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Jeremy Strong Is Still Invested in Kendall Roy’s Whole Deal

The no. 1 boy of ‘Succession’ is inextricably linked with the actor who plays him. And for better or worse, the pair’s evolution will play a big part in the show’s fourth and final season.

HBO/Ringer illustration

Kendall Roy’s middle name is Logan. It’s a small detail but also a really big one—a tasty morsel of character trivia that Succession first alluded to in early November 2021. That was when, four episodes into the series’ third season, a plotline came and went that involved the time Kendall had his initials—KLR, which we see in a photo—tattooed on the forehead of a Bourbon Street drifter. You know, just as part of a little rich-guy bachelor party fun. It happens!

For discerning viewers of Succession, which premiered in the summer of 2018 and is about to begin its fourth and final season, what stuck out most from this wasn’t that Kendall had been involved in something so atrocious yet also so corny. (Those are just table stakes for Kendall, the second-oldest fucked-up scion of the canny and cantankerous media baron Logan Roy.) Instead, it was that letter L. What could it stand for? What might it mean?

Littlelordfuckleroy? Laird? Just plain L (kinda like the S in Harry S. Truman), a fitting alphabetic choice for a failson like our guy Kenny? Or was it the most probable/funniest/saddest answer: LOGAN?! They never said so in the episode, but last month, the answer was revealed—not by Succession, but by Kendall L. Roy’s heady human vessel himself: Jeremy Strong.

Appearing on the GQ web series “10 Things I Can’t Live Without,” the 44-year-old Strong—dressed in various shades of brown and hauling what looked like a full trunk’s worth of tchotchkes, talismans, and extremely tattered books—spread waaaaay more than 10 “artifacts,” as he called them, out on the table. Strong spoke with a gravitas that sometimes felt appropriate and sometimes absurd, in much the same way that his character Kendall so often does in Succession.

Strong’s collection included a “profound” personal gift from a magician named Derek DelGaudio, a lot of wardrobe flotsam, a record of Glenn Gould performing Bach that Strong said he hoped he’d be able to listen to one day on his deathbed, and also a pair of bespoke Jacques Marie Mage shades that Strong had commissioned from the sunglassier Jerome Mage on behalf of his character.

“I have been very deliberate about Kendall’s sunglasses,” Strong said, with a seriousness typically reserved for discussing the economy, or modern warfare. And in a way, he was discussing both, considering the nature of the Roy family monkey business, all bear hugs and bared teeth and bare ambition.

Strong pointed out the custom letters inscribed on his prized accessory: KLR. “Kendall Logan Roy,” he said. Nepotistic monogram confirmed! Then, he pulled out a second identical set of sunglasses, this pair belonging not to Kendall Roy, but to Jeremy Strong. “I have my pair, which also say KLR,” Strong explained, “and Kendall’s pair. So I do know where one ends and the other begins.” Does he, though? Do we?

Kendall Logan Roy recently turned 40 years old on Succession, celebrating with a haute-douche birthday party that included an immersive and imagineering birth canal experience; a strict no-jackets policy; a bangers-only playlist; and a tearful tantrum thrown by the birthday boy over one lost gift and another gift that wasn’t perfect enough. (It turns out Kendall had been prescient when he invited a big Waystar Royco investor, played by Adrien Brody, to the bash: “Big fucking nervous breakdown of a party for my 40th,” he said. “You gotta come.”)

Kendall possesses endless wealth and a bottomless well of shame and insecurity. He’s a real jabroni, that guy! He’s also a lost soul, an heir apparent, an abandoned plan, a moody dude, a bad dad, a self-saboteur, a poor little rich kid, and a fellow sojourner who truly is trying, in his own wayward Roy way. He has experienced addiction, maliciously fired minions, covered up an accidental death, floated faceup and facedown in various pools, shat the bed, fumbled more than one bag, and occasionally done the right thing, usually for the wrong reasons. He is a “hothouse flower … nothing … curdled milk,” spits his father. He is “a fucking neutered hound dog,” per his little bro, and “screwy,” according to his older one. He is “a fucking prick,” says his sister. It is difficult to feel sorry for Kendall, but often, it’s also strangely hard not to.

Namely because wherever Kendall goes, there Logan is. One of the very first scenes of the series shows an underling asking Kendall if he should ask Logan about a big decision. When Kendall hooks up with Naomi Pierce for the first time, it’s under the same roof as his father. Every time he has to fill out a form with his middle name, there he is: Logan. Kendall didn’t inherit the name due to being his dad’s eldest son—that would be Connor, middle name as yet unknown. But Kendall is the baby who ostensibly came along (imagine Caroline pregnant?!) at a time when the self-made Logan’s vision was shifting from short-range and scrappy—a guy who just wanted to get out and stay out of his hometown of Dundee—to long-term greedy, to steal from an old Goldman Sachs catchphrase.

