SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “With Open Eyes,” the series finale of HBO’s “Succession,” now streaming on Max — and if you haven’t watched it, for God’s sake, please go do that.
Sarah Snook didn’t know that “Succession” was ending until she read the script for the Season 4 finale: She was on her way to the show’s last table read of the season when she figured it out. “I was quickly devouring it in the car on the way there,” Snook said during a pre-strike interview for the Aug. 2 cover of Variety. “And then by the time I finished, I arrived and was like, ‘That’s it. It’s done.’”
Matthew Macfadyen — who played Tom Wambsgans, the on-screen husband of Snook’s Shiv Roy — was more sanguine, interpreting the final image of Shiv and Tom as they pull out of Waystar Royco headquarters as open-ended. After Snook told him her view of it, “Matthew was like, ‘No, I don’t think so,’” she recalled with a laugh. “’I think that’s quite hopeful! The last hand-hold, maybe there’s potential for what’s going to happen with Tom as CEO.’”
Speaking of Tom as CEO, Snook had also learned when she read the series finale script that the sought-after CEO title — the job that the Roy siblings fought over, and schemed about during the four seasons of “Succession” — would be bestowed upon Shiv’s oft-estranged husband. During the course of the series, the audience has seen Shiv humiliate Tom, placate him, mock him, lust after him — and in the final image of the two of them, seemingly resignedly accept her fate as his wife, and the mother of his child.
And now he’s the CEO? “I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’” Snook said.
And for those of you who may have thought that Shiv would be able to wield power at the company through Tom, Snook — who often speaks as Shiv — doesn’t think so. “I never really considered that Tom becoming CEO is Shiv, by proxy, winning,” she said. “For Shiv, that is so not a win! That is: ‘I’m once again power adjacent. I’m not the winner.’”
To understand in detail how Snook’s real-life pregnancy became the stuff of fiction in “Succession” — as well as her hesitancy even to audition for the show and what she’s doing next — please do read our cover story. Here, in her first interview about the “Succession” series finale, Snook discusses that final shot of Shiv and Tom, what she thinks would happen to Shiv post-pregnancy and what “Succession” props she secretly took from the set.
Why do you think Shiv couldn’t bring herself to vote for Kendall in the series finale?
I’ve spoken with friends of mine who love the show, and I quite like being able to dissect it with them. I have heard that people thought that Shiv was thinking 10 steps ahead, and that if Tom’s going to get the CEO-ship and she’s got a kid with Tom, then the closest she can be to it is by saying “No” in this moment.
But I think it’s just pure instinct. I think it’s trigger response. It’s scratching an open wound that is always there with the siblings. And this was in the script in the big print — when she sees Kendall put his feet up on Dad’s desk? There’s something in her that goes like, “Ahhhhh!” Sorry to swear, but “Motherfucker!”
Please do swear.
It’s just going to be the same as it always has been: I will always be pushed out. I was last time, when given assurances that I wouldn’t be. I don’t think she’s decided in that moment when they’re in Dad’s office to say no. But once it gets down to it in the room, she just can’t physically bear to say yes.
I have to support my character, but Kendall digs his own grave in the following scene, when he’s lying about [killing] the kid and is just like “I’m the eldest son!” — it’s all downhill from there for Kendall.
I interviewed Kieran Culkin, and he said that the boardroom fight was scripted to become physical, and that he and Jeremy Strong never want to rehearse, but because of your pregnancy they wanted to for safety reasons. What was your experience of that?
Originally, it was meant to be more between Shiv and Kendall who are fighting — potentially pulling a phone out, and throwing it at Kendall, and having it escalate like that. We had a choreography rehearsal between Jeremy and I. And then on the day, I felt good about being able to advocate for myself, going, “Let’s just remember this is a fight scene that we haven’t really properly rehearsed that we’re sort of feeling out with a pregnant woman.” I feel safe, but Jeremy doesn’t like to rehearse, and I’m going to respect that to a point — but I’m not going to keep my mouth shut when I’m pregnant and we’re going into a fight scene.
But what ended up happening, which was far more honest and realistic to the scene, is that when Shiv goes to leave, Jeremy grabs my hand. Up until that point we’d rehearsed — but the instinct from Kieran as Kieran as much as it was from Roman is like, “Get your fucking hands off her. She’s pregnant!” And then leaps on him. And so it really made sense, so much more sense, that she would just be like, “Whoa — it is just boys, like wrestling boys. This is again, childhood.” So it ended up being fine in terms of my safety, and much better in terms of the scene.
