Alan Ruck on his role as Connor Roy in Succession

7 January 2022

Alan Ruck on his role as Connor Roy in Succession

Alan Ruck plays the eldest Roy sibling in Succession. In Season 3 of HBO’s dark comedy about his and his half-siblings’ quest for control of their father’s media conglomerate, he says that part of the appeal of the show is watching the four of them eat each other alive.

All three seasons of Succession are now streaming only on Showmax.

Read more about Alan Ruck’s thoughts on Succession below.

How did we leave Connor at the end of the last season?

Despondent, really. Because the old man rudely shot down his request for financial assistance, because of his [Presidential] campaign needs, and also the fact that he’s been footing the bill for Willa’s Broadway show. And the old man told him: ‘Stop it, you’re embarrassing me.’ Which is not what you’d hope to hear.

And then Connor was hoping to throw himself under the bus for some money and take the fall for the cruise line debacle. But no takers. So he’s just worried about money, and he got his feelings hurt by his pop. So that’s where he is.

How would you describe Connor’s state of mind at the start of this season? What’s he aiming for?

At this point I think it’s survival. He’s thinking: where do I get the best deal? Because he just parted ways with his dad on not-so-great terms. But then the other option is side with his unhinged brother, Kendall. So it’s about figuring out, as Roman and Shiv are too, where do I set down, where do I hang my hat in this particular conflict? 

So it’s just a great deal of uncertainty for Connor.

Early in the new season, Connor refers to a task his dad sets him as Operation Thumb-Twiddle. How aware is Connor of how his dad views him and values him?

I think he’s keenly aware. And I think he’s had decades of this treatment from his father, and from his brothers and sister, of being dismissed. He doesn’t add to the family name, he doesn’t add to the company lustre. So he’s just unremarkable and dismiss-able, and that’s the way they treat him.

Connor also says early in the third season, during an intense sibling summit: ‘Can we just try to keep this nice?’ Is Connor Succession’s Mr Nice? Maybe the show’s only Mr Nice?

I think with other people that are not in the family, he’s maybe not so nice. He’s just as entitled and snotty as the rest of them are. But I think he has some sort of dream of sweet family relationships that just don’t exist.

But he still has this hope that someday his brothers and his sister will actually need him in some way, or value his advice, or just talk to him openly about what they’re going through. He’d like to be included.

He’s never felt like he’s ever been a part of this family. When he was a little, little boy, he would go around town with this dad. And he knew he was a little prince, because everywhere he went, people bowed down to his dad, and doors were opened, and people couldn’t do enough for his father or for him. Then Logan divorced Connor’s mother and then it all changed.

So I think for decades he’s desperately been trying to get back inside.

What do you think Connor’s mother’s backstory is?

Jesse told me once that: ‘I don’t think she’s on this planet anymore.’ I think that’s probably the smart way to go. We’ve been given hints that she had psycho-emotional challenges, and maybe some addiction problems.

So I don’t think Connor’s boyhood was very happy. He was either living with this really troubled woman, or he was off in boarding school, with the occasional holiday trip to see Logan and the other kids.

How important has that been for you as an actor, in helping build a credible emotional hinterland for Connor and what he’s been through?

It hasn’t been difficult. The writers are so great, they give you such great clues. As soon as Jesse let on that, for one thing, my mother’s gone, she’s no longer here, and that she had some serious problems, you can fill in. You can use your imagination and you fill in the blanks and just imagine what that was like for that kid. I think it was a really lonely time – I think Connor’s been lonely a lot. So I think he views Willa sort of as a gift from God. Here’s this fabulous young woman in his life and she’s made all the difference.

She doesn’t feel exactly the same. But he’s going to wear her down!

What are your memories of first hearing about and auditioning for Succession?

I almost didn’t do it. I was working in Chicago with Geena Davis on [the TV series adaptation of] The Exorcist. And I was flying home for long weekends. And my wife was completely stressed out, because she was doing a TV show as well, doing 15-hour days. We had babysitters and nannies and so forth, but then at night she was a single parent.

Then I came home for a long weekend and she said she wanted me to take my little boy to the mommy-and-me music class. He was two at the time. And I said: ‘I’m there! I’m it!’ 

