Over three seasons of Succession, J. Smith-Cameron’s Gerri has grown a lot. At first the quiet but highly competent special counsel of Waystar Royco, she’s now, in this season, the acting CEO of one of the world’s largest and hungriest corporations. (Though even she couldn’t save a truly chaotic shareholders meeting.) But one thing has stayed: She’s still in a weird semi-sexual relationship with Roman, the youngest male Roy scion, played by Kieran Culkin. It all started in Season 1, and according to a new New Yorker profile of Smith-Cameron, it kind of happened by accident.
The actress says she and Kieran were already friends by the time he made Succession. (They appear together, although not in the same scenes, in 2011’s Margaret, by her acclaimed playwright/filmmaker husband Ken Lonergan.) On set, during scenes together, they just “in a friendly way,” started “this sort of silly flirtation.” It began with them riffing with each other. Soon enough, they realized they had something.
“It was funny that Roman was flirting with Gerri, to us. Well, inappropriate and funny,” Smith-Cameron said. “So we just kept it up. At some point the writers became aware of it.”
The real genesis of it didn’t begin till Season 1, and it was all improv:
“Well, one day after we finished a scene they just kept the camera rolling, as they do, and we had to improv. I can’t remember what we said, but we had some kind of flirty repartee. And then apparently we both looked back over our shoulder at each other, without realizing. That was the end of Season 1. Then I guess in the writer’s room for Season 2 they wrote it into the story line.”
Then things escalated in Season 2:
We had to do that scene where I made Kieran go in the bathroom. You know the one. And I was really having trouble working it out, because it changes micro-beat by micro-beat. First, I’m just consoling him about Shiv, and then it shifts to being horrified about what he has in mind. And then I scold him, and then I see he’s turned on, and then I’m kind of being seductive, maybe. And then I’m, like, “Get in the bathroom!,” like a dominatrix, and then I’m laughing. It was like crossing an obstacle course.
I remember just sitting in my car, because it was street cleaning that day, and calling Michelle and saying, “I don’t know what Gerri thinks of this.” As much as I think Kieran is wildly attractive, I think Gerri would not give him the time of day. She’s so careful. And she’s known him as a little boy. I was very nonplussed about how to know what I felt, or what my character felt about this happening. And Michelle said, “Well, probably Gerri doesn’t know, either.” It was so obvious! Gerri is puzzled at first. And scandalized, intrigued, amused in turns. Tricky, but that is completely the truth of it. She was exactly right about that.
So there you have it. Gerri and Roman have a weird, still largely unconsummated relationship because two actors just sort of willed it into being, unsure where it was going, unsure if it even made sense. And it blossomed into one of the most distinctive parts of one of today’s most acclaimed shows. But Gerri would still mop the floor with Roman at basketball.
(Via The New Yorker)