This week’s Succession was a seismic one for the entire cast of characters, since it involves all of them responding to the shocking news that Logan has died in the middle of a flight to Europe. But it’s an especially memorable one for Sarah Snook’s Shiv, who has the most emotional and pained response of any of the Roy siblings, and in the midst of this finds herself leaning on estranged husband Tom for support. The scene where Shiv gets on the phone to say goodbye to the father she already knows is probably dead is among the best-acted of the entire series.
Earlier this week, Snook spoke with Rolling Stone from her home in Australia about the process of shooting such a monumental episode, including the fact that director Mark Mylod at one point shot a 30-minute unbroken take of the sequence on the yacht where Logan’s children find out what’s happened.
How did you find out that this was going to be what happened to Logan?
There was a Zoom meeting early on in the season that I thought was going to be more of the Covid protocols, and then turned out to be more of a grenade lobbed in of revelation.
How exactly did [Succession creator] Jesse [Armstrong] lob the grenade?
It was really late for me, because of the time difference. We’ve got to do one for LA, London, New York, and Australia. And being the only Australian, I drew the short straw. I was cleaning up when I realized I was a half-hour late for the Zoom. So I launched in and was slowly picking up the pieces as we were going, thinking, Oh my god! And then I had to turn to my dad and husband after and go [plasters on a fake smile], “Yup! Another Covid protocols thing!”
So once you pieced together what was happening, what did you think of this idea?
Like, Whoa! That’s a huge swing. That’s amazing from Jesse. In some ways, it was a long time coming. The premise of the first episode was, he was about to keel over. And there have been times in the third season as well, in the episode with Adrien Brody and Jeremy out at the island. There’s always been an ailing quality to him, despite his robust vigor. So the first question I had was, “So who takes over?”
I assume there’s a cast text thread. How was everyone reacting when the call ended?
A lot of, “Whoa, what’s gonna happen? What’s this season going to look like? How many episodes are we doing? Do we just stop after four episodes? How do we proceed? The king is gone.”
And what was it like to read the script and see exactly how it was going to go down?
Similar way of performing it, in a sense. You’re on the ride with it. We didn’t know how it was going to happen, what the nature of his passing was going to be, and how. And the genius of Jesse is, even in death, Logan is unobtainable. He’s unreachable, he’s untouchable, he’s at arm’s length, still, to the siblings. There’s an unreal quality to it, because we’re not there, and we can’t really talk to him.
From the time when the brothers tell Shiv about Logan to the time she has the phone call, you have to play this huge emotional journey. How difficult was that?
It was fine, actually! I think because, the gift of it, as an actor, is in the purely reactive state. So for me, the things that I wanted to concentrate on were distracting myself, remaining outside the script when we went rolling. So I found myself going [she acts out walking her fingers along a table], like, what’s something I can do to take myself out of this heavy moment, so it doesn’t turn maudlin or angsty, or pained in a compressed, trying-too-hard way? I wanted to be able to hear the information like it was the first time, every time. As an actor, I needed to remove myself [in between takes] from what was going on, and remind myself to laugh or interact with someone, like, “Hey, that’s a nice blazer you’ve got on.” Because the reality of it is so heavy, and where we are as a company of crew and cast is so tightly oiled and wound that you can just trust that everyone’s going to do their job.
Kendall and Roman both seem torn between being upset and unsure of how to feel, just because of how fraught their relationships with Logan were, while Shiv is just grieving from the jump. Why do you think her response is so different from theirs?
For me, I think it was a case of the loss of everything. She’s come out of the end of Season Three having lost her mom in a sense, and now her marriage, and now her dad. There’s a sort of permanence to Logan, that feels like he’s always going to be there to push against. I think she really, in that moment, feels the loss so greatly, because of what she said to him the night before. She finally said her piece to him in a way that was maybe more forceful and aggressive than she had been before. And then he’s gone gone. I think she reverts back to little girl. I think there’s a tension, when she became an adult of wanting to be a woman in her own right, and still being framed as the little princess, in her dad’s eyes, but that still exists as part of her makeup, and it goes straight back to that when she hears of his death.
Do you feel Shiv’s relationship with Logan was substantially different than what her brothers had with him?
I think in childhood, probably. I think she was quite close to him during her childhood, teenage years maybe. When there’s friction between her and her mum, he’s a safe harbor. And what Logan does is find an outside enemy that we can rally against, and to build rapport with you, he’ll encourage your hatred of that person. Shiv getting out of the family business to go into politics created a wedge between them. And then coming back to the family, she never got to the stage and space that she had as a child with him.
