Sarah Snook on playing Shiv Roy on HBO’s SuccessionWatch now
Sarah Snook plays patriarch and media mogul Logan Roy’s only daughter in the dark comedy Succession, streaming only on Showmax.
Sarah Snook says that her character, Siobhan (Shiv) Roy, finds love difficult, and that that’s perhaps at the root of her and her husband’s relationship issues.
How did we leave Shiv at the end of the last season?
On pretty tenuous terms with her husband Tom, I think. Though she saved him from the chop – putting his head on the chopping block – she did that afterwards, in private, with her father, and not with Tom himself being necessarily aware of that. So there’s a rift between them.
Shiv has also suddenly been thrown into the chaos that Kendall has created. So we begin season three working out where to go from here.
How would you describe Shiv’s state of mind at the start of the third season?
I would say fairly unconscious about her own state and more about what the f*ck are we going to do? What’s going on with the company? And I think by the end of episode one we get more of a sense of Shiv beginning to bring her head above water and go: ‘Hang on, is this good for me or this bad for me? Let me work out what my position is here.’
How much does she really love Tom?
I think she really loves him. This is a question I get asked all the time! And people are very surprised that she loves him!
I think she’s a person who finds love difficult. Who finds the vulnerability that love expects and demands a difficult thing to sit in and inhabit. It’s not a comfortable thing for her. Nor is vulnerability a regular family affair!
Kieran says you’re the best to improvise with: ‘It’s just the most fun sibling dynamic on the set,’ he told The Hollywood Reporter. ‘We get to play around and be cruel to each other as our characters. But then we’re so soft and sweet with each other after.’ What is it about your acting dynamic that’s so fruitful?
I just bounce off what he says. That man’s mind works so fast. And his brain is connected to his mouth with no filter. And so some of the stuff that comes out is appalling and you would never say in public! But you get to say it as Roman. I don’t know, it’s just always been fun. We just have the same kind of sensibility. You throw the ball one way and you know your teammate is going to be able to catch it.
And Kieran is always a team member in that sense. He’s definitely a team player.
Succession has the sense of being a strong ensemble cast, like a repertory theatre team. Is that accurate? And if so, how important has that been for you?
That’s absolutely how it feels. Certainly it’s the case when we’re all doing scenes together, that’s my favourite, those parlour scenes almost, when there’s upwards of six characters who all have conflicting objectives or things to do in the scene. And we’re all there, maybe in the background of the main thrust of the scene, but we all have things to do.
Those are my favourite scenes to do because it does feel like we’re in a play. Even the cameramen who are moving around us, and the boom operators who are moving around us, are characters also. You just can’t see them in the final product!
What do you remember of the first table read, at Adam McKay’s house in New York, in November 2016?
To be honest, I didn’t realise it was so close up against the American Presidential Election. We did the table read that same night.
But one image that sticks in my mind is, after the table read and after the election results had come in, is of Jeremy Strong drifting off into the night. The mist had come down and there was this sodium glow from the street lamps, and he was drifting off into New York, wearing his coat… I thought: ‘Wow, the world has changed today.’ Mine certainly had, from doing the table read for Succession. But the rest of the world changed as well.
Roughly a year before that, in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs film, you played Andy Cunningham, the marketing and communications executive who helped launch the Apple Macintosh in 1984. Was that experience helpful, portraying another woman at the top of a powerful corporate entity?
I hadn’t drawn the line so directly between the two characters. But someone reminded me of that first role recently, and said she was like a genesis character for Shiv. Which I can totally see now.
There’s something steelier, and harder, about Shiv, I think. And Andy Cunningham, whom I met, was lovely! Really nice! And also someone who was in the business of, and philosophy of, supporting women, and building them up in business. And Shiv, although I’m sure she wants women in business, she’s not obviously at great pains to build up any other women in the industry. It’s just not what her story is about.
So Andy Cunningham is quite a different character. But I can see the trajectory from there to her, for sure.
Indeed – there’s a scene early in the new season where Shiv tries to play the old friend card with a female lawyer, but only for her own benefit.
Totally. That was so much fun to film. And so much fun to imagine what a life before this moment was for Shiv – who she was in her twenties and late teens, who she was in a social context, going out with friends. I think that might have been the first friend of Shiv’s we’ve met in three seasons. Not [former boyfriend] Nate [Sofrelli], but a female friend. That’s unusual for Shiv, because she operates in such male-dominated worlds and environments.
So seeing a friendship gave another little side to us. And, yeah, you’re right: we were seeing these two women who would have been friends, one of them a human rights lawyer, [an embodiment] of altruism and the positive image of success. And Shiv is a part of Waystar Royco, and which maybe doesn’t have such a positive image out there!
Also early in the third season, Shiv mentions not getting in the swimming pool at home in her teenage years because of her feeling of the men who gathered around Logan. Have you constructed a backstory for what it was like for teenage Shiv, as the only girl in this very patriarchal business and family?
Yeah, to a point. A lot of the writing, and a lot of the circumstances that the character finds herself in the story now, informs it, in a way that I understand what it must have been like for her as a teenager.
But love that line. ‘Oh, you must have known that these people were bad people.’ ‘No! I was 15, and I wasn’t going to be around creepy, lecherous old men.’ That’s just par for the course. It’s like a different experience being a woman. And again, that’s the sexism that her brothers don’t really consider when they’re having their own ideas of what happened.
How hard is it for you to shake off Shiv when you’re done with filming for the day, week, episode, series?
Quite easy! I’ve got my Blundstone [boots], and my cap and my jacket – quite a different outfit, for starters. I find that does certainly help get me out of character. And I’m by no means as quick-witted as Jesse makes her, or any of the other characters, to be. I think Kieran’s the only person who can really compete in a real world circumstance.
How much do you like Shiv?
Oh, she’s great. I love playing her. I love playing her because she is unlikeable as well, and complex, and interesting, and full of… Her history is all built within her, and then there’s armour because of that. That’s fun to play. There’s a lot of difference there, I guess. Opportunities.
Which is why no one in Succession ever wears a coat: because they’re never outside for long enough. It’s office to limo to private jet. And even if viewers don’t recognise those details, those little touches, they feel it. It’s authentic.
Totally. And unfortunately, or fortunately, there are people who have this much money in the world. And they will know. Whether they’d be as vocal on the internet about it, who knows! But I think it’s important to get the veracity right. Getting it correct.
What has Succession done to your profile at home in Australia?
I don’t know, actually! I’ve been living inside for almost two years, because Melbourne’s been in lockdown for most of that. And I’ve been wearing my mask and my hat, as usual! But it certainly is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. And it’s certainly the first internationally known work that I can sense at the time of doing it as well.
The trillion-dollar question: why do we love these far from lovable characters?
Because they’re a dysfunctional family! And we all know dysfunctional families. We all have people like that in our family, or we know of somebody like that. There’s also a deliciousness of watching people who have money, who seem to have it all, who seem to have everything, not be able to get through life as easily as you would otherwise imagine money affords you.
Money doesn’t make you happy. And the Roys are proof of that.
Stream Seasons 1-3 of Succession on Showmax now.