[Editor’s note: The following containers some spoilers for Season 3 of Succession.]
From the creator Jesse Armstrong, the highly acclaimed and much-loved HBO drama series Follow-up is back for a scorching third season where the power dynamics of the Roy family change in a rather dangerous way that feels like it can take anyone on its way at any time. After Kendalls (Jeremy Strong) decision to expose the depths of the company’s scandal, Patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) has pitted his other adult children – including Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck) – against each other and wanted them to spy, sneak and scratch into what could turn into a civil war in the family.
On a virtual junket for season 3, Collider was given the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with J. Smith-Cameron (who plays Gerri, currently interim CEO of Waystar Royco, no matter how long it takes) about whether she misses Gerri when she’s not playing the role, the collaborative relationship with the creative team and the input she’s given, one point, she disagreed with the director about, the Gerri-romance dynamic in season 3 and what makes Culkin such a wonderful acting partner, Gerri’s mental state at the end of the season, and why she does not want this dreamy job to end.
Collider: Did you miss Gerri in the time between the end of filming for season 2 and the beginning of season 3, or is she one you’re happy to pack up a little?
J. SMITH-CAMERON: That’s a good question. I miss her. I missed her. She is definitely an alter ego for me. I’m not a bit like her. I do not feel I am much like her. It’s an amazing character and an unusual character for me. I feel a little proud of the ownership of it, because it’s the kind of show where you all collaborate, and you kind of make up the characters together. (Show creator) Jesse [Armstrong] really gives us some degree of ownership of our characters. In my case, it started to be a guy, and then I was cast and little by little, my behavior started informing the scripture, and the scripture informed about my behavior. I did not know what was the chicken and what was the egg. It was really, really fun.
Are you comfortable with suggestions for character or dialogue, or do you feel that you do not need it at all?
SMITH-CAMERON: I certainly do not need that, but yes I do sometimes. I think we all do. Everyone is pretty discreet about it, so I’m not sure. Sometimes I just want to tell Jesse something that I imagine for Gerri. For example, I had this idea that she has two daughters, and he was like, “Well, I do not know. I never thought about it. I thought she thought she was childless. Let me think about it. Let’s just stick a needle in it. “And then we never talked about it again. In an improvisation session in episode 9 of season 2, a senator asked Gerri if she had children, and I was like, “Yeah, I have two girls.” It was amazing because she said, “Oh, okay. Well, in that case, how would you feel if your daughters took a Waystar cruise? “And when I was the wise lawyer that Gerri is, I had enough sense to say, ‘Well, I’m glad you asked me that, because now with the amount of oversight we’re giving this cruise in the light of. whatever came up, I can not think of a safer or more enjoyable vacation for them. “I totally spun it. It was for some footage playing in the background, so we could not hear it. But then there was a little reference to the daughters in the last episode of season 2. It’s funny. I do not know how consistent it will turn out to be, but I have had small thoughts along the way like that.
Has there ever been something you have disagreed with, or that you have had to have more conversation about, just to understand where they came from?
SMITH-CAMERON: I was completely struck by the idea that there would be some kind of connection between Gerri and Roman. When they first told me, I was like, “What ?! That’s a terrible mistake. “And then I thought, ‘Well, that’s probably what Gerri thinks, too.’ There are no mistakes, really, you just have to think of smart ways to get out of them. The only second time you think, right now you’re asking, is way back in season 1, when we knew we were going to see Gerris’ apartment. One of the directors mentioned to me, “We get to see inside Gerris’ apartment, and we think it might be fun if it’s really in bad taste.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no, the opposite. It would be designed by the one who was the absolute grooviest person. She probably has a maid who comes twice a day, like in a hotel, and someone brings milk and coffee and puts it in the fridge, and that’s because she’s such a work animal. On the contrary. It would be over reproach and reveal very little of her private life in her decor. “So they listened to me. It was just a passing thought that the instructor had, but I was glad they mentioned it to me before designing that set, because I really did not think it was true and I got a word on it, which was a relief.
What do you like best about where Roman and Gerri are, in season 3? It looks like she’s putting him a little more in place this season.
