Among Succession’s Roy family, Kendall and Shiv tend to posture most publicly that they might take over the family business. But as the show’s third season runs its course, Kendall’s attempts to turn against his father have seemed more and more like self-immolation, while Shiv’s calculated attempts to prove she can be the face of Waystar Royco have only intensified Logan’s distrust of her. So the spotlight turns to Roman, who proves on a trip to a conservative political conference called the Future Freedom Summit that he can be just as ruthless as Logan. While Shiv wants to back the more moderate Rick Sligado (Yul Vazquez) for a presidential run, Roman goes for the jugular and insists that a pretty much fascist provocateur, Jaryd Menken (Justin Kirk), should be their candidate. Ruthlessness always plays well in front of Logan Roy, and so Roman wins, though not without seriously wounding Shiv (and maybe, possibly, feeling a little regret himself).
With Roman on the rise this season, we caught up with Kieran Culkin to discuss why he’s the best candidate to take over from his dad, his ever-surprising relationship with Gerri, and how Roman’s obsession with maintaining the family status quo affects his approach to the business.
In this episode, Roman spirals after learning his mom is getting remarried. Why do you think that sets him off?
It’s funny because that’s not where my mind goes when I think about that episode. I think about what happens professionally. But for Roman, those two things are happening simultaneously, the family and the business. I think he’s quite triumphant when he’s competing with Shiv and has a strong angle on something and has a good pitch and it works. It’s funny to bring up the mom stuff because I tried to analyze that in real time, and I think all that is — if I’m right — is that it’s a big change. For Roman growing up, there’s always been Waystar Royco and Dad in charge and there hasn’t been a great deal of change. The divorce happened relatively early on, so the idea that Mom’s marrying someone — and then, Do I know this guy? Is he my family now? I can’t figure out why that bothers him, but it made sense to me.
He’s the baby of the family, in a way.
I don’t know how the other characters feel, but I do think for Roman there is an actual sense of family. He really tries to hold onto that. We can fight each other and try to destroy each other, but we’re all a group. Anytime there’s a sense that’s falling apart, it actually hurts him. At the beginning, when it seemed like Dad would not make it, I think he was genuinely crushed, not just at the loss of Dad, but that kind of change.
It’s interesting that, in this season, Roman is the one sticking closest to Logan. Kendall’s turned against him publicly, and Shiv keeps trying to prove herself to him and also show him up, but Roman has stealthily started proving his acumen to him.
He’s always had the tools for it, but never really the competence to follow through. Someone asked me if Roman has changed. He hasn’t changed because I don’t think people fundamentally change. It’s more getting the confidence to be a bit more himself, and believe that he actually is smart. I think he always thought he was, with a lot of doubt. Sticking by Logan’s side has been helpful in getting that confidence. Whenever Dad can say, “Good idea, Roman, we’re going for it,” that’s what he’s going for. I think they do think similarly.
Roman and Logan also both tend to be the most ruthless, in terms of the actual morality of their business.
I think that, of Logan’s kids, Roman is the most capable of actually taking over for that reason. He can operate the business the way Logan does. I don’t think the other kids want to do it that way. They want to change it and turn it into something else and make it their own. Roman would go, This is Logan’s company. This is how he runs it. I know how to do that.
There’s been some running tension between him and Shiv this season that really explodes during their fight about endorsements this episode. They tend to be pretty close as family members, but the gloves come off in terms of their fighting.
That’s the whole thing where there’s family and then the business, and they’re happening at the same time. There’s the fun family stuff, where we get along and play with each other, but then the business is real. If we disagree, then these jabs have a lot more venom to them. You’re being so mean the way siblings can be, but can make the other look bad. I’m remembering the moment where Roman comes through at the end of the episode and trying to put myself in the headspace of what Shiv feels. Probably not a very good feeling. In a way, he probably feels a bit bad deep down, but also … [shrugs]
Roman’s ally in a lot of this is Gerri. But there’s unsteadiness there, too. She’s appointed the nominal CEO, and they have the tension of their romantic dynamic, which is strained by her actually going on dates with other men.
It’s fun. I like the fact that she’s dating and he gets really jealous. That seemed to make all the sense in the world to me. You asked earlier about Roman getting so upset about his mother getting remarried. Those things are connected. I try not to analyze it too much, because it makes sense. I don’t think Roman knows what it is. If he doesn’t know, I don’t know. It’s the same when it comes to his sexuality in general. I don’t really want to know what that is. It’s tough doing interviews to talk about the thing with Roman and Gerri, because it’s like, I don’t know! But it just makes sense.
There are these occasional references to Roman’s childhood trauma; in season one, they laugh about putting him in a dog cage as a kid as a joke, and he insists it was horrible. Do you think about that contributing to his potential hang-ups?
People rewrite their own history. I have six siblings, and we all remember certain things differently. It reminds me of something in the show where Shiv gives him a book of houses and he goes, “Oh nice, houses,” and she goes, “No, these are our houses. This is where we lived.” He says something like, “The past is nice, but it’s all made up.” I love that line.
The dog-cage moment, Roman had rewritten it as he had been bullied by Kendall. I don’t think he ever was, but I think there was something in him as a kid that felt like a victim that as an adult he has tried to process and make into something else. Talking to Jeremy at that time, I had privately had this idea that when we were kids, he wasn’t a bully, and I was the younger sibling bullying him, in the way that a younger sibling is always getting the older one in trouble. He privately had thought the same thing. So when we got to the dog-cage thing, it was fun to explore that. That is Roman rewriting it. Kendall didn’t really bully him.