Kieran said that there were takes when he and Jeremy were really pounding on each other on the floor. Did you ever get nervous during that?
No. It was sort of perfect, because they wrestled themselves onto the floor, and it’s just like, “What are you doing? You can’t be CEO. Look at you! You are on the floor wrestling with your brother. I’m going to go back in and say no. And I feel very confident about that now.” It was great.
Did you ever film Shiv going back into the conference room and voting for the GoJo deal?
Yeah, we did that twice. The way that Mark Mylod runs the scenes, he will let it run. I left the aquarium of the boys fighting on the floor, and it was so much fun to just saunter, basically, over to the boardroom, stick my head in and go, “No,” and then walk off. It wasn’t like a big scene or anything like that.
It was really depressingly easy for Shiv at that moment to just go, “Yeah. Absolutely not. No. And I feel confident with that decision.” And then the fallout after that of realizing that Tom is CEO, and where do I stand and all of that — I guess that processing comes as it’s been signed in the other boardroom scene with Matsson, and in the car.
And then after, once the camera’s finished rolling, where does she go now?
When Tom says, “The car’s picking me up,” is it just a given that she’s going to go with him?
For a fairly plot-explosive show, Jesse has always been interested in what is the reality of the moment. I think in that, it’s like, “Well, we’re going to the same apartment…” I could say, “Oh no, I’ve got something.” But realistically, she probably would: “Yeah, OK. I’ll just get in the car and go home and maybe sleep or take a shower. It’s been a shitty couple of weeks. Dad’s gone. The whole thing sucks. I just want to go home. Yeah, I can catch a car separately, but then that creates more drama.” So, “Sure. I’ll just get in the car with you. Yeah. That’s fine.” Path of least resistance at that point.
For the final Shiv and Tom image, it sounds like the description of the hand-holding was pretty precise in the script.
It’s neither in nor it’s out. It’s sort of succumbing to the power shift. My dad actually used to do that, kind of. When we were driving home from school, he would put his hand out, and then I would put my hand in.
It’s such a wonderful challenge to be able to find a way to hold hands without holding hands at all. I can’t remember exactly what the actual scripted line, in terms of the big print — but enough to say that there’s a reconciliation here, but it’s not enough to be, we’re on the same team. It’s sort of a war of attrition. We reached a point where we’re resolved to our fates, I guess.
And how do I put my hand as delicately in yours without holding it, or being held?
On Fresh Air, Jesse Armstrong said the hand-holding is the first time that Shiv and Tom have ever been equal, since Tom has always had less power than Shiv. Is that how you saw it too?
I would say equal — with Shiv below, if anything, to be honest. He would go into work the next day, and she would have to be dancing on outer rim. Friends of mine have been like, “So what do you think would happen to Shiv after this?” Shiv is about to have a baby, all of this has gone down, she’s sort of thrown back into a world with her husband that wasn’t a great situation beforehand. But I think the baby thing is really about to hit in a way that is inescapable. And she’s probably someone who would go into quite a deep postpartum depression, and quite a difficult next 12 months, I think.
Whatever fight that she has, in that moment, they are equal. But she’s about to slide down, I think, pretty rapidly.
You filmed that scene, and then you went and filmed the scenes in the Caribbean. Did that feel like whiplash or was that a nice soft landing?
It was Matthew and I in the car, driving off into New York, and there was an element of “They’re driving off into the sunset into the streets of New York City!” That felt appropriate to close the New York portion of the shoot in a somber kind of way. We were able to have a wrap party in New York, and celebrate with the people who weren’t coming with us to the Caribbean, and to mark the end of a chapter.
By the time we got to Barbados, which was 10 days later, on the one hand I was frustrated, because I was pregnant and wanted to get home, because the longer we were shooting, the more pregnant I became. But there was something really nice about reuniting in a way, and getting back together. And also that there’s a levity to the scenes, and certainly to the one in the kitchen. Again, we had sort of the core crew and we had another wrap party. It was really nice.
Do you feel like at that point when Shiv and Roman just say, “OK, you can be the king Kendall,” is Shiv fully on board at that point? How much of it is wanting to fuck over Matsson?