SMITH-CAMERON: The way I reconciled it for Gerri was that she thought, “Okay, I can use this to my advantage. If I could somehow take his strange desire for me and make it a mentorship, and if I can be his mentor and he can be my mentee, we can use the sexual energy in some way to do the rock star and the mole woman into reality. It actually makes really good sense. He is very charismatic, he actually has really good ideas, he is very bold, he is very stylish, eh has a certain appeal, and I am the cautious one who has experience and who has thought it all out. In spite of themselves, they have this real almost tenderness or bond, in addition to or in spite of whatever weird sexual things are brewing or trying to brew.
I’m really trying to train the way things are to my advantage. It’s more and more frustrating for me, because even though I was interested in having sex with Roman, my character is way too clever. She’s not the type to make that kind of mistake. Things are boiling. He pushes his agenda and I push on my agenda and there is one little unspoken thing that despite ourselves being connected to each other in some way. We become friends. It’s a strange mix, and it pushes the edge of what will happen between them, if anything. Something’s happening. I say, “No, no, no, it’s really dangerous.” I do not think I would be the type of person, even if I was completely in love with someone, to put myself in that kind of vulnerable position at work.
What’s the best thing about having Kieran Culkin to play it with because he really seems like he’s so crazy about something, especially in that dynamic?
SMITH-CAMERON: That’s a good word for it. He is such a free and released kind of actor. He’s so inventive. He’s so sure. He knows his character so well. There is enough overlap between his own rhythms and his own humor that he is quite equipped to just improvise and invent things. He is wonderful. He’s a great game, but the rules for how the attraction works for Roman make it a little difficult sometimes. He can not give a passport to Gerri and look her in the eye, so that makes it a little difficult because you can not have a tacit exchange. I can not get him to keep quiet and look at me, so it’s a little challenging, but he’s a wonderful acting partner. He’s amazing.
It’s so fun to watch because there’s just something so electric about watching you two just play off of each other. It is so funny.
SMITH-CAMERON: Oh, well. That’s how it feels.
Without spoilers and without telling me why, how would you describe Gerri’s mental state at the end of season 3?
SMITH-CAMERON: It’s hard to do without spoilers. There’s a bit of a scary feeling, as if it’s World War III. It pushes all the cards in the deck to the edge. There is a strain on any relationship and all the fidelity is in doubt and it is very dangerous status quo. There is no status quo at the end, without giving too much away.
Apparently, Jesse Armstrong has said this is a show that can only last for one season more or maybe two more seasons, but he can not see it going for more than five seasons. Have you agreed with the fact that you might only play this character for one more season?
SMITH-CAMERON: No. I will never be able to come to terms with that, but I trust Jesse’s assessment of it. He knows what can and cannot be done. But I think we all feel like it’s just such a blessing. They are such good characters, the situations are so good, and people seem to like it. It’s a dream job. So no, I do not want it to end.
It must be hard when it’s clearly out of your hands. You can only play the character as long as they keep giving you scripts.
SMITH-CAMERON: Exactly. So I hope he finds at least five seasons, but I do not know. I have nothing but admiration for his judgment.
I feel like they should just pick up with a Gerris spinoff.
SMITH-CAMERON: Then you go. Just as long as Jesse, Tony [Roche], Georgia [Pritchett], Lucy [Prebble], and the whole gang is still there.
If Gerri could do what she wanted without the Roy family hanging over her, what do you think it would be? What would satisfy her that way?
SMITH-CAMERON: I think she would like to run the business if she did not want treacherous competition from Roys. I think she feels like she’s running the business in a secret way by being inventive and clever and cunning. Logan is a wildcard and he has these geniuses and this great instinct for business. That said, I think she’s the only one who makes sense. The other guys may know when something sounds like a bad idea, but they will not say it because they are such yes-men, so they are not really credible, the way she is.
She just does not get the credit she deserves.
SMITH-CAMERON: You know what? I think her ego is pretty safe. I think she likes her temporary status as CEO. It’s a queen for a day. I do not think at all that she glamorizes that job. It’s a lambless, dirty job, it’s all. The world’s business is seamless, so I do not think she’s glamorizing it. If you are well paid and you are still able to perform material work that you are good at and it’s just a matter of a title, what does it amount to?
Follow-up airs Sunday night on HBO and can be streamed on HBO Max.
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