Kieran Culkin has come a long way since his days playing the kid brother on Home Alone. Now, as he stars in THE show of the year in its final series, we hear his thoughts on the show ending, as well as his character Roman and the scene that was a heck of a lot to film – and their very last ever – that’s also likely to stay on the editing room floor.
I read a trending Tweet the other day that said, ‘As a 90s kid it blows my mind the most famous Culkin and Olsens now are Kieran and Elizabeth’. As someone who watched Home Alone approximately 8,000 times (I still watch it every Christmas), and spent years watching Mary-Kate and Ashley’s every move while I worked at Creme magazine, this rang SO true to me. And, futhermore, it BLOWS MY MIND that this week on Capsule we have both an interview with Elizabeth Olsen and with Kieran Culkin, both for their roles on the most talked about TV shows of 2023.
There is a heck of a lot of hype around Succession right now – and for good reason, it’s a hell of a show, and it’s leaving audiences wanting more as it comes to an end in a few weeks time at the end of the fourth season, which will be its last.
Kieran’s character Roman, isn’t always the most likeable person (in saying that, who on the show actually is??), but he’s certainly kept us entertained – and guessing.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the fidgety, potty-mouthed youngest son of Logan Roy, but originally, Kieran says he was sent the script to read the part of cousin Greg.
“I knew I wasn’t Greg,” says Kieran. “I read the first element and knew that’s just not me. What’s fun about that is I thought the writing was good enough 10 pages in and just kept reading, which I don’t normally do. Then the character Roman walks in and says, “Hey, hey motherfuckers,” and then I was like, he’s fun, and kept reading.”
After reading through it further, he asked if he could instead read for Roman – although the response he got back was that they weren’t ready for casting Roman yet.
“And I said, ‘Can I do it anyway?’ My agent at the tie was like, ‘yeah, go ahead, play the game’. So I picked three scenes, put myself on tape and sent it in.”
Despite the fact they weren’t even looking for a Roman at that stage, it was soon pretty obvious who should take the part. And, soon, Succession was a massive hit – although, becoming a household name wasn’t something that Kieran felt excited about, or even comfortable happening.
He says watching his older brother, Macaulay’s, sudden rise to fame – when he was just a child – well and truly put him off. “He was little and having to try to accept that level of fame as reality,” he says. “Even at that time, as a kid, I remember thinking, ‘That sucks for him.'”
Having a small part in Home Alone, Kieran had a small taste of what it was like, but, he says that in reality his brother’s fame had a great impact on him – and on the entire family. His parents’ 1995 divorce was highly publicised, and two years later, they were in the headlines again when Macaulay Culkin – aged just 16 – claimed his father not only mismanaged his earnings but also made him sleep on the couch, he was granted emancipation, and US$17 million. Kieran – who his one of seven children – wrote letters to the court – just a young teenager himself – asking that press not be allowed inside the court for the proceedings.
It’s no wonder that his brother’s success made him fear becoming famous himself. “I had this unhealthy relationship with what I did for a living,” he recently said. “I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to be successful at it.”
It seems Kieran has made his peace with it though, and found ways to cope – including his young family who he says keep him grounded. He has two young children – a three-year-old and one-year-old with his British wife Jazz.
Here, Kieran reflects on the last season of Succession, his thoughts on it all ending, Roman’s ‘relationship’ with Gerri, and the last scene he filmed for the show, which he seriously doubts anyone will ever get to see….
What was your reaction when you found out this was definitely the last series?
I think I went [pulls “huh…?” face]. Something like that. We had been anticipating it all year, I think. But there was a lot of flip-floppy. By the end, it felt like this could be a good end. But I understood Jesse’s struggle with it. Because there really could be more, without revealing too much.
But it feels like, when we did the third season, there were sort of rumours that it could be the end. And even when you see the end of the third season, there’s a possibility where that could have been the end. If there wasn’t a fourth, that could be a complete story, [although] I would want to see more.
So there was an ongoing sensation during this season’s production that Succession could be coming to an end?