Shiv was always looking for “What’s the best possible scenario to serve myself here?” The Matsson avenue was closed now — I think she’s enormously pissed off with him. And does she want her brother to be CEO? In a perfect world, no. She can’t let Roman do it, because she knows it’s not good for the company. And she understands in the end that she can’t be chosen by her brothers in this moment, because it just would not fly with the board. So it’s a Catch-22. She’s boxed into a corner. So she has to go with Kendall. And again, there’s that sibling relationship — so seductive when they’re all getting along well.
There’s a scene that got cut where Roman and Shiv are swimming out to the pontoon where Roman asks Shiv about being pregnant: “Is it being fat at the front?”
“Fat at the front?!”
Yeah, it was really fun! I understand why they cut it because of timing, and the energy needs to move from, “Are we going to kill him” to swimming out and the audience going, “Oh, shit. Are they going to kill him, or are they going to crown him?” So having this sort of moment, this peaceable moment between Roman and Shiv isn’t quite right. It was such a beautiful scene to shoot, because we’re swimming in the Caribbean ocean and talking about being pregnant with one of my dear friends.
So it’s sort of like Sarah and Kieran just as much as it was Roman and Shiv — swimming out pregnant and having a chat about it: “What’s it like having big bazoombas? Do you feel like you’re going to fall over?” And Shiv was like, “No. Not high on the list of concerns.”
Also a moment where there’s something really sweet about, “How is it being pregnant?” She goes, “Yeah. It’s weird because I’ve always been such a one-person unit, and now I’ve got someone else on board and I don’t know if I like that.” I think that’s the part that is really going to be a struggle for Shiv, thinking for someone else. Having a child will be a different paradigm for her.
Your final scene ever was the three of you in the kitchen.
Once we got to the “meal fit for a king” scene, there’s so much history already between Kieran and Jeremy and I as actors having done this for seven years, since December 2016.
You need all the in-jokes. “Meal fit for a king” was probably something we used to do: make terrible milkshakes for each other, and make each other drink them. Or make them for a family friend, and we’re in on the joke, but they’re not. We definitely would’ve been those shitty bullies. And also mum coming down, and it feels very childish, but they’re some of my favorite scenes to shoot, the three of us together.
Jeremy Strong has said he drank the shake you spat in.
He drank it every time, because he is Jeremy. And I spat in it every time. I’m pretty sure from memory that was scripted, which I think is a nice little callback to the spitting on the book [in Season 2], and the childish behavior we had done with each other before. I wasn’t sick, which I told him.
It was the very last scene we shot in the entire series, which felt strangely monumental, and at the same time playful. Which is such a strange scene in the context of “Succession,” in a way. It was the most playful — maybe the closest to all three of us in our playful selves as actors — as Sarah, Kieran and Jeremy, not just Shiv, Roman and Kendall. And because of it being the last scene of the series, we may have leaned into personal sort of actor celebration, and indulgence of what’s going on. Yeah, there’s a real kinship, I think.
It feels like a real sibling relationship.
So much of that, Kieran improvised as well — the licking of the cheese. I’m in my head as actor Sarah going, “Too far. You’ve gone too far! We’re never going to use this. We have to get back on the script. What are you doing? Come on, you.” But it’s genius. Of course, we’re going to use that bit.
With Episode 3, “Connor’s Wedding,” how do you look back on filming that episode, which sounds like it was incredibly intense?
With a lot of fondness — a lot of pride, I think, is a good word for it, in the way that we all rallied together and created that episode. Certainly, that scene when we shot for 30 minutes straight and on film, and with crew changing over film mags as we’re shooting, and keeping up the emotional intensity and the reality of it — and I think as a person who would like to direct at some point in the future, being able to be in the orbit of Mark watching him create that episode, particularly that scene, was really special.
Even just down to the choices that he and Jesse would’ve made together to put it all on a boat — really crush us together. There’s no escape. There’s no way to come up for air. And even when you do, you are isolated and unmoored; you’re not on land.
And seeing how to organize a crew to create something that had to be kind of militaristic in the way you approach it — there has to be a fluidity, but also a real working together with precision.
You killed me in that scene on the phone when you said, “Daddy.”
Yeah, all of that is scripted — in an uncharacteristic approach. Scripted to the point of obeying all the full stops and the ellipses and the hyphens. I could see in the way that Jesse had structured the writing of that, it was pointed that there was sentences that Jesse wasn’t writing the end of, which excited me as an actor. Like, “What is she trying to say there? OK, well that’s important, then, to honor the grammar of this paragraph.” It actually was a lot more on script than I usually would be for any other scene, just because of the nature of this show is fairly fluid. Obviously, respectful of the writing, but there is a little bit of improv, and freedom to stretch.