What was the atmosphere like on the yacht while you’re filming these scenes?
It was pretty incredible. We did it over three days. On the third day, we did a 30-minute take of everything from the moment that we come up the stairs and Connor comes in and says he’s expecting dad to come by for a little pop-in, all the way until we’re upstairs in the top cabin on the roof deck. We had three different cameras staggered, so at the beginning, there were two cameras shooting, and they could keep switching them out as they had to change the rolls. It’s quite incredible, what they managed to do, in terms of an energy and a collaboration. There was a meeting that went on for about 45 minutes before we attempted the first take of that. I just watched everybody go [she mimes doing a deep inhale and exhale]. It’s like running the 400-meter. That’s a hard one, because you have to sprint the whole time.
How many of those 30-minute takes did you wind up doing?
From memory, we only did one of the 30 minutes. Part of that was, we’d shot every piece of it on the prior two days. So we’d shot versions of it at a 10-minute mark and then reset. And I love how Mark does this, because it’s not on script, but it really helps how an actor can attend to the work: when Kendall leaves to make a phone call on the roof deck, there’s a camera inside with Kieran and I just living out the chronology of what’s happening while he’s on the call. So in that space, we have to improvise. What is great about it, you don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to use it or not, and what ends up coming out of it is a real understanding of what the flow is for the next time you’re on scene performing from the script. It gave me some real insight into what she was going through at the moment. Plus Matthew [Macfadyen]’s got such a calming voice. He’s like the person you would call in a crisis, I think. It was an unforgettable shooting experience.
Was the karaoke bar scene in the previous episode the last time you worked with Brian Cox?
What was it like knowing that this would be the last time you’d get to act with him in these roles?
Strangely, it felt just like any other day. You can’t get too sentimental or saccharine, or indulge any feelings outside of what the characters are feeling. It would get messy. It wasn’t until maybe the second to last take, it may have been Kieran who went, “This is our last take with Brian.” I was like, “Oh my god.” We’ve been doing this for so long, and the reality of the characters is so true to us, that it doesn’t feel real to be saying goodbye at all. Yeah, it was quite emotional after.
Did you do anything to commemorate Brian’s exit from the show?
Yeah, we went out to dinner. It was really nice, but it’s also one of those difficult things where we can’t say why we’re all gathering. Maybe you say, “Congratulations on winning a Golden Globe?”
You’ve said in the past that you think Shiv loves, or at least loved, Tom. After what we’ve seen transpire from the end of last season to these early episodes, have your feelings about her feelings evolved at all?
No. I think they’ve become sharper. Her difficulty is, she loves Tom, but doesn’t know how to. She doesn’t know how to do a relationship that isn’t transactional, doesn’t know how to be vulnerable in a relationship that fosters community. She’s got such bad blueprints, and so many walls and defenses, and difficulty just being her true self in front of people. And maybe that’s what this episode is is about: that real little-girl aspect of Shiv, that we just don’t get to see much of, where she’s this vulnerable. Her feelings for Tom over this season definitely evolve, and in some ways become harder and sharper.
As you went into filming the final episodes, how was the atmosphere on set? Was everyone keeping it together?
At the readthrough of Episode 10, I definitely had a lot of grief and sadness that it was coming to an end, and that I kind of wasn’t ready for it at that point.
Are there actors you wish you had gotten to work with more over these four seasons?
Oh, yeah. Barely any scenes between Shiv and Greg. There’s not a lot there, although I kind of like that there’s only one channel: It has to go through Tom to get from Shiv to Greg. There’s a real hierarchy there. I mean, Stewy, I’d love to have had some more scenes with him. Even with Ewan, with Jamie (Cromwell), a titan of an actor as well.
Finally, if Jesse felt he had many more seasons of story to tell, would you have been happy to keep playing Shiv? Or do you feel like this was the right time for you to go?
There’s so many answers to that. Yes, this is the best cast and crew I’ve ever worked with, and the best content and script and working experience I’ve had. So yes, in terms of wanting to keep that going. If that means playing Shiv in that space, sure. I’d love to see where Shiv goes and what her evolution becomes in Season Five. But at the same time, I’m pretty damn happy. I’ve been able to work on good work and get it done, and it doesn’t fade in a way that, “Oh, I’m just doing a parody of myself.” No money is worth that, you know?