There was that feeling all the way through when we were doing four. We had a meeting at the start where Jesse told me that he thought it’s the end, but he wasn’t sure. And then he just explained to me the entire season. When he finished, I said: “Well, that to me sort of sounds like the end.” And he goes: “It could be, but the story can go like this…”
And he threw out three different ideas – that he said was off the top of his head – that were all a brilliant season five idea, [each] different ideas. And he said: “I don’t know, we’ll just have to see.” So as we went along, there was sort of a “will he, won’t he?” feeling.
So doing the read for 10 felt like this could be a good [ending], or there could be more. Then when he made that announcement, I actually kind of felt a sense of relief in a way. A closure. Just like: “Good. If you’re gonna break up with me, just do it already. Don’t leave me hanging.”
So that’s what I felt. But people had very different reactions.
At the start of this new season, we see the three siblings meeting on a hilltop property in Los Angeles, discussing their next moves. Roman, according to Roman, is the only one who wants to start a new business for business reasons. Why is that?
[Unlike Kendall or Shiv] he doesn’t want to fuck anyone, yeah. Um, they accuse him of being afraid of dad, which would be… legit. Because I think as Tom says in the last season: “I’ve never seen him eat shit once”, or something like that. Like, Logan never loses. So there is that.
But I don’t think that that’s Roman’s fear. I think there was something very exciting to him about working with his siblings. Because outside of there being some sort of business to talk about, there really isn’t any reason for them to get together. And Roman doesn’t really have much else – or anyone else – in his life.
I don’t think he has a tonne of friends. I don’t think he really has the capacity, based on you his childhood and the way he was raised, to just be able to express himself emotionally and say: “Hey, I kind of miss you, can we hang out?” I don’t think that would happen. He even tries to approach that at one point and says: “Can we talk to each other normally?” And they just make fun of him. They just don’t know how to communicate.
So I think when they got cut out [by Logan], it’s like: “Oh, no, what are we going to do? What am I going to do? I don’t have any family. I don’t have friends. I got you guys, and I don’t know how to communicate with you.” So the idea of starting a business together was great.
And now taking that [idea] and going in this direction shows that we can lose – and we can lose everything. And dad’s very good at pitting us against each other. So I think there’s a lot of fears like that for Roman.
Brian Cox is of the opinion that Roman is the most business-minded, and has the most potential. But his potty mouth gets in the way.
Well, I mean, Logan has the biggest potty mouth! Worse than Roman, I would say. And look at how far that got him.
This is true. Does that potential, or business vision, which is something else that Brian said, make Roman, of all the children, the most likely successor at this point?
I would say so. And I have been saying it for a couple of years. If it had to be given to one of his children, I do think Roman is in the best position for it.
It’s funny that Brian said the most business-minded. Maybe that’s right. But I don’t think he has a firm grasp on how all business works. But he’s seen the way that dad handles business. And if Roman tried to work through the ranks, the way that some people do in the company, I don’t think that would work. He would have to do it the way Logan did it, [which is] start the company.
I think if he were handed that [opportunity], I think he could do it. Because he’s the most like his father, in terms of having a lot of bluster, blagging things and making hard decisions. And having a clear vision
on what you want, without trying to reinvent the wheel. Which I think is what his other kids would try to do. Which is where they fail.
In this upcoming series, is there more mileage in the Roman/Gerri so-called relationship?
Tune in, motherfucker! You’ll have to see!
Has that been one of the high points of this show for you, the sparring with J. Smith-Cameron?
I love sparring with J! What’s great about it is, this show in general never does a heavy lean into anything. It sort of leans away a bit. So when there’s something like that – when there’s something happening with these two characters – they like to play with it a little. There’s never a full lean in or away. There’s never a full relationship. Nor is there a big blow-out. It’s nice to play in that area, without defining it.
How was the improvisatory nature of this show over four series impacted on you as an actor?
I’m trying to think if I’ve properly worked on anything else since the show began… Not really. I’ve popped in for a couple of weeks on a job. And I’ve done a lot of voice work where I haven’t been encouraged to improvise. So I don’t really know how to take anything I’ve learned from this and apply it to something else. I have no idea. But it was like throwing the rulebook out.
Before doing this show, I had a process that was always sort of evolving. But it had the same sort of idea behind it, which was: stick to the script as closely as possible. Read it over and over and over again, because you’ll find new things in it. I used to get off-book on an entire movie a month or so before doing it – and be off-book for all the other characters to get their perspective. I had this very specific idea.
