Rise And Shine
It’s two in the morning when I’m woken up by a text from someone my phone suggests is “Maybe: Jeremy.” The message reads: “Time for my interview.”
Before I’m able to ask who’s texting, I get another one, this time sent with Fireworks: “I’m outside.”
I look out the window and see Jeremy Strong, the star of Aaron Sorkin’s Succession, standing in front of my apartment—his hands are in the pockets of his character’s signature Gucci bomber jacket, which has “Kendall” bedazzled in diamonds across the breast. We didn’t have an interview scheduled, but I’m thrilled I’ve been given the chance.
I open my window to greet Strong, but he doesn’t notice because he’s too busy rapping the lyrics to “Skinny Love” while shadowboxing to the beat. I’m about to call his name when suddenly, a small, round Italian child in a thick cable knit sweater comes barreling down the street on an electric mobility scooter. The child’s fake white goatee flutters in the wind as he zooms over to Strong and whacks him with a pool noodle. Strong keels over in pain. The boy flips off Strong as he scoots away.
Within seconds, I’m out the door. As I bend down to help Strong off the street, he looks into my eyes with the same cried-out, hollow stare seen on Kendall Roy’s face during his darkest moments. I freeze—somehow, it’s like I’m really with the second oldest Roy child—but Strong just jumps off the ground, yelling, “And scene!”
“Don’t worry about me,” he says, removing his jacket and turning it inside out. “That’s merely par for the course when you’ve taken up the actor’s gauntlet.” He pops the jacket back on, revealing that the breast on this side is bedazzled with cheaper-looking gems to say “Guy Who Plays Kendall” instead.
Apparently, I didn’t just witness an assault on one of TV’s top actors, but rather one of Strong’s infamous immersion acting techniques. The Italian boy is a child actor Strong hired to play Logan Roy when Succession isn’t filming so he can continue studying Kendall’s difficult relationship with his father. I bring up the fact that the boy doesn’t exactly resemble Kendall’s dad, a domineering media mogul played on the show by the 75-year-old Scottish actor Brian Cox.
“That challenge is precisely the point,” Strong replies. “Any actor can convincingly build a parental relationship with an elderly man; it takes a much greater level of skill to do the same with a child. If my performance feels believable with Small Italian Logan Roy, just think how believable it’ll be with the real one.”
I should have known better than to suggest Strong hasn’t already thought through every aspect of his process. While not a method actor exactly, he has a reputation for going to extremes to get into character, starting with his days at Yale. In the hopes that the drama club would put on Grease at some point during his time on campus, he spent all of college in character as his dream role, the car.
“The lessons I learned from dressing up as a six-foot-wide, 16-foot-long convertible for four years were worth it,” Strong says, “even if I failed all of my classes because I couldn’t fit through the doors, never ate in the dining halls because I couldn’t fit through the doors, and was only friends with the chaplain, because while I also couldn’t fit through the chapel doors, he was the one person willing to join me in the parking lot.” And while Yale did end up staging Grease during Strong’s senior year, the role of Greased Lightning unfortunately went to a different student.
We’re still outside my building when Strong says that since I wasn’t given time to prepare, he went ahead and thought of “a couple” of questions I could ask him. He reaches down the back of his pants and pulls out a binder containing hundreds of potential prompts: “Is being Kendall easy?”; “Is being Kendall hard?”; “Is being Kendall more of a combination of easy and hard?” The interview has barely started, but Strong obviously has clear expectations of how it’s going to go.
I decline the binder and explain that as a huge fan of the dark comedy, I shouldn’t have any trouble thinking of questions to ask.
“Well, Succession isn’t a comedy,” he says. “It’s a cautionary tale about what happens when you and your siblings only hang out while wearing suits.”
Strong chucks the binder toward a sewer grate. It misses terribly. “That was Jeremy throwing that,” he clarifies. “Kendall has a 78.9 true shooting percentage.”
Linking And Building
As we walk through Tribeca, Strong reverses his jacket back to the “Kendall” side and immediately his posture changes. It’s like his back is straighter but he’s also an inch shorter; it’s the physicality of someone who joins the high school crew team just so they can put it on college applications but quits once they realize they’re way too rich to need to do that. He looks at his blurry reflection in a nearby puddle, nods approvingly, then says his character’s catchphrase, which I’ll admit was thrilling to hear in person: “Lock ‘n’ load, bimbos, ‘cause this is Business City, and I’m King Biznatch. Whoop whoop!”
