What The Hell Is Going On With Succession?
Ahh, Succession, HBO's premiere series detailing the scandalous lives and times of a handful of exuberantly wealthy, mostly white people psychologically torturing each other in pursuit of money, power, and of course, that sweet, sweet, career-launching air time … well, that isn't The Sopranos, White Lotus, or Game of Thrones. Despite Successions' crazy twists and turns, ranging from marital infidelity, to accidental dick pics, and to even several parties repeatedly committing the unforgivable sin of – gasps -- declining to sign a piece of paper – it seems the drama brewing behind-the-scenes of the beloved dramedy would put both the Roy family and Waystar Royco's not-so ragtag band of C-suite executives to shame, a trend possibly trickling down from the show's higher-ups.
In a break-up more shocking than Marcia and Logan's half-assed divorce (which in all fairness is pretty much every break-up, except for maybe Elon Musk and Grimes's split earlier this year) Succession's co-producers Adam McKay (a.k.a. the dude who directed The Big Short) and Will Ferrel (yes, that Will Ferrell) have reportedly been on the outs for quite some time.
After first working together on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90s, McKay and Ferrell's friendship and professional relationship spanned nearly a quarter-century. Between 1995 and 2019, the pair were a comedic force to be reckoned with, creating Talladega Nights, Anchorman, and Step-Brothers – the holy trinity of every 2000s teen's DVD collection – founding Funny or Die – every 2000s teen's favorite video website – as well as Gary Sanchez productions, where they produced flicks beloved by – you guessed it – 2000s teens, their grown-up selves and stoners who can't let go of the Iraq War, including Vice and Daddy's Home.
Yet all good things – even a friendship/professional partnership that generated millions upon millions of dollars in box-office revenue -- must come to an end. By the late 2010s, it seems the pair were on less-than-stellar terms, McKay recently told Vanity Fair, a rift worsened by John C. Reilly's existence, a Los Angeles Lakers mini-series, and big oil. First the environment, now Succession? Damn you and your fabulous acting, John C. Reilly.
Although the tension had been brewing for some time, with McKay reportedly producing more films and TV shows sans his partner in crime whereas Ferrell wanted to focus on making his signature comedy flicks, a series of very unfortunate events further shook their rocky professional relationship. In 2018, Funny or Die accepted sponsorship from Shell Oil, a move McKay described as “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen" and prompted him to essentially rage-quit the company. McKay also claims he was brought in during the edit of Holmes and Watson as a last-ditch attempt to save the film from ruin. Considering the movie was released that same year to absolutely scathing reviews – to this day, “why is Holmes and Watson so bad?” stands as one of Google's first suggestions upon searching in the flick's title -- his efforts were in vain.
Ferrell had reportedly broached shutting down Gary Sanchez on three separate occasions, but the two finally went their separate ways the following year in 2019. At the time, the pair issued an amicable statement, explaining that despite the company's dissolution that “the two of us will always work together creatively and always be friends" and that “we recognize we are lucky as hell to end this venture as such." The reality of their fallout, however, was far messier than the contents of any pre-packed PR statement according to McKay, their last conversation a bitter discussion surrounding the seemingly non-existent future of their company and relationship.
“I said, ‘Well, I mean, we’re splitting up the company,’” McKay recalled. “And he basically was like, ‘Yeah, we are,’ and basically was like, ‘Have a good life,'" he continued. "And I’m like, ‘Fuck, Ferrell’s never going to talk to me again.’ So it ended not well.”
Matter only worsened after the split, when an HBO mini-series about the Lakers landed under McKay's other production company. While Ferrell, who is a big fan of the LA-based NBA team, was reportedly gunning for the role of the Lakers's, erm, nutty former owner, Jerry Buss, he was allegedly pretty damn peeved when McKay handed the part to John C. Reilly, a betrayal that makes Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” look like a romantic Kenny G ballad.
“The truth is, the way the show was always going to be done, it’s hyperrealistic,” he told Vanity Fair of the casting decision. “And Ferrell just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss. And there were some people involved who were like, ‘We love Ferrell, he’s a genius, but we can’t see him doing it.’ It was a bit of a hard discussion.”
