‘Succession’ Star Sarah Snook Breaks Down Shiv’s Public Humiliation and Season 3 Pivot
[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 3, through Episode 3, “The Disruption.”]
Poor Shiv Roy. There are ignominious speeches and then there’s what happened to Shiv during her first meeting addressing the employees of Waystar Royco as the company’s new president. In the most recent episode of HBO’s “Succession,” while trying to reassure the masses that the future of the company was stable, Shiv’s speech was, in effect, shouted down by her brother Kendall (Jeremy Strong), utilizing speakers playing Nirvana’s “Rape Me” — a reference to the company’s previously hidden history of mistreating sex workers, migrant workers, and women in general — to drown out his sister’s words.
It’s HBO’s “Succession” in a nutshell. One Roy family member laying another Roy family member low, no matter the cost. (The very same episode has Shiv emotionally eviscerating her brother via press release.) And central to many of those conflicts is Shiv, played by the incandescent Sarah Snook, whose performance suggests a vulnerability that the character works tirelessly to obfuscate as well as a steely resolve to do whatever it takes to end up on top.
In a recent interview with IndieWire, Snook opened up about the most important men in Shiv’s life — husband, Tom (played by Matthew Macfadyen) and father, Logan (Brian Cox) — as well as the defenses the character has had to build up to survive in a Roy-eat-Roy world.
Even when Shiv is winning, it seems like she’s losing. She’s named president of Waystar, but not interim-CEO. She makes a speech to employees, but is derailed by Kendall. How have you approached all of those professional disappointments for her character?
Sarah Snook: Luckily, I would say, I haven’t had too many of the similar kind of things happening in my own life, but we’ve all faced disappointments. I think there’s something about Shiv. She’s so indomitable, she’s so persistent, she’s like a dog with a bone. And that’s fun to play, always having an objective.
Do you foresee a point in the future when Shiv would be able to extract herself from Logan’s sphere of influence? Would she even want to?
She did it once, right? She was in politics for however long before joining the company. I think if she tried to get herself out of the magnetic pull of Logan now, it might be more difficult, but not without possibility. I was going to say, “Life is long,” but will she be able to do it before dad keels over, who knows? Is it worth it?
Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in “Succession”
Graeme Hunter / HBO
Each Roy child appears to react to Logan’s anger in different ways. How do you see Shiv reacting in the face of his verbal abuse?
There’s something fun about how Brian plays Logan that he can be this flash in the pan, fiery tyrant, all of a sudden, which is great. And there’s something fun about being able to withstand that and take it, while also taking it and putting up a wall against it. I think the kids, they would’ve been used to that, as they’ve all dealt with the temper of Logan.
Is it ever difficult in the moment to keep that wall up?
Totally. And it’s fun to play with as well. To keep the wall, but then see where it’s permeable.
What type of things permeate Shiv’s wall or get under her skin? It seems like Kendall’s speaker trick during her speech really got to her.
Totally. I don’t think she likes being humiliated or embarrassed, and I think it’s very rare that she often is. And I think part of her not being embarrassed is a choice. You choose to be embarrassed or not. But when it’s a humiliation in that form, in front of the public, and she has no real course to publicly shame the person who did it to her, that’s the real pet hate, I’m sure. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Shiv after that.
How do you see Shiv’s relationship with Logan this season? Has it changed or is it just sort of following its own trajectory?
It’s an ever-evolving relationship, I think, and part of the joy of this show for me is the writing and learning new things about our characters as we go along. I think Jesse [Armstrong] is a person who reserves the right to change his mind, which I like — unless it’s in the final cut of the episode, like in the season, it may or may not never have happened. And so our relationship for Shiv and Logan as it’s evolving, we learn more about what their history might have been at the same time. I love that.
Can you think of a moment when Jesse changed his mind? Where you thought things were going one way and then took a hard left turn?
Well, Brian often quotes that he always thought [Logan] was from Quebec in Canada and Scotland. When they put the episode in Scotland, he was like, “What? Hang on, hang on. What?”
Quebec, I had never considered that. It doesn’t quite have the punch, but yeah. Canadian Logan. It’s very sweet, actually, in retrospect.
Matthew Madfadyen and Sarah Snook in “Succession”
Macall Polay / HBO
And how do you see Shiv’s relationship with Tom? Because while viewers waited nearly two years for Season 3, it’s easy to forget that Shiv and Tom ended Season 2 in a very precarious place.
Totally. And what a strange relationship. But I think that’s what’s exciting for me to play. For us, at least, maybe it’s exciting for the characters as well, but they are in a really precarious position at the end of Season 2. They’re only newly married, they’ve been together for however long they’ve been together. And I think that they really have some sorting out to do. But I think also that Shiv, who previously had her own career outside, had this plan: Make it in politics or that sphere, get married, have a stable family, have a relationship. Being offered the CEO-ship of Waystar, being brought back to the business, that magnetic pull of Logan’s, really turned things on its head and that has kickback on the relationship with Tom. It’s like, how do we manage being in a marriage, working together, being in a family like the Roys, all at once? Something’s going to give.
How much of the pushback Shiv receives, particularly with regard to Waystar, do you chalk up to misogyny and how much is just that it’s an extremely toxic environment and everyone is getting shit on at all times?
Part of that is from the culture of misogyny, I think, pervasively within Waystar and certainly in business. And many businesses at the moment are working hard to change that and have been for many years, with some having more success than others. Shiv is oftentimes one of only a few women in the room, but Gerri has been there for years and years as the stalwart and the vanguard of that change as well. And I think, perhaps, as a differentiation between the two different feminine approaches, where Gerri perhaps has been more head down, shut up, button up, careful where you’re aligning yourself, but gets to the top still, Shiv might be more vocal and outspoken. And maybe that’s a personality thing or maybe it’s a different kind of feminism thing, but maybe it’s a combination of both.
“Succession” debuts new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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