10 Surprising Facts About HBO's Succession

Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox go head-to-head in HBO's Succession.
Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox go head-to-head in HBO's Succession. / Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

The antics of the dysfunctional Roy family, the fictional-but-Murdoch-like owners of Waystar RoyCo, an international media and hospitality conglomerate, are at the center of HBO’s dark satire Succession. Ever since the series debuted in 2018, it has captivated audiences and critics alike. With its sharp scripts and carefully composed characters, Succession's first two seasons are utterly compelling from start to finish. As fans await a premiere date for the eagerly anticipated season 3 (which has finally started production), here are some fascinating facts about the show.

1. Jeremy Strong originally auditioned for the role of Roman on Succession.

While it's hard to picture any other actor being able to so perfectly embody the haunted sadness of Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy, the 42-year-old actor was originally brought in to audition for the role of Roman Roy. Speaking to the Succession Podcast, Strong said he preferred the “character work” that would be required to play the outlandish Roman, admitting that the emotional similarities between himself and Kendall meant he had a bit of "a blind spot" when it came to the character. Therefore, Strong “knew that, as an actor, Kendall needed to come from the base of my spine. I needed to internalize the writing and internalize the role in as deep a way as I knew how.” One month after reading for the role of Roman, Strong officially auditioned for Kendall—and nailed it.

2. Kieran Culkin was supposed to audition for Greg on Succession.

Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook in Succession.
Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook in Succession. / Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

As if the thought of Jeremy Strong playing Roman wasn’t hard enough to picture, Kieran Culkin was initially asked to audition for "Cousin" Greg (Nicholas Braun's character). In an interview with Vulture, Culkin said that he knew he wasn’t suited for the character of Greg, noting, “I read his first line of dialogue and I was like, 'Oh, I think they made a mistake. This isn’t somebody I can play.'" Yet he carried on reading the script, and “saw the character Roman pop up” and found himself “reading and re-reading his stuff.” He then sent in tapes of himself reading Roman’s scenes. Succession creator Jesse Armstong said that Culkin was a "slam dunk" for the role of Roman.

3. The Succession cast did their first read-through on Election Day 2016.

In a moment straight out of what could have been an episode of Succession, the cast did their first read-through of the pilot episode on Election Day in 2016. Executive producer Adam McKay invited the cast back to his home to watch the results and celebrate Hillary Clinton’s presumed victory. When the results became clear, the cast was stunned—but that the American political and media landscapes were about to change led McKay to realize, and declare to the cast: "Well, we're making the right show."

4. The Succession production uses wealth consultants.

Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen in Succession.
Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen in Succession. / HBO

In what must be one of the most interesting—and bizarre—jobs ever, the show relies on "wealth consultants," who help guide the production on how the richest of the rich live. This ranges from the way the characters dress to how they exit a helicopter. Culkin told Variety about the time "We did a take where we all got out of the helicopter, and they told us, 'You would have been doing this your whole lives. You know where the propeller is. You wouldn’t be ducking your head.'"

5. Succession relies heavily on improvisation.

While a drama series doesn’t seem like a natural environment for improvisation, the actors are given great freedom to improv when shooting. The cast will shoot their scripted scenes, then do other takes where freedom and creativity are encouraged. According to Nicholas Braun, they "basically improv in probably every scene to some capacity.” For example, the scene in the pilot where the characters are at the dinner table was apparently entirely improvised. Also improvised? Kendall’s iconic meltdown in the bathroom after finding out his father has betrayed him.

6. The cast of Succession didn't know what was coming when Kendall delivered his infamous rap.

It would be impossible not to mention Kendall’s rap tribute to Logan (Brian Cox) in Succession's season 2 episode “Dundee,” as it's the song that launched a thousand memes. Yet while the rap itself is scripted (written by the show’s composer, Nicholas Britell), the characters’ hilarious reactions were not. Strong told Entertainment Weekly, "I worked on it incessantly, and then asked our director, Kevin Bray, 'Can we shoot them seeing it for the first time as well as me doing it for the first time?' So their responses, which are the best part of it, are genuine." It’s worth re-watching the scene a few times to truly appreciate the range of responses.

7. Succession is not directly based on the Murdochs, but there are some strong similarities.

One such similarity is on display in season 1’s "Austerlitz," where the Roy family heads to Connor’s (Alan Ruck) Santa Fe ranch for a group therapy session. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this was “months before The New York Times Magazine published an exposé revealing that the Murdochs actually had done a therapeutic retreat together at the family ranch in Australia.” Life imitating art indeed.

8. Some Murdoch family members do watch Succession.

While James Murdoch has stated very publicly that he doesn’t watch Succession, other family members can’t say the same. Brian Cox revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that before season 2 premiered, he met artist Keith Tyson, husband of Elisabeth Murdoch, who said his wife “finds it hard to watch.” Tyson then asked, "But you are going to go easy on them?" to which Cox replied "Oh, yes. They'll be fine." Something tells us that season 2 was far from easy viewing for the pair.

9. Succession has become an award-winning sensation.

While Succession’s first season did reasonably well, the second season saw a significant surge in the show’s critical acclaim and award recognition. This was demonstrated at the 2020 Emmy Awards, where Succession racked up an impressive haul of 18 nominations and seven wins. These wins included Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor (for Jeremy Strong, who was up against Cox, his on-screen dad, for the award), Outstanding Writing (for "This Is Not For Tears"), and Outstanding Directing (for "Hunting"), proving Succession will likely be HBO’s top award contender in the years to come.

10. Succession’s third season will see new characters introduced.

With season 3 filming underway, reports have already been released about some of the new characters we can expect to see. Deadline announced that Hope Davis has been tapped to play Sandi Furness, daughter of Logan’s nemesis Sandy Furness (Larry Pine). Sanaa Lathan, Linda Emond, and Jihae have also signed on to appear in the third season. Lathan is playing a high-profile lawyer, Emond will play a senior White House aide, and Jihae will play a public relations consultant.