Alan Ruck on the end of Succession and Jeremy Strong’s method acting — ‘he doesn’t fully trust his talent’

 (Andrzej Lawnik)
(Andrzej Lawnik)

“If this had happened when I was younger, I would be dead by now,” says Alan Ruck, musing on the mega-success of Succession, probably the most critically-acclaimed, award-adorned, audience-speculating show of our era that doesn’t involve dragons.

“I might have become very interested in substances and so forth because I would have had the money. Maybe God or the universe was protecting me, saying ‘you’re not ready’.”

Ruck, on the Zoom from New York, is a happy man, still relishing the surprise of being on this hit show, though feeling the sadness of it coming to an end. Succession — in which he plays the highly delusional Connor Roy, half-brother to the central trio of Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) — is about to begin its fourth season, and showrunner Jesse Armstrong revealed last week that it would be its last.

Succession (HBO)
Succession (HBO)

“We all found out way back in June when we had the read through of the first episode and Jesse dropped a major hint,” says Ruck. “He just told us that it was ‘most likely’ the last season. But it was obvious that that was true. We were stunned, but we just got into the work and the joy of doing that the show. But then it was very real around Christmas time, when we realized we only had about six weeks left. Everybody’s sad. It’s been six years since we did the pilot, but it feels like a blur. It feels like we were in some kind of an accident. A very happy accident.”

He recalls his final day shooting on set (no spoilers here by the way). “It was quite emotional. The very last scene was happily with Willa [Connor’s escort-turned-reluctant-girlfriend, played by Justine Lupe], and also my two brothers and my sister. It was nice to finish up with them. When they said it’s Justine Lupe and Alan Ruck’s last day, people got very wet on the face. And there was a giant hug of I don’t know how many people.”

Co-stars Justine Lupe and Alan Ruck attend Succession season 4 premiere (Getty Images)
Co-stars Justine Lupe and Alan Ruck attend Succession season 4 premiere (Getty Images)

Since wrapping on the whole series, there’s been several parties, speeches, drinks and “many tears”. Rucks says “after six years working together, you really are like a family.” Indeed, that closeness, or rather that chemistry on screen between these actors, who obviously relish the job of being deeply awful to each other, is surely the key to Succession’s success, and was instant, says Ruck. “I remember the first day of shooting. We did one scene where Logan [Brian Cox] asked us to make his new wife Marcia a trustee. And Kieran Culkin came into the room and lay upside down on a chaise. I immediately knew, just by him doing that, who that guy was. We gelled as a group very, very quickly. Everybody came in with a strong point of view. There wasn’t any sort of feeling out period. Sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle, and you just go with it.”

They certainly ‘gelled’ on screen, although off-screen it seems like it was a bumpier ride. One of the recent headline-making stories around the show has been the Method acting approach by Jeremy Strong as Kendell, who by all accounts puts himself through the real hell of the character. Brian Cox has been critical of this, calling Strong’s approach “fucking annoying” and most recently calling the Method “American shit”.

Ruck, who is close to Cox — “I’m playing 10 years younger, he’s playing 10 years older, but in real life we’re only 10 years apart in age. He’s a sweetheart, very funny and easy to act with” — is diplomatic but shares similar concerns over Strong’s approach.

“Well, Jeremy has a very particular way of preparing. Every actor is different. Sometimes an actor like Jeremy needs to stay in their zone 24/7, or they truly feel like they can’t deliver their best work. That’s fine. Let him do it. It’s his system, I don’t actually like the word Method, although I know it’s become part of the Zeitgeist ever since Marlon Brando went to Hollywood. But some people need to do that. As long as somebody else’s preparation doesn’t interfere with my rhythms, I don’t care.”

Has he ever tried such a ‘system’?

“When I was younger, but it never really suited me. I used to fret a lot. I’ve never been a chameleon. I’m pretty much Alan in different clothes. Maybe I’m a little bit more like my British friends. I’m happy to do my preparation, show up, do my job, and then leave it on the set.

“I think Jeremy is very hard on himself. And my personal feeling is that he doesn’t fully trust his talent. I think it could be an easier path for him. But he doesn’t believe it.

“So if he believes that’s what he needs to do, then that’s what he needs to do. I think Brian is actually worried for Jeremy’s well-being. Because Jeremy said one time that doing a role should cost you something. I think you do have to be fully invested, but if you need to give a pound of flesh every time you give a performance, at some point there’s not going to be anything left.