Strong wastes no time once he’s in character. His next move as Kendall is to place a business call with one of his favorite brands.
“What do me, Zendaya, and Robert Pattinson have in common?” he shouts into his phone. “That’s right: We all eat 40 pints of Talenti gelato every day.”
“But you’re never gonna level up in the frozen sweets game without a sponsored post from Kendall Roy,” he says, every word accentuated with his character’s signature tryhard machismo. “Why don’t I post an IG story where I knock back a couple dozen Talentis in a hot tub? Maybe the guys from LMFAO are there too, yeah? Whenever I finish one, Redfoo slings me another?”
He waits for a moment, then the color drains from his face. “Yeah, I’ll hold.” He mutes himself and despondently shadowboxes as he fights back tears. There must be quite a bit riding on this for Kendall, even though Strong has assured me that nothing I see tonight will appear in a future episode of the show.
And while this level of preparation may seem a bit over the top, it makes sense that Strong would do everything in his power to perform at his best. He spent decades acting in off-Broadway one-man shows like Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman (Just The Salesman) and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Just The Night) while earning money on the side as a Jeremy Strong impersonator in Times Square, but it was nearly impossible to make ends meet. Fortunately, that all changed with Succession.
In 2016, 50 actors were gathered on top of a lower Manhattan skyscraper to audition for a role on HBO’s upcoming show about an ultra-wealthy media family. All they were told about the character was that he’s an overconfident yet downtrodden man-child who’s the initial frontrunner to take over his father’s company so long as his substance abuse issues don’t get the best of him first. At 60 stories high with no script to go off of, the actors were instructed to show off their best Kendall to a team of producers watching from inside the building.
Forty-nine actors jumped off the roof. One actor remained motionless, staring out at the city, listening to a hip hop remix of Fleet Foxes’s “White Winter Hymnal” on his Skullcandy headphones. That actor was Jeremy Strong.
“If Kendall actually threw himself off a roof, he couldn’t be on the show anymore, because then he’d be dead,” explained the show’s creator, six-time Emmy award winner Aaron Sorkin. “The role was meant to be Jeremy’s. He was the only one who understood that Kendall is always acting like he’s going to kill himself, though crucially never killing himself, because then he couldn’t be on the show anymore, because then he’d be dead.”
But Strong’s methods don’t exist in a vacuum. He draws many techniques from his hero Daniel Day-Lewis, who went to such lengths to prepare for Phantom Thread that he spent decades in character as someone who likes hanging out with Paul Thomas Anderson.
Strong has been obsessed with Day-Lewis ever since he read the actor’s Wikipedia page as a kid in the 80s. Knowing that Day-Lewis was exposed to a great deal of UV radiation during the outdoor shoot for The Last of the Mohicans, Strong decided to become a dermatologist in the hopes that Day-Lewis would eventually need a skin cancer screening, finally allowing the two to meet.
Despite the student debt he incurred, the eight years of medical school proved to be worth it for Strong: Not only did he get to remove a worrisome but ultimately benign mole from Day-Lewis’s back (which Strong keeps in a locket around his neck), but he also met Sorkin, who was so impressed by the way Strong correctly diagnosed his ringworm that he gave him a cameo in The Newsroom.
Out on the street, Strong-as-Kendall is finally taken off hold. The news must be good, because his air punches have taken a celebratory turn.
“That’d be—that’d be so fuckin’ tight,” he says. “Swing by with the freebies later, yeah? Talenti is the fuckin’ OG of freezer-burned-ass pints. You always know that shit’s gonna be covered with at least three inches of nasty grocery store ice.”
Strong hangs up, changes his jacket so he’s out of character, and breathes a sigh of relief. “Kendall needed a win,” he tells me. “Today alone he got turned down by f’real Milkshakes, Halo Top, and the brand that makes those little half-chocolate half-vanilla cups that you only ever see at middle school ice cream socials.”
If it seems like unsuccessfully negotiating multiple advertising deals would take up a lot of time, you’re right. Is it tough for Strong to balance spending time in character and spending time with his actual family?