And Succession changed that?
Then I came here, and I saw how sort of fast and loose the writers play. They’ll just switch our dialogue, or they’ll get rid of it entirely, or change the fundamental [details] of what’s happening in a scene. So I had to throw the rulebook out the window, because I get there and they’re like: “You might not say these lines, you might say these…” I’m like: “What the fuck?” “Or say whatever you want… Basically, the idea should be something like this…”
So I just leaned in heavy to that, and stopped [over-preparing]. I even got to a point where I stopped even looking at what scene I was going to be doing the next day. Because it felt like if I looked at it, I would get an idea in my head, I would prepare something, I would show up… and it would be completely different.
Has that been fun?
That’s really fun, because it keeps things alive, it keeps you on your toes. It’s terrifying. But I feel like if you tried to do that on another show where somebody has written something where they want to rehearse it, for God’s sake, or set up a shot, which means I have to pick a place where I’m going to stand, God forbid… I don’t even know how to do that anymore!
How satisfied are you with the conclusion of Roman’s story over these upcoming 10 episodes?
[Pause] I wish I could talk about it more because… I would say it’s a more complicated answer than this, but I would say: I’m very satisfied with it. With an asterisk that I can’t really discuss.
If push comes to shove, what’s been your favourite scene to film over these 40 hours and 40 episodes to film?
It’s always when we get the four siblings together. My favourite thing that we shot was a scene on the yacht in season two. It’s right after Kendall was told he’s going to be the one that fell on the sword. We did a scene that was the four siblings up on the yacht, discussing how Kendall felt about that, and if he really was going to go through with it.
And they had written a game for us to play. But we weren’t sure how it was going to work out, and the writers were unsure. So we threw out different ideas. I threw out the idea of this game Spoons – a game I hadn’t played since I was a kid. And I didn’t even really remember the rules. I think Alan [Ruck] had never played it. Or maybe Alan had but Sarah Snook hadn’t…
So we were talking about the dialogue and trying to troubleshoot where we’re shooting it, and what game we’re playing while he did it… But then we just decided we’re not ready to shoot it anyway, and they had only half lit it…
Sounds quite chaotic…
It was very alive, because we were being given different dialogue in between takes. But also: we’re trying to actually play the game while staying connected and do the scene. And sometimes in the game you have to grab a spoon subtly – but then the other one sees it, and we all suddenly grab them.
Then we would laugh and talk about the game. And I would start setting it up and shuffling and then get back to what it is we’re talking about – without ever breaking [scene] or saying, “hey, can I take that back?” or hey, “I flubbed a line”, or anything like that.
We just did it. We actually properly played the game of spoons, while discussing this thing, loose with the dialogue. And it was so much fun and very alive. It was one of those scenes where the crew were coming up to us afterwards and saying: “That was an amazing scene!” And I was like: “It felt like it! It felt like magic, and it was alive!”
And it was totally cut from the show, ha ha ha!
What can viewers expect from this final series?
They can expect 10 episodes and it being the end, ha ha!
What were your feelings when you shot your final scene?
Oh, that was a fun one, too. But it’s definitely not going to make the show. A lot of that is because we flopped it as actors! It’s like one of those scenes that was written beautifully and a lot of fun [to act] but isn’t, story-wise, that necessary – but it was meant to be fun.
We went in and we actually just had too much fun. And Jesse and Mylod kept trying to get us to tone it down. We would try, but then we would amp it up and it would turn to, like, a food fight and I just kept cracking an egg on Jeremy’s head for some reason. And it just got worse and worse.
We had so much fun. Then they said “wrap” and we had made a mess of everything. We were crying and laughing. Then later I said to Sarah Snook: “I don’t think that scene’s gonna make it.” She goes: “That scene’s definitely not gonna make the show!” Part of me thought: “What a perfect scene to end on, siblings having fun.”
But, yeah, it won’t make the show.
Finally: do you come away from this show liking Roman?
I don’t know. Yeah. I mean… I don’t know. No. Do you like yourself? No, see? It’s sort of that. You get to sort of be him a bit, and then it’s not that nice. But I don’t know. He is who he is. I’ll miss him, I guess.
All seasons of Succession are available to screen on Neon now.