There is no character on television like Kendall Roy. Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the tormented billionaire has made him a major sensation—and infamous for his extreme approach to the craft of acting. For the March issue of GQ, the relentless Strong responds to his critics and contemplates life after #Succession.
The population of this English village: roughly 900. The sheep population: more than that. Everything feels in tune with nature. The air is clean and damp and vegetal. The afternoon sun hangs low in the sky, illuminating fields so bucolic they make the Shire look like Times Square. And Jeremy Strong is dressed, as ever, entirely in brown.
Sweater, jacket, and corduroy pants, in shades that vary, by degrees barely perceptible to the human eye, from taupe to cappuccino to acorn. On his head: a brown bucket hat. On top of that hat: a second hat, a brown cashmere beanie.
“My wife told me that somebody said something like, ‘The three things you’re going to be certain of are death, taxes, and that Jeremy Strong will be wearing brown.’ I don’t know, it’s inexplicable,” he says about his uniform style, before providing multiple explanations.
Number one: “In a way, it’s a metaphor for the rest of my life. I gravitate towards an extremely narrow band. That’s all that I want and I don’t want anything else.”
Number two: “This is maybe half bullshit, but maybe not total bullshit: I spend so much of my life wearing costumes, I feel almost denuded in my style. It’s so consistent and neutral that almost anytime I put on any wardrobe, I feel profoundly different from my baseline self.”
Number three: “It’s monastic. Monastic chic.”
Strong holds up a map. “I have a slight mission for us.”
On his way here, he heard organ music playing down the road and wants to check it out. We wander over to its source, the village church, and cross through the parish graveyard. Strong turns to me and asks, with sincere attentiveness: “Do you like cemeteries?” He does. His 44th birthday is approaching. Christmas Day, actually. That coincidence gave him a sense of specialness growing up. He gestures at the interred souls around us. “This obviates it.”
One day, Succession will end. That day might be imminent. Strong returned to set in January to film the final two episodes of the new season, which could be the final two episodes, period.
Strong has thought about what it will mean to bid farewell to Kendall Roy, the tormented billionaire scion he’s inhabited for the past five years. About whether this will be the high point of his career. “It will feel like a death, in a way,” he says.
He looks at his peers, who have filmed five, six, seven projects while he was in the Successiontrenches. He envies “that freedom to just shoot yourself out of some different cannons. Sometimes Kendall feels like the same cannon over and over again.”
And so, as the show winds down, Strong finds himself at a new and entirely unfamiliar juncture altogether. “When I was younger, I saw the future in the crosshairs. I don’t feel that anymore,” he says. “There is a feeling of ‘Now what?’ that I don’t have the answer to.”
We come upon a wide-open pasture dotted with sheep. Strong exhales as he takes in the view. Calm sweeps across his face. “I mean, it’s kind of like…fuck Brooklyn.”
A goose honks in the distance. “Should we follow that sound?”
There is no character on television like Kendall Roy. The middle son of bullish media titan Logan Roy (Brian Cox), he was once the heir apparent of the family corporation, Waystar Royco, and is now the chief antagonist to his father. But Kendall transcends your typical failed-rich-kid archetype to become an actual tragedy—an addict and absentee dad who Chappaquiddick’ed a cater waiter and is plagued by the unceasing heaviness of his guilt.
He is also unquestionably hilarious. Swaggering and bumbling in equal measure. A perfect little gift of bottomless secondhand embarrassment, packaged in a Cucinelli suit. Rapping along to the Beastie Boys. Rapping an original composition dedicated to his father. Shitting the bed, both metaphorically and, one time, literally.
“I felt like my task [in that episode] was to really try and retrieve a sense, for Kendall, of a lost childhood that he really never had,” he told me. “There were some talismanic things: my childhood blanket, a stuffed animal that I had when I was a kid. There was a Mark Strand poem called ‘Where Are the Waters of Childhood?’ that I read a lot. You get in touch with that emptiness. You get in touch with searing regrets. I have three young children right now, and I’m at work almost all the time. That’s something that Kendall, in a way, is experiencing.”Jeremy Strong
The habit registers less as a pretension than an earnest compulsion to absorb what he can from the world and share what’s meaningful to him. You can see that part of his mind working in real time. When I mention the concept of arrival fallacy—the illusion that when we reach the goal we’re striving toward we’ll attain lasting happiness—he keeps on referencing it with me. When we encounter a sweet greyhound mix on our walk, her owner tells us that she’s a lurcher, a Britishism for a specific kind of mutt that has a strain of sight hound. Strong later uses the term to refer to himself. “When I married my wife,” he says, “she brought my breeding up a notch.”
He’s kidding, but acknowledges that when he’s with her European family during the holidays, wearing their best black-tie around the Christmas tree, “it feels like a very far world from the one I came from.”