Then my manager called up – this was Monday morning – and he said: ‘I have an audition for you for an HBO show.’ I said: ‘Wow!’ And I said to my wife: ‘Honey, it’s HBO!’ And she burst into tears because she was so stressed out. So I told my manager I couldn’t do it because I’d promised my wife that I’d take our little boy to mommy-and-me music class!

So the three of us went. You had to leave your phone outside, and when I came out there were half a dozen messages and emails. It was my manager saying: ‘Before you leave town to go back to Chicago, just stop by Adam McKay’s house.’ 

And I did, and I just did an audition for him in his living room. And our casting director Francine Maisler was there, and Justine [Lupe, who plays Willa] might have been there. But there was some guy sitting back in the shadows of the living room – big living room – it might have been Jesse but I’m not sure.

And I didn’t really know the material, so I kind of improv’d my way through it. And then they asked me to do the role. So it was just one of those things where the universe just kept saying: ‘Just show up. Just show up. And it’ll open up some doors.’ So it was very lucky for me.

Alan Ruck as Connor Roy on Succession

You mentioned there that the fact that it was an HBO show was meaningful for you. What is that shorthand for in your industry?

If you just look at the history of what these people have produced, it’s an amazing track record of just some of the best shows any of us have ever seen. Something that HBO does is – it’s not that they don’t have opinions about how things should go; they’re very smart people and they definitely do have ideas and input – but they hire really smart people who are talented and know what they’re doing. And then they let them do it. 

So actually, I wouldn’t say that there’s any interference, but there’s guidance here and there about ‘this is what we need and this is what we were hoping for’. But mostly it’s just guidance. And then they just hire the right people to do the jobs and let them do it. That freedom is hard to come by.

Jesse Armstrong has always kept his writers’ room in London, and has built a writing team that’s roughly half British. Do you see a British sensibility within Succession?

Every now and then there’s a bit of phraseology that’s not typically American. But the way we justify this is that the Roys aren’t really American. They’re sort of a nation unto themselves. And actually the kids were raised all over the world. Especially with my step-siblings, they have a Scottish father and an English mother. So the way they speak is sort of a patois of international influence. 

And I think it’s actually great that we have all these Brits in the writing room. Because those guys, and people in Europe, have a different slant on what goes on in America. And sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. So it’s good to have an outside eye, just saying: ‘Oh, wow, look at what they’re doing…’

The key is to play it straight, no matter what inane things [the writers] give Connor to say. You have to play it … like your life depended on it.

Alan Ruck on playing Connor Roy in Succession

You have a vast and deep CV of American TV shows. What makes this show different from other TV dramas you’ve done over the years?

I have done a few dramas, and I also did a lot of comedy, especially early on. And I’ve told other people that I’ve really been waiting for something like this for about 30 years. Many years ago I did a pilot for a network show, an NBC show, about photojournalists in the Vietnam War. It was a drama but it had a similar dark sense of humour, kind of a gallows humour, to it – because of the situation, I mean, it was Vietnam.

And I really enjoyed that, but that pilot didn’t go [to series]. So I’ve kind of been hoping for something like that ever since.

So what’s great about Succession is that it’s a drama, it’s a serious show – but it is wickedly funny. The comedy comes out of character. There’s not jokes per se. What it is is just these fools self-destructing. And there’s something really funny and satisfying about it.

How useful are those comedic chops when filming Succession? You’re not playing for laughs. The laughs are almost ancillary, which must require a very nuanced performance.

Well, the key is just to play it straight, no matter what inane things they give Connor to say. You have to play it exactly straight and sincere, like your life depended upon it. And that’s how you do it.

Why do we love these far from lovable characters?

Well you love to hate ’em. I guess there are some shows where people have tragic flaws but there’s something about them that’s noble. And you’re like, ‘don’t do that, don’t do that!’ But with these idiots, you’re like: ‘Go! Go! Just slit your own throat!’ And I think it’s fun to watch them eat each other alive.

Want to watch Alan Ruck on Succession? Stream all three seasons on Showmax now.

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