“Too Much Birthday,” the seventh episode of the third season of HBO’s hit dramedy Succession, is a brutal thing to watch. Over the course of an hour of TV, we watch the last traces of joy drain out of Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy, the euphoria of finally managing to strike back, however briefly, at his tyrannical father in the show’s exultant second-season finale finally giving way to loneliness and recrimination in full. It is, not surprisingly, the episode Strong is nominated for for Outstanding Lead Actor at this year’s upcoming Emmys.
In light of that nomination—and maybe looking for a public platform that will be less bemused by his eccentricities than his last major profiler was—Strong gave an interview this week to series executive producer Adam McKay, via Variety. It’s a fascinating read, unsurprisingly, as Strong reveals how the episode evolved from its initial table read, talks about what “happiness” looks like for a guy like Kendall (tragically, it probably does mean taking the reins of an evil multi-billion-dollar company), and reveals what word was really in the character’s mind when he said “I wish I was…” at the episode’s lowest point. (“Dead.” The word, Strong strongly implies, was “dead”—not “home,” as the character eventually covers.)
McKay is mostly just there to be effusively positive about the show, which he directed the pilot for, but seems to have been mostly hands-off on since. He does get Strong talking, though, which is always good, in so far as it’s generally fascinating to try to parse where Kendall ends and Strong begins.
For instance, here’s Strong, listing the things he felt it was important to have on hand in an episode that’s all about Kendall trying to shape the perfect party for himself:
There’s this beautiful pendant that this incredible artist, Rashid Johnson, made based on a series of paintings that he did call the Anxious Man paintings that I wanted to wear for it. And this DJ in LA, named Myles Hendrik, put together an incredible playlist that I had going all the time. And the Gucci bomber jackets and all that stuff, I was really interested in.
Strong also notes that the scene of Kendall desperately searching through a giant pile of gifts from strangers, searching for the one hidden among them that’s from his kids, was a later addition, praising series creator Jesse Armstrong for being “so much smarter than I am, he’s so many steps ahead. And he will come back with a draft, which he did in this case, which was the whole storyline of my kids bringing me a gift.” (Also, the kids’ gift was apparently actually physically present in the pile, to give a sense of realness to Strong/Kendall’s desperate search.)
And then, of course, there’s the heavy stuff. Strong: “What was interesting about that gift pile scene is there’s a line in the text where he says, ‘I wish I was…,’ and then there’s an ellipses: ‘I wish I was home.’ And I didn’t know this working on it, but when I got to the day—well, it’s hard to talk about. When I got to the day, in that moment, I realized that the word that he was going to say was another word. And that had a big effect. That had a big effect on me in that moment…I think he just wants it all to be over: ‘I wish I was…’”
So, yeah: A good read. Succession is currently gearing up for its fourth season, arrival TBD; Strong will compete against his TV dad Brian Cox at the Emmys on September 12.