“Let me tell you about the very rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said. “They are different from you and me.”
That difference — and the opulence, arrogance and power it implies — permeate Succession. The HBO drama follows a would-be dynastic clan and the intrigues its mercurial patriarch unleashes by signaling the beginning of the end of his reign.
In casting Logan Roy, octogenarian chief of the sprawling Waystar Royco media conglomerate, series creator–writer–executive producer Jesse Armstrong (In the Loop) needed a screen presence with the gravitas and seasoning to merit descriptors like, well, mercurial, patriarch and reign .
With a career in its sixth decade, Cox is that actor many viewers will recognize but can’t necessarily name. Yet in toggling back and forth between his native U.K. and the States, between comedy and drama and stage and screen, he’s invariably shone in his portrayals of the larger than life.
He was King Agamemnon in Troy, Leon Trotsky in Nicholas and Alexandra, Hermann Göring in the 2000 miniseries Nuremberg (for which he won a supporting-actor Emmy), the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter and even screenwriting guru Robert McKee in Adaptation.
No wonder, then, that Cox is right at home in Logan’s psyche: “I think he’s probably, on paper, one of the most unlikable people I’ve ever played. But when you get into his skin, you realize there’s more to him than meets the eye.”
Discerning the nature of that “more” is very much the project of Succession (the 10-episode series debuted June 3; viewers can catch up on HBO Go).
Just minutes before handing over the company reins to hot-headed son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Logan decides to stay on for a few more years. In so doing, he kindles a power struggle among the spurned would-be heir and his siblings, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Connor (Alan Ruck) and Siobhan (Sarah Snook).
Cox, a veteran of the Shakespearean stage, acknowledges the story’s echoes of a certain British monarch. “The Lear connection is certainly true in that he wants to give his empire away, but then he realizes that he doesn’t think his children are up to it.”
There’s another obvious echo. “Because it’s media and he’s a mogul, there’s naturally going to be that association,” Cox says, but adds, “I don’t think the Murdoch family is as dysfunctional as the Roys are.”
Indeed, a generational disconnect splits the House of Roy.
“Logan is a self-made man, now an extremely rich man, but his children have always known that life,” Cox explains. “He’s very astute about the pitfalls that a career in business presents, and the rigor and direction that you have to have in that world. That’s the lesson he wants to instill — he wants them to be tough.”
Logan aims to test their mettle, Cox says, and perhaps incite a little mischief and comeuppance along the way. “Sometimes you can love your children but not like them,” he observes. “It’s a very profound difference.” That sentiment is soon shown to be viscerally mutual.
“Of course, everybody wants to kill me off,” Cox says of his character, adding a dark warning: “He gets very old, he survives, and he comes back even more ruthless than before.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2018