“Jeremy’s brilliant. The proof’s in the pudding, right? He delivers beautiful work.”


And so does Ruck. At the season premiere last week, Ruck delighted fans by appearing in photos from there with Matthew Broderick, his co-star in the classic teen comedy from 1986, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Not something that was planned apparently. “I’m not that clever, Matthew is old friends with J Smith Cameron (who plays Gerri)’s husband” — but to fans it provided a nice moment of transition in Ruck’s public image: once destined to be forever Ferris’ hapless best friend Cameron, now he is forever the hapless Connor Roy.

It would be unfair to say Ruck has been in the wilderness since Bueller, he’s always been a working actor with roles in Speed, and Spin City, and The Exorcist TV remake, but he’ll readily admit to Succession representing a turnaround. “I’ve been dreaming about a show like this for 30 years,” he says “You can’t deny the fact that being on a hit show is just a fabulous thing for an actor’s career. A little late in the day, this has happened for me. I’ve been mostly doing these acting jobs, and getting away with it, but now I’ve been on a hit show and it raises your visibility in such a powerful way. I’m very lucky and happy to have been a part of it.”

Connor is a masterful creation: of all the spoilt and delusional characters on the show, he is the most spoilt and delusional. A son from the previous marriage of Logan, he began Succession as a hapless outsider, living seclusion on his ranch where he hyper-decanted wine and paid Willa to be his girlfriend; but as season four begins he is about to marry Willa, and is continuing his campaign to become President of the United States.

Ruck, with what you quickly realise is his typical dry and wry manner, says his approach involved a considered lack of research. “Well, since Connor had had divorced himself from the family business before the series started, I gave myself permission not to know a damn thing about the business world. Jeremy and Kieran and Sarah had to learn about things like key performance indicators, the future of artificial intelligence as it pertains to a media empire, all this stuff, and I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t need to know any of this!’ I gave myself permission to be wilfully ignorant.”

He says he took cues from the writers and made up a backstory for Connor. “When Logan divorced Connor’s mother, he didn’t see him for years and was stuck with his mom who was in and out of mental institutions… he had all the advantages except love, so I think he created this fantasy world for himself. “ But he didn’t base the character on anyone, although there are obvious Trump echoes to his Presidential ambitions: “An incompetent person with no qualifications but with a big amount of money? It’s astonishing how far that will take a person.”

Connor would just be an imbecile if he weren’t so stinking rich; instead he’s a potentially dangerous imbecile. Indeed, the world of Succession, for all its hilarity, is a dark and dangerous one, where the super-rich operate with extreme decadence, self-interest, contempt and stupidity. And it’s easy to forget that when it first arrived, it was greeted with scepticism by reviewers put off by all these horrible characters.

Alan Ruck as Connor Roy in Succession (HBO)
Alan Ruck as Connor Roy in Succession (HBO)

“It wasn’t really until the end of the first season that it was really catching on,” Ruck says, “Half the critics didn’t have anything good to say about us because they said there is no one to root for. But because these characters are played by actors who are wonderfully funny and kind-hearted it somehow adds layers, some depth. Even though they’re awful people, you want to know what the hell’s going to happen to them.”

Why do we like Succession? There’s the spectacle of the lives of the media mega-rich, the Shakespearean drama and intrigue of taking down a king, the sheer enjoyment of the one-liners, but more than anything it’s the characters, and the interplay between them. That sibling hostility, in particular, has a thrilling resonance to anyone compelled, deep-down, to brutally take down at every opportunity the person who you once shared a family home with.

Fans may well be interested to note that the on-screen digs do extend off-screen too. Ruck notes how Kieran Culkin was once reluctant to improvise in character as Roman and is now “a machine of witty insults,” and has his own take on the character of Connor. “Kieran says he wasn’t sure who Connor was until I showed up, and ‘he’s basically just Ruck.’ I’m not sure how I feel about that…’”

Whatever happens in the final series of Succession, and you can be sure the final episode will amount to an international incident, we can count ourselves lucky to be witness to it playing out, as well as Alan Ruck finally putting Ferris Bueller to bed. “In New York, people are clocking me as Connor. It’s nice. I enjoy the whole Bueller thing and am grateful for that — but it’s nice to be current!”

Succession is on Sky Atlantic and Now from March 27.