“I’m somebody who, if I had my way, would sit with all 10 scripts for six months and internalize them all and prepare so I could show up and be free.” – Jeremy Strong
On the HBO series Succession, Jeremy Strong portrays Kendall Roy, one of several children of a media mogul who struggles with substance abuse and martial problems while attempting to prove that he can run his father’s multi-billion dollar company. For his performance in the series’ second season, Strong has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
In an interview with Variety about his role on Succession, Strong revealed that though he often feels woefully unprepared for performing on set that he feels comfortable with the more “improv” elements of the show in order to perform with enough “emotional stamina” to accurately portray his character’s personal struggles.
Strong points to one skill of top-tier theatrical actors that he admires, remarking, “There’s a thing that I remember reading about that Laurence Olivier wrote in his autobiography called theatrical courage, and it is this quality that not a lot of actors had, especially in film, but it was always something I really valued and admired that inspired me. That courage and audacity of imagination.”
While Strong says that he did research into his character’s personality type and motivations, he’s not directly thinking about what he learned in his research when performing. He explains, “I felt like I had to learn everything I could about that world and saturate myself with an understanding of it on a visceral level, and one of the books I remember reading was Sumner Redstone’s book A Passion to Win, and it captured the ethos of that world: it’s about strength and domination and success as a virtue. But when I’m working on the show I’m not thinking about any of those things; I’m just trying to be inside Kendall and his struggle, and connect to that.”
Part of being “inside Kendall and his struggle” means doing justice to the character, even if that means that as an actor Strong is taking on the character in an all-encompassing fashion. He says, “I certainly feel a tremendous responsibility to the text and to serving the character, and that responsibility comes with a lot of weight and a feeling of pressure for me. With a show and a role like this, I find I have to be all-in and take Kendall as seriously as I take my own life, and there’s no release for this character.”
Like many other actors, Strong feels like the pressure of having to learn his script in a short period of time. He discusses that while he’d love to have months at a time to digest a whole season’s worth of scripts, he understands how to approach his role in the typical, piecemeal script-by-script approach:
“I’m somebody who, if I had my way, would sit with all 10 scripts for six months and internalize them all and prepare so I could show up and be free. So it only have four days often to learn a whole script is just a constant losing battle that you have to fight for the entire time. It feels like a miracle that I am prepared enough each time I walk on set. It is about being really economical with your time and trying to get rest and creating enough negative space around you so you can really focus intensely on creating a belief in what you’re doing so it feels anchored in some kind of truth. And then the emotional stamina — I guess the good news is although it is depleting, no matter how heavy it is, there’s still tremendous joy in the creative process and in showing up and playing. And once you’re in a flow, then I find it energizing — but it is much harder to achieve a state of flow in TV than it is on a movie where it’s more immersive and you have a few months to prepare.”
On top of that, Strong reveals that because of the nature of how Succession is filmed the cast does not have much time to rehearse — and in reality, he prefers not to rehearse if he can avoid it. He explains, “We don’t rehearse much. I try not to rehearse. There’s the time constraints and we shoot on film, so there’s a sense of danger that I really enjoy and I think creates a good charge in the atmosphere. And then there’s the improv. I know the text, but I feel freedom on the day to respond in the moment in any way. It’s a very exciting way of working.”