s a bit of a failure in that direction and I think he wants a peerage and thinks Logan’s his root to that. So again, Caroline’s upstaged by her ex-husband and feels like she’s a pawn in a man’s game.
I can imagine Logan initially latching onto Caroline because of her class and wanting a wife who is symbolic of him having broken into the higher echelons of English society.
The higher up the class ladder you go, sometimes women have less power. There’s more trophy-wife-ish behavior. She comes from a family where titles and land and things are inherited by the older son. She’s fairly insignificant in her own childhood, and that has a deep effect on people. I think she does think of herself as a bartered bride.
Caroline gets married in a white coat with this floral embroidery. Did you talk with the costume-design team about that choice specifically?
There was a lot of freedom with that, because they were all in New York shooting and were going to fly direct to Italy. I was in London, and since my character comes from London anyway, they said, “Over to you, find some clothes.” We sent photographs every time and got their approval, but basically I, plus a helpful personal shopper, scoured the shops of London and found her stuff. That was down to me, really. I didn’t think of the significance of the white, but I liked that it was white flecked with black and that she had a black suit underneath. It just seemed appropriate.
Where did you find it in London?
There’s a great designer called Favourbrook, in Pall Mall, London, and most of my costumes came from there. They’ve got embroidered coats and beautiful fabrics. I thought that’s what Caroline would wear.
How would you describe her style in general?
Well, it’s difficult to imagine her sitting at home watching TV with a tub of ice cream. She always seems to be quite dressed up, and to have taken care of what she looks like. I was also guided by the Italian factor: She would rather look great in Italy than a country estate in Hampshire. She hides behind Peter and says it was his idea [to get married in Tuscany], but I bet it was her idea as well.
Back in season one, Caroline met Tom and described him as “very plausible.” Do you think his power move in the finale will shift her image of her son-in-law?
I haven’t thought that one through yet! That meeting took place after I had finished. I don’t know how much Caroline knows about what’s going on there. Maybe she knows Shiv as somebody who’s always taking advantage of her boyfriends, and possibly she thinks, Hey, this one has the elements to fight his own battles. Maybe this one is going to grow into something else — maybe something horribly evil, but. [Laughs]
I just have to add that I loved The Last Duel, and in comparison to Caroline, it was fun to see you play multiple versions of Jodie Comer’s mother-in-law.
Yeah, that was fun! I did not pick my costumes for that.
Well, her nearly plucked-away eyebrows were quite striking.
That was pretty much my idea. Ridley Scott had a similar idea, and also talked about having a monobrow. But I said I wanted a very high forehead, plucked back, because that was the fashion in the medieval era. I thought that, rather like people sometimes freeze themselves in the look they had when they were young and beautiful, she had frozen herself in the way she was when she was young, and it really doesn’t look beautiful anymore.
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