“It’s incredibly easy,” Strong says with a shrug. “My kids like Kendall way more than they like me.”
Meet The Cast
“There’s a common saying in theater that ‘acting is reacting,’” Strong says as we walk toward the Bowery. “But if my acting is perfect the first time, why would I do it again?”
Perhaps that explains why Strong refuses to rehearse with his Succession scene partners: If he truly embodies his character, he’ll never make a wrong move. But while Strong’s methods result in his own best performances—he won an Emmy for his role in Season 2—I struggle to think the same is true for everyone he works with.
I ask Strong what his castmates think of his unconventional techniques. There’s a flicker in his eye as he replies, “Why don’t you find out for yourself?” He points to his left at the crimson awning for Ray’s, the Lower East Side dive co-owned by Strong’s Succession co-star Nicholas Braun.
I laugh, totally in awe of Strong’s ability to mastermind our night. He flips his jacket so it just says “Kendall,” and we head inside.
Immediately, I lose Strong among a crowd of what must be hundreds of women. Decked out near-identically in Reformation dresses and chunky gold hoop earrings, these ladies specifically came here tonight to meet Braun, the actor who plays the fan-favorite character Cousin Greg on the show. I join a line of girls leading to the back of the bar where Braun stands beside an altar of cracked rose gold iPhones and dusty Nike Air Force 1s, softly backlit by dozens of orb lamps and squiggly taper candles—various items women have given him as sacrifices while on their pilgrimages here from as far away as the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and even Williamsburg.
From the end of the line, I watch as a woman kneels on a yoga mat before Braun, who’s wearing a beige Dusen Dusen checkerboard quilt wrapped around his 8-foot-5 frame like a toga. “So, I’m bloated literally every day, no matter what,” the woman tells him. “Like I swear I’m actually skinnier than this, you just can’t tell ‘cause of the bloating. I think it could be gluten sensitivity, or lactose sensitivity, or maybe it’s a thyroid thing, because I’ve also been having tons of brain fog.”
“Oh, yikes. That has to feel… yikes,” Braun says, nervous to be in the woman’s presence. “Let’s see if I can be of any assistance to you, uh, madam.” It’s clear he immediately regrets calling her “madam.”
The bar’s co-owner, actor Justin Theroux, appears from behind the altar, carrying a light pink Great Jones Dutch oven full of Le Labo Santal 33. Although Theroux is a high-profile actor himself, this woman— and all of the women in the bar, for that matter—couldn’t care less. They’re here for Braun.
Braun tenderly dips his hands into the Dutch oven and anoints the woman’s forehead with perfume as he stammers, “Okay, I, um, do bestow upon thee healing, so to be healed.”
The woman does a full-body gyration like she’s snapping out of a trance. She rubs her hands over her stomach and exclaims, “It’s flat! The bloat is gone!” She grabs Braun’s hands and kisses them before running out of the bar, shouting, “He’s a miracle worker!”
As I wait my turn, a woman in a black square-neck crop top behind me explains the issue that brought her here. Endometriosis—technically just suspected since it’s so hard to get a diagnosis—but she’s certain Braun will have a cure. A woman in a brown square-neck crop top tells me she’s hoping Braun can bring her dead father back to life, but if not, a solution to her blue light headaches would be good, too.
A woman in a white square-neck crop top approaches them. “Is this the line for having sex with him?” The other women say no and point to a much longer line wrapped around the perimeter of the bar.
White crop top is in shock. “Even if I matched with him on Raya?!”
Even then, the women tell her. White crop top sighs and reluctantly joins the other line.
Suddenly, Braun locks eyes with me and beckons me forward, igniting the ire of everyone still waiting their turn. As I walk past, I hear one woman mutter, “There’s a special place in hell for Nicholas Braun stans who don’t support other Nicholas Braun stans.”
“Uh, hey, my, uh, my child…” Braun says to me. He can tell I’m looking at the bright red marks in the middle of both his palms. “Juul pod burns,” he says, laughing unconvincingly. “Apparently I can join, like, a lawsuit over it, but the notice I got in the mail had all this water damage on it, so maybe it’s invalid or something?”
“What can you tell me about working with Jeremy Strong?” I ask.
“Oh, it is strong!” he says with another half-laugh before turning more serious. “Yeah. It is strong, which is to say that it is good.”