By 2001, he had landed in New York and was working the types of jobs you work when you’re trying to make it as an actor in New York: temp, room service waiter, regular waiter. “I fucking hated all of these jobs,” he says with a laugh. He tried the LA thing, too, on and off. Mostly off. “My experience in LA was: ‘This place doesn’t accept my form of currency.’ ”
Though he had accumulated industry experience as a teenager and young adult, working on film sets and in the theater, his first movie role didn’t come until 2008, with the indie Humboldt County. He landed the lead, an uptight medical student who ends up in California weed country. Peter Bogdanovich played his disapproving father. (“I remember being in a hotel room in Eureka, California,” Strong recalls, “where he was telling me a story about Tom Petty—and his joint caught on fire and caught his ascot on fire.”)
With Humboldt County, Strong thought he was making his version of The Graduate meets Five Easy Pieces. “And no one saw that movie,” he says. “I was very used to, for years and years and years, doing work and used to it not being seen or recognized. And while that was hard, I was at peace with that.”
What was it with that article? Why did it strike such a chord? Some readers said it was an honest, unflinching portrait of its subject. Others, especially his celebrity friends who released statements in response—Anne Hathaway, Adam McKay, Jessica Chastain, Aaron Sorkin by way of Jessica Chastain’s Twitter account—claimed it was a sneering character assassination. Others still argued that Strong really did sound like a pain in the ass to work with, as evidenced by a handful of his Succession costars all but stating as much. “I’ve worked with intense actors before,” said Brian Cox in the piece. “It’s a particularly American disease, I think, this inability to separate yourself off while you’re doing the job.”
Over 60K people have signed up.
Join the crowd.
Enter your mail to get the latest to your inbox, delivered weekly.
“Everyone’s entitled to have their feelings. I also think Brian Cox, for example, he’s earned the right to say whatever the fuck he wants. There was no need to address that or do damage control…. I feel a lot of love for my siblings and my father on the show. And it is like a family in the sense that, and I’m sure they would say this, too, you don’t always like the people that you love. I do always respect them.”
I saw that Brian Cox also said, in a follow-up interview, that “there is a certain amount of pain at the root of Jeremy, and I just feel for that pain.”
“You know, I don’t think so. I don’t think there is. There’s certainly a lot of pain in Kendall, and I haven’t really met Brian outside of the confines of that.”
So the piece didn’t change the way you work at all?
“Acting can be quite a ridiculous game. The thing is to commit to the game.”Strong
We settle into a booth in the back room of the still-empty pub. The resident Labrador trots over, demanding attention. Strong scratches her head as he contemplates the future of his career.
“I don’t feel that same fire. I guess I’m waiting for things that will come along that will rekindle that because I know it’s in me, but it feels more dormant now than it used to,” he says, neither of us quite believing him.
He checks the time and realizes he’s late for another Zoom with David O. Russell, but tells me to hang around and he’ll be back soon.
“He was so devoted to art-making and being an actor that there just wasn’t a lot of room for anything else,” said theater director Sam Gold, who has been close to Strong for over two decades. “So when he met Emma and had kids, I think it really, really changed him for the better. He was willing to live such an ascetic life in devotion to becoming the best actor he could become. It’s nice to see other things in his life taking priority, because he’s a great dad and partner.”
That ascetic life persisted until he was nearly 40. Was Strong waiting to be stable and successful in his career until he took the next step with a family?
See Succession on HBO Max on your Apple TV.
“I don’t know if I formulated that consciously. I don’t know if I would’ve been ready to have a family if I felt in that place of famine that I had felt that I was in—and not fulfilled at all artistically. And now, of course, I would do anything for them,” Strong says. “It’s the one thing I feel like I’ve done right in my life is have these beautiful children, these three girls that I have.”
“Work was a center, but it’s not quite a real center,” he says. “I don’t think I knew that until I had children. Work is a very exciting, fraught perimeter to go to now.”
“I don’t know if I would’ve been ready to have a family if I felt in that place of famine that I had felt that I was in—and not fulfilled at all artistically.”Strong
Gabriella Paiella is a GQ staff writer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of GQ with the title “Jeremy Strong Won’t Break”
Photographs by Gregory Harris @gstyles
Styled by George Cortina @georgecortina
Hair by Orlando Pita for Orlando Pita Play
Skin by Jeanine Lobell for Neen
Tailoring by Taylor Spong
Prop design by NO Studio at the Wall Group
Produced by Travis Kiewel at That One Production
Yoo what just got the gq magazine in the mail don’t rally know what’s it’s about but u want to talk some more about it just link through the email
Pingback: ‘Succession’ Actor Kiera Culkin for US Esquire April 2023 – HUNKS OVER 40