But with that one, it was very on book, I guess. I found that helpful for me as creating a net to do the performance in. I wasn’t searching for words and then not finding them. Or finding them, and then judging Sarah, the actor, for choosing that word as the character Shiv — it just wasn’t going to work. So being really precise with it in that scene allowed the character to expand in the vessel, I guess, of the writing.
Pretty much everyone we talked to from the cast said that more than anyone, you were convinced there was going to be a fifth season of the show. When did you find out that wasn’t going to be the case?
The last read-through.
Which everyone else did as well — everyone else found out effectively then. The sibling in me is like, “I wasn’t the most convinced!”
I was understanding that it probably could end, but there were maybe mitigating factors that would maybe prevent it ending — which I won’t go into. But it could go one way or the other. And also, it’s nice to hope.
It was devastating. I didn’t get a chance to finish the script before I got to the read-through. I was quickly devouring it in the car on the way there. And then by the time I finished, I just arrived and was like, “That’s it. It’s done.” And I walked in, and Matthew was like, “No, I don’t think so. I think that’s quite hopeful! The last handhold, maybe there’s potential for what’s going to happen with Tom as CEO,” or something like that. But then once we got into the room, Jesse made an announcement saying, “Yeah. As you can see, this is the last.”
Kieran Culkin said that Jesse Armstrong had told him at the beginning of the season that he thought it was going to be the end. But then he spun out what could have been a fifth season — like, “Or this could happen.” Did he do that with you too?
No, because I was in Australia — I’d just finished shooting “Run Rabbit Run,” and then “Beanie Bubble” back-to-back, and had four weeks off before starting the season. So I was back in Australia, and very much wanting to rest before beginning the mammoth task of nine months of shooting “Succession.” Also, because of the time zones, any group calls that we ever have, I’m the one who gets lumped with the 2 am call time, because it has to be England, L.A., New York — and then I’m the only one in Australia, so inevitably, I was always like 2 am or 3 am.
There was a Zoom that I missed where it was all announced. I was like, “Oh, shit! Maybe the last season. All right. OK. And also Logan’s going to die!”
What a Zoom to miss!
There was a moment where Lorene Scafaria, I think, was talking to Kieran about how Jesse was asking her at dinner, “Well, what do you think? Is this the last season?” And Lorene was like, “Yeah, I think so. I think this makes sense.” And she was relating the story to Kieran, and Kieran was like, “What? You idiot! You should be like, ‘No, not at all, Jesse. This is definitely just the beginning of a fifth season. It needs to happen.’”
But I’m so proud of how it finished up, and just in awe that Jesse had the guts as well to pull the pin on something that was so successful. And it’s such a bold move, and it’s really paid off. But I think the joy that we all experienced shooting the show, both in the challenges and in the good times, meant that I happily would have done a fifth season.
Did you take any mementos of Shiv’s? Like a prop or a costume?
I took some costumes. I took some photos of Shiv on the wedding day with Dad. Which was sort of like, “Oh, how funny! I’ll put these up.” And then it was like, “I don’t think I really want to have photos of myself marrying someone else. It’s a bit weird. It’s not what I thought it would be.” But I’m glad I have them. They just won’t go on the wall.
Hee hee hee, I secretly took in Episode 4 the newspapers of when the news of Logan’s death has been announced. We had a lot of prop newspapers, and I managed to sneak one of those right back at the beginning of the season. I made sure I didn’t tell anyone, and I kept it secret and hidden. And so I thought that’d be quite fun to get framed. Yeah, one of those newspapers.
When I spoke with Jesse Armstrong, he sounded depressingly, devastatingly done with “Succession.” In your heart, are you just like, “I’ll never play Shiv Roy again”?
I think that’s how you must approach it. “Six Feet Under” knew it was finishing, and they created a last episode to really close it. Put the nail in the coffin; not being opened. And I think in a lot of ways that’s what Jesse’s done with this, and that it’s given enough closure about who wins.
In reality, obviously, business keeps going, and the day to day-to-day running of Waystar Royco goes along. But in the world of what the family is, it’s a new configuration — Dad’s gone. It’s a different show, I think. The world exists, but I can’t see him doing the world again.
Maybe. I don’t know!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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