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Ashley Zukerman Knows This Is Succession’s Bleakest Episode Yet

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Spoilers follow for Succession season four, episode eight, “America Decides.”

No matter which left-leaning campaign political operative Nate Sofrelli (Ashley Zukerman) is running, he can’t escape the Roys. After an absence following season three’s “The Disruption,” Nate is back in their destructive orbit, first as a guest of old friend Kendall at the preelection “Tailgate Party” — where Nate, realizing the optics of rubbing shoulders with the Roys while working for presidential nominee Daniel Jiménez (Elliot Villar), leaves early — then on the phone with Shiv and Ken as the polls close during “America Decides.” By the end of the night, thanks to voter intimidation and the burning of a Wisconsin voting center, Jiménez and Nate have (for now) lost to neofascist Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), in what Zukerman considers one of the bleakest episodes of Succession yet.

“What has always struck me about the show was this sense of how much power we give people who are damaged,” Zukerman says. “This is the apotheosis of that idea.”

Nate disappears about midway through “America Decides” as the Jiménez victory he thought was guaranteed slips away. But before then, Zukerman’s self-assured performance hints at what could have been: A grown-up at the podium, ATN on its back foot, and Kendall and Roman unaware of Shiv’s alliance with Lukas Matsson. What we get instead, from Mencken on top to the Roy siblings’ latest breakup, Zukerman says, is “heartbreaking.”

Does Nate really think Shiv and Kendall are in his corner, rooting for Jiménez to win?
He knows them, so he’s not going to expect more than they’re able to give. However, he is very drawn to the family for some reason, and that is not by choice. They have this gravity he’s not immune to. It’s perhaps his shortcoming. We saw that at the end of the previous episode, where he ends up overreaching. He goes beyond the scope of what he was probably allowed to do with them and then he gets pulled into line, which is where we meet him in this episode. Those things are playing in concert — we think we’re going to win; we’re in a good position so we can push as many buttons as we can so that when we’re in the government, we can govern well. I don’t think he’s looking for the Roys to save them; he’s looking for ongoing relationships.

When Kendall asks to speak to Jiménez on the phone, I was surprised that Nate actually sees if he’s available.
People drawn to that occupation, they’re not politicians. They’re political operators. Ultimately, they don’t have responsibility. They aren’t the ones who can or should make decisions, which is probably why he’s able to work in the gray. He knows he’s not the one that needs to be accountable. In that way, he’s good at his job. He knows Waystar is going to be incredibly important moving forward. He has to, he must, hand that off to Jiménez.

I’ve read other interviews that portray Nate as a divisive character. But in this episode, at least, I thought: He’s really good at his job.
It has always surprised me that Nate is divisive, because in the world of these characters, he’s nowhere near the worst. He doesn’t exist on the same metrics of how horrible these other people are. But yes, he has always been good at his job, except for the blind spot of the Roys and certainly Shiv. I don’t know if the moment plays; I haven’t seen the episode, but there’s a moment where he is suddenly surprised that Shiv seems to be opening a door for them on the phone call. I found that pretty fascinating: Even on the day, that will send him into a spin. He will go down that mental fantasy very quickly, despite the future of the free world being decided.

I’m not sure if this is the moment, but there’s a phone call between Shiv and Nate when things are going bad in Wisconsin and she asks if their team has enough bodies. That overture surprised me, given that she’s making the call from ATN headquarters with her brothers around.
All these moments, they’re never one thing. Part of the joy of working on Succession is that it makes you think in many different ways about each moment. Whatever I prepare, sometimes it’s turned on its head on the actual day and it becomes something else when you’re experiencing it in the reality of the situation. What was going on for me in that moment was, when it was all turning sour, I didn’t need them anymore. I didn’t really want their fingerprints on this at all.

It’s a bleak episode, but I laughed when Shiv is holding two phones, one with Tom and one with Nate. Your delivery of “Hey, Tom” comes off so tired and yet unsurprised that he was also on the line.
I played that scene over three different days over two months, so I’m not sure what they ended up using. I thought it was hilarious. There’s a very fun struggle going on with how Nate tries to pull power away from Tom yet knows he never will. Nate’s probably aware that seeming unbothered is his best weapon against Tom.

Kendall discovers Shiv’s alliance with Matsson when he asks if she can liaise with Nate and Jiménez about the Waystar Royco-GoJo deal. She fakes a phone call to Nate that Kendall learns about when he calls Nate. How did you react to that scene?
I did find that heartbreaking because of where we know the episode ends up. There are so many opportunities for Kendall to get just a little bit of satisfaction from someone, which will maybe stop the inevitable from happening. And he never gets it. He never gets it because of Shiv’s lie. He never gets it from our end because of Jiménez’s belief that the king should be above reproach. That makes a lot of sense to me, of how history unfolds: It’s not just a single decision in a single moment. Kendall, making the decisions he makes in this episode — they’re the end point of not just his life but everything he experiences in this hour. I found that very human.

Was there a version of the script where we do see the phone call between Nate and Kendall? If not, does it help you as an actor to imagine what happened?
There wasn’t, no. I asked the writers about it. It’s absolutely important for me to know what’s experienced in every moment. From memory, it’s a continuation of the party line: Nate knows he has to be careful. He can’t go outside of himself at all. That’s not the candidate they have.

At the end of the episode, what do you think Nate thinks of the Roys?
That’s a really interesting question, because that speaks to where Nate might go after this episode. It’s all theoretical. Nate can play the game, but not about some things. Only up to a point. He does believe in the possibility of a greater society — that is key to him. He does his job because he believes in it, and this kills him. I don’t know if after this he would be able to still play in the same way with them. It might have changed him. If we talk about how people become jaded or tarnished over the course of a career, it feels like a moment of that. He will get burned by this.

Tom’s co-workers at ATN are shocked he’s wearing dress shoes because it’s going to be such a long, uncomfortable night. What shoes was Nate wearing?
Dammit, he was wearing fancy shoes! But he wasn’t wearing a tie, and he wore a lanyard in his belt loop, not like some schmuck. We had an adviser on set, and we spoke a lot about what a day like that is. It’s a combination of school camp and in the trenches. You’re just on sugar and coffee all day.

Nate is wearing a wedding ring in this episode. At Shiv’s wedding, Nate is not wearing a wedding ring. Shiv invited Nate to her wedding. Do you think Nate invited Shiv to his wedding?
No, I don’t think he did. He didn’t invite Shiv — no way did he invite Shiv. And I don’t think I was necessarily invited; I think I was a plus-one with Gil at the wedding. [Laughs] I got snuck in. Every time I’ve appeared since season one, I’ve always asked, “Maybe he shouldn’t have his wedding ring anymore,” and the writers are very clear that he’s still married. His marriage worked for the next three years.

My understanding is that the entirety of the four seasons take place over one calendar year, and —
Oh, is that right?

And under that timeline, I can buy that Nate would still be married.
I’d buy it over a year, I’d buy over three years, I’d buy over ten years. How much he and his wife know about each other is a question for me, and I wish them the best. I hope they see each other for who they are and that they’re happy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Ashley Zukerman Knows This Is Succession’s Bleakest Episode