McKay maintains he “didn't want to hurt” Ferrell's feelings, but the comedian was pretty damn peeved nonetheless. “I should have called him and I didn’t,” the director said, taking a line from your ex-boyfriend's book. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.”
However, the drama surrounding Succession isn't limited to the dramatic lore of its producer's soured friendship. According to a recent New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong – a.k.a. the actor behind Logan Roy's second eldest son, Kendall -- it seems there is no shortage of weirdness happening on Succession's set, namely, because the star apparently approaches his role as the daddy-issues toting, “f--k the patriarchy” yelling, terribly, terribly rapping media heir like he's playing Charles Foster Kane in 1941's eponymous Citizen Kane – or, well, Paddington Bear in Paddington 2.
“To me, the stakes are life and death,” Strong said of portraying Kendall Roy, the same character who made all of his guests enter his 40th birthday party by strolling through an inflatable recreation of his mother's vagina. “I take him as seriously as I take my own life," he continued, singlehandedly launching 100 separate petitions for the Washington Post to replace their slogan of “Democracy Dies in Darkness” with the fictional ATN's “We Hear For You."
Now, reader, I know what you may be thinking – “there's no f--king way this guy thinks the show isn't Kendall funny after the ‘L to the OG' rap in season two" Well, it seems the New Yorker's Michael Schulman was already several steps ahead of you in this line of questioning, inquiring how, exactly this philosophy applies to performing a rap that pairs the lyrics “Kenny on the rhymes" with "Logan big ballin' on Hamptons time,” to some pretty unhinged results.
“When I asked Strong about the rap that Kendall performs in Season 2, at a gala for his father—a top contender for Kendall’s most cringeworthy moment—he gave an unsmiling answer about Raskolnikov, referencing Kendall’s ‘monstrous pain,’” Schulman wrote, noting that in fairness – and perhaps cruel irony -- Strong's stiff-upper-lip performance of Kendall probably makes the character a hell of a lot funnier.
Later, when Schulman, a more patient soul than any of us mere mortals, reiterated that he saw the show's comic value, it seems Strong doubled down. “When I told Strong that I, too, thought of the show as a dark comedy, he looked at me with incomprehension and asked, ‘In the sense that, like, Chekhov is comedy?’” he wrote. “'No,' I said, ‘in the sense that it’s funny.'”
Beyond bizarre, it seems Strong's staunch stance that Succession isn't funny, you guys, has largely perplexed – if not annoyed -- pretty much all of his colleagues, a trend best exemplified through an anecdote from Kieran Culkin, who plays Waystar Royco's resident degradation lover and purveyor of incidental dick pics, Roman Roy.
“After the first season, he said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy,'" Culkin recalled of his interaction with Strong. “And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding,” he continued.
And it's not just Macaulay Culkin's little brother – McKay, too, has taken note of the actor's strange stance. “That’s exactly why we cast Jeremy in that role,” McKay said. “Because he’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.” Move over “To be or not to be," it seems “to show the world Kendall Roy has daddy issues or to wait roughly three seconds before showing the world Kendall Roy has daddy issues” is the hot new Shakesperian question in town.
Yet beyond this ultra-serious take on the series, the actor's methods have further confused his colleagues. Between refusing to rehearse – “I want every scene to feel like I’m encountering a bear in the woods," he said – and isolating himself from his colleagues, including only going to the show's makeup trailer when he'd be the only one there during season two, Strong admits that he doesn't "know how popular the way I work is amongst our troupe.”
Although Culkin says he doesn't see too much of his co-star's process, telling the New Yorker that Strong “puts himself in a bubble," Brian Cox – a.k.a. Logan, the Roy family patriarch – says his methods have sparked concerns. “The result that Jeremy gets is always pretty tremendous,” Cox said of his on-screen son. “I just worry about what he does to himself. I worry about the crises he puts himself through in order to prepare.”
So folks, here's to Succession. Let's hope that Strong doesn't burn himself out – and that we get a sweet docu-series about all the hot goss that went down behind-the-scenes in roughly 15 years.
Top Image: HBO