Braun starts nodding his head like he’s really onto something. “He’s like a brother to me. Or, more like a father. Like a cool father who is also my brother. But between him and Sorkin, there’s no way the show could be bad. Seriously, Sorkin’s the man! Not that Jeremy isn’t also the man as well. They’re both the man. Equally.”
Braun begins to evade my eye contact, which I assume is due to social anxiety until I turn to see that he’s staring at Strong-as-Kendall, who’s currently tap dancing on top of the bar to a hardcore rap version of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” while tossing lime slices into his mouth like they’re popcorn.
“So, I really do love that guy,” Braun says, “but, uh, Theroux and I waxed the countertop this morning, and I mean, it’s fine, we can totally redo it if he scuffs it, but the wax has this like really bad, like really chemical smell, so it’d be preferential to me if he got down, if that would be agreeable?”
I promise to get Strong under control. Before I walk away, Braun whispers, “Do you think, um, that any of these women might, um, like, want to go out with me?”
Back at the bar, Strong isn’t merely dancing by himself—he’s performing for Small Italian Logan Roy, who sits directly across from him in one of those large spinning chairs from The Voice, only he has yet to press the button to make the chair spin around and face Strong.
Strong grows more desperate as he dances. Limes fly overhead as women yell at him to get down.
“Dad, please!” Strong shouts as the song winds down. “Please spin around! I want to be on your team!”
The appeals make no difference to Small Italian Logan Roy, who just rubs his fingers along his goatee, completely unimpressed by Strong’s routine.
The song ends. Strong starts to cry, gets down from the bar, pulls out a quart size Ziploc freezer bag of cocaine, immediately spills all of it, stares forlornly into the distance, accidentally slips on the spilled cocaine, falls to the ground, pulls out his phone and tweets, “Dads will literally sell their family company to some shit called GoJo instead of going to therapy,” and cries even more. Small Italian Logan Roy laughs loudly from his chair as two beautiful women leave the Braun line to sit on his lap.
“Ciao, bellas,” Small Italian Logan Roy says to the women. Strong takes one last look at his tiny Italian father and runs out in tears.
The spectacle was tragic, pathetic, and 100 percent Kendall Roy. That Strong was able to suddenly conjure a scene that felt like it belonged in a real episode of Succession is beyond me. I join him outside as women with matching Drybar blowouts eagerly take our spots in the bar.
Strong, out of character with his jacket on the “Guy Who Plays Kendall” side, brings me to our final stop of the night, a Seaport warehouse dubbed “The Ken Lair” that he uses as a space to shut out the world and focus on all things Succession. Inside, the place is packed with memorabilia from the show: the dog-eared copy of Louis Sachar’s Holes that Kendall reads in his adult illiteracy class, the Darth Vader voice-changing helmet Gerri wears while talking dirty to Roman, the $90,000 rape whistle Tom gifts Logan in the show’s pilot.
During the months Succession isn’t in production, Strong spends his days in The Ken Lair investigating the questions posed by the show, which he believes are what keep viewers hooked season after season.
“There are so many things fans want to know,” Strong says. “Why do some of the siblings randomly seem more British than the others? Are you supposed to understand what those old guys like Frank and the other one do? Is ‘Tern Haven’ a pun or something? Literally what is ‘Waystar’? How come if you smoke even just a little bit of weed before watching an episode it basically makes no sense? Why’s that one guy’s name Stewy, like is that a Family Guy reference? What movie are those characters in the amusement park from, and why does it seem so bad? Is the theme song getting longer every season? And how, seriously how, is the show so popular when a major plot revolves around something called a ‘proxy battle’?”
The good news for fans is that Strong is clearly committed to getting to the bottom of those questions. I look at a whiteboard where he’s written “What does it mean to ‘have a think’?” and “Vaulter = Quora.com?!” Next to it is a bulletin board featuring a photo of Whoopi Goldberg with her right hand raised and her left hand on a Bible. The late Herman Cain stands behind her.
“It’s only a theory, but I believe the president on the show is Whoopi Goldberg, and the VP is Herman Cain,” Strong says, addressing one of the biggest unknowns on Succession. “Since Covid doesn’t exist in the Succession universe, I realized this candidacy is not merely possible, but in fact makes perfect sense.”
