Spoilers follow for Succession season four, episode eight, “America Decides.”
Poor Darwin; he’s just not someone who evolved to thrive at ATN. In Succession’s big Election Night episode, the series introduces the very far right-leaning news network’s resident voting analyst, a guy named Darwin (Adam Godley) who finds his attempts to accurately analyze the data overruled by the whims of his superiors. Notably, Darwin resists calling Wisconsin in favor of Roman’s preferred candidate, the fascist nationalist Jeryd Mencken, after a vandalism incident destroys a significant number of Milwaukee absentee ballots that Shiv insists would push things in favor of her preferred candidate, the Democrat Daniel Jimenez. Darwin soon gets overruled — though allowed the caveat that they’re making the call “pending” — and then steamrolled by Roman and Kendall, who opt to call the election in favor of Mencken once results from Arizona make it clear the state is going red. Along the way, Greg manages to get wasabi in Darwin’s eyes and tries to get it out by pouring lemon-flavored LaCroix over his face. All in all, that’s a tough night for Darwin and democracy as a whole, but it was a fun episode to film for Godley, a regular player on television and the stage who was already a big fan of Succession before he got the chance to drop into ATN.
How did this part come to you?
We were just finishing up the third season of The Great. I was in London, and I got a call from my agents, saying, “Yeah, can you get on a plane in a couple of days to shoot an episode of Succession?” I was like, “I think, yes, I can do that.”
Were you a fan of the show before getting cast in this episode?
Like so many others, I was just obsessed with it. Professionally in awe of how they make it. That incredible cast. The writing, the way it’s shot. The whole thing. From the very first episode I was completely in.
Darwin is sort of the Steve Kornacki of ATN. How was he initially described to you?
I immediately thought of Steve Kornacki, whom I really admire — he’s such a wonderful, quirky character himself. And the idea of somebody with professional integrity dropped into the midst of the Roys’ world has got to be an incredibly fun role to play. The way this show is made is so different from The Great, so it was very attractive to go into something completely different.
What struck you about the way that Succession was made, particularly?
I had a great call with Jesse Armstong while I was still in London, and he explained to me how they approach shooting each scene, which is very precise and also very liberating. There’s great freedom within the structure of both the script and the way it’s shot. The central cast — Roman, Greg, Tom, and Shiv, who I’m mostly interacting with — they’ve clearly been doing this for a while. They’re at such a precision pitch of how to play this stuff and so deeply in their characters. When we did get to improvise, we were just off and away.
What was it like to film the scene where Darwin is blinded by wasabi and then lemon seltzer?
It was a riot. Nick and Matthew, they’re just so funny together. The way that Jesse has organized shooting those things, they’re just coming up and giving you little bombs of alternate jokes to drop in the middle of the scene.
Did you actually get anything in your eyes? It does look like a lot of seltzer is poured over you.
I don’t want to say; it’s trade secrets. [Laughs.] But no, there was nothing actually sting-y put in my eyes at all. It was all quite safe. They rigged up special cans of whatever that soda was. A nice, pure mineral water.
Did you think much about Darwin’s backstory? How does someone with that much integrity end up at ATN of all places?
Well, these people are policy nerds, aren’t they? We all know people who are just absolutely, passionately obsessed with one thing. And then when you get to make it your career … Again, you mentioned Steve Kornacki, you think of his enthusiasm for his subject. It’s palpable. It’s there physically in the way he speaks. We shot at CNBC Studios in New Jersey, and you walk in and see the scale of the operation and imagine what it must be like on Election Night. Pretty much everybody there, hundreds of people, who themselves are all obsessed with politics — this is Christmas and birthday and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. It’s Election Night! So the whole thing is vibrating at a pretty high pitch. And that was the night we were re-creating.
As someone who works in a newsroom, the details of everyone milling around eating convenience-store sushi and LaCroix felt very accurate. Were you all talking with actual political journalists?
They brought in a guy from CNN. I got to speak to him the first day I was in; we had a sit-down and a great chat. I could sense his enthusiasm, his passion, how meticulously the details matter. They’re not life-and-death decisions, but they have huge implications, and you have a huge responsibility. You could feel the weight of it. That also informed how I could explore the inner life of this character. The brilliance of Jesse is that those little details just make the thing real. From that basis, you can go as crazy as you like.
The episode pulls from elements of the 2016 and 2020 elections, which for me, at least, brought back a lot of chilling memories. Was it cathartic or tense to act that all out again?
It’s probably triggering in some respects for a lot of people. The echoes were very, very clear, and that’s all part of the fun of it. They’ve re-created that stuff so well and touch on it just enough that we sort of know where we are, but then make it original and extraordinary and fold it into what is needed for the plot of the show.
Were you sworn to complete and total secrecy about all the plot developments? You must have known far in advance, before most of the world, that Logan would die, because he’s not around in this episode.
I did; I realized it on set. I put two and two together. I was like, What could possibly have happened to Big Daddy? And I absolutely was not going to ruin that for anybody that I knew — any of my friends, my partner. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment.
Right now you’re in rehearsals for something completely different, the Britney Spears jukebox musical Once Upon a One More Time, in which you play the narrator. Were you a Britney fan before you joined that?
Because I’ve been working as an actor from a young age, I didn’t really have a childhood or a teenage-hood or any of that stuff. I was vaguely aware there was somebody called Britney Spears out there in the public realm. But now, yes, now I know a lot about her music, her genius, genius music. And for me, going from the world of The Great and Succession and then, the last theater I did was this play The Lehman Trilogy — a play about the history of Western capitalism, really — to dive into a Britney Spears musical, is, well, variety is the spice of life. It’s an absolutely brilliant book by Jon Hartmere. We’ve got these extraordinary choreographers, Keone and Mari Madrid. So, for me, it’s been a steep learning curve.
In The Lehman Trilogy your character does do the Twist, so there was a bit of choreography there too.
Yeah, I’ve had some dance training in the dim and distant past, and obviously, as an actor, you want to be able to draw on everything you have in your store. This play is using all sorts of muscles. You want to be challenged and stretched and dive into things that are a little bit outside of your comfort zone. It’s always good for an actor. It’s always good in life, I think.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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