Strong takes me to a sitting area in the middle of the warehouse. Propped up on a leather couch is a bag of flour with a red wig draped over the top and a set of wind-up chattering teeth glued to a pale, disturbingly realistic dildo.
“For working on my relationships with Shiv and Roman,” he tells me.
“What about Connor?” I ask.
Strong stares back, blankly. “I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
Yet, despite the front row seat I have to Strong’s process, he’s reluctant to give any definitive spoilers about the upcoming season. When I ask what’s next for Kendall after the intense Season 3 finale saw Logan majorly screw over his kids, Strong gives me a 30 minute answer that includes a quote from Proust, a recipe for pasta bolognese, a poem he wrote titled “Musings on Rehoboth, Delaware Parts 1 and 2,” his predicted innovations in windshield wiper fluid, and nine uses of the phrase “Suicidal Scrooge McDuck.”
On the phone, I asked Sorkin the same question. His answer was more direct: “In Season 4, Kendall is going to make it seem like he’ll kill himself, but he is not going to kill himself, because then he couldn’t be on the show anymore, because then he’d be dead.”
Fortunately, there is one upcoming specific Strong is very much willing to share. “I’ve discovered how Kendall will finally overcome his substance issues,” he says, leading me to a padlocked closet. “During Season 8, he’ll replace his addiction to drugs with an addiction to jet-packing. You’ll never see him on the ground again.”
Strong turns the lock to the numbers 1-9-2-2—“Kendall’s birth year,” he tells me. He opens the closet, pulls out a jet pack, and puts it on. He presses some buttons and jets start to rumble.
“Grab hold!” he shouts over the engines, reaching his arms out to me. He rises about two inches, then says, “It’s too late now. I have given you all the tools to succeed; you must finish the interview alone.”
But Strong’s joy ride is over as quickly as it began: The jets cut out and he’s dropped to the floor. He jams the buttons. Nothing changes.
For the first time tonight, Strong’s plan hasn’t gone as he hoped. “Piece-of-crap-jet-pack no-good-backpack total-waste-of-money-shit-pack should-have-bought-a-really-nice-kayak or-even-TWO-really-nice-kayaks,” he mutters to himself as he shimmies out of the straps. Still fuming, he hurls the jet pack across the room.
As it flies through the air, a man in his early twenties walks into The Ken Lair holding a tray containing several incredibly freezer-burned pints of gelato.
“Who wants Talenti?!” the young man asks, just as the jetpack lands at his feet. It explodes upon impact, rocketing him up with the fiery blast and sending him back down in a cloud of smoke.
Strong collapses into a fetal position and shits himself. I run over to the Talenti employee and check his wrist for a pulse. I can’t feel a thing.
I’m furious that this is how Strong has chosen to behave in a crisis. I’m about to ask him for help just as Small Italian Logan Roy speeds through the front door on his mobility scooter, really laying on the horn. He rides over to Strong, who is now sobbing into a new quart size Ziploc freezer bag of cocaine. The Italian child winds up his pool noodle to hit Strong, but in a change of heart, he drops it and gives Strong a hug instead.
I get out my phone and start to dial 911 when Strong’s jacket catches my eye—the jewels look way too elegant to be plastic gems from Jo-Ann Fabrics. I look closer. His jacket doesn’t say “Guy Who Plays Kendall” like I thought; it just says “Kendall.” Strong must have gone into character right before throwing the jet pack—after all, Kendall does have a 78.9 true shooting percentage.
“There, there, bambino,” Small Italian Logan Roy says, wiping away Strong-as-Kendall’s tears and taking the coke out of his hands. “Papa’s got you now.”
Small Italian Logan Roy helps Strong stand up. Together, they climb onto the mobility scooter and ride out of the warehouse, both flipping me off as they scoot into the night.
I’m floored. Of course this wasn’t an accidental death at the hands of actor Jeremy Strong, but instead a beautifully orchestrated performance. How he pulled it off is not for me to know. I’m just honored I was the sole viewer of what was hands down the most tragic and riveting moment in Succession history. If Strong made an impromptu scene with Small Italian Logan Roy this compelling, I can only imagine how mesmerizing the upcoming season will be.
I put my phone away, step over the corpse of the Talenti representative, and begin my walk back home.