And so Kendall wound up the Harvard-educated young man being groomed to take over the whole enterprise, the little lord K. Logan Roy. (He crushed it with Harvard Lampoon distribution, a promising start.) That he then totally failed to succeed at succeeding is what makes Kendall something of a man of the people, even if neither he nor the people would ever particularly appreciate being compared to one another.

Kendall’s Ls are also what have made the character such a proud and prickly assignment for an actor like Strong, who has lost himself in this loser figure so adeptly that he’s won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a whole heavy world of critical attention for it.

Strong and Kendall have always felt closely linked, partly because the role was such a career breakout for the actor and mostly because you don’t have to look far to notice a shared intensity and dark whimsy between both guys. But over the past year-ish, as audiences bided their time impatiently between Seasons 3 and 4 of Succession, Strong has become almost inextricably tied to and even conflated with Kendall. That’s largely because of a fascinating and dishy New Yorker profile on Strong and his uncompromising acting style that was published in early December 2021, around the time of Succession’s wrenching Season 3 finale. The profile, written by Michael Schulman, set off a cultural maelstrom of discourse that blurred the lines between performer and role. Which was fitting, in a way, because much of the discourse was about the blurring of lines between performer and role to begin with.

Schulman’s piece was a knockout of a reported celebrity profile, the likes of which you don’t see too much anymore. It had intimate access—a wildly robust roster of secondary interviews, ranging from Matthew McConaughey to Strong’s high school theater-nerd homie Chris Evans—and exquisite detail, like Succession writer Will Tracy recalling Strong’s micromanagement of everything down to Kendall’s choice in salads. (In the script, Kendall was to order a Waldorf; after Strong got involved, it was fennel with a light vinaigrette.) It contained one-of-a-kind quotes: “I take him as seriously as I take my own life,” Strong said of Kendall. “I don’t know if I even believe in balance; I believe in extremity,” he said of himself. And it delved into Strong’s emotionally draining and occasionally over-the-top approach to immersing himself in his eventual character—that character, in this case, being a wounded wild animal of a guy who required some genuinely antisocial tricks to properly slip into. “I began to wonder,” Schulman wrote, “if I’d been interviewing an actor playing Kendall Roy or a character impersonating Jeremy Strong.”

The New Yorker also depicted how controversial Strong’s efforts were to other actors, especially the booming, no-fucks-to-give Brian Cox, who described Strong’s process as “a particularly American disease, I think, this inability to separate yourself off while you’re doing the job.” Schulman noted how Strong’s fixation on getting things just right involved, in one Aaron Sorkin movie he did, certain techniques that weren’t exactly focused inward—like, say, requesting for tear gas to be deployed on set. (Sorkin declined.)

All of that made me appreciate Strong more than I already did, ever since I first noticed him in The Big Short playing the most realistically, gum-chewing-ly intense and compact hedge fund guy I’d ever seen on screen. HIM, I thought. WHOEVER THAT GUY IS. YES.

I found Strong’s eccentricity to be mostly wholesome, the kind of context that’s fun to know about while watching him perform. His research for Kendall, for instance, yielded the nugget that “apparently, [Rupert] Murdoch’s son James ties his shoes extremely tightly, which told Strong something about his ‘inner tensile strength.’” It reminded me of certain pro athletes, the kinds who are weird because they’re great because they’re weird.

But not everyone saw it that way. What I read as a thorough and frankly rather iconic throwback to good old magazine journalism, others perceived as a straight up hit piece. Many readers bristled at Strong’s approach, declaring him anywhere from annoying to selfish to a real problem on set. Defenders of his honor included Jessica Chastain, Adam McKay, Michelle Williams (whose house Strong once crashed in for years), and Sorkin, who issued a page-long statement supporting Strong via Chastain’s Twitter account. Sure! The whole thing took on a life of its own.

Last fall, while Strong was doing press for the award-nominated film Armageddon Time, in which he plays an old, staid, bespectacled dad, he couldn’t avoid being asked about Kendall and even about the New Yorker piece itself. In one interview at the Telluride Film Festival, he called the whole article “a pretty profound betrayal of trust.”

And the conversation hasn’t ceased—just this past week, Cox again bemoaned Strong’s chosen creative process as “all that American shit,” a line that sounds like it might as well be delivered from Logan to Kendall. In a way, it just made it as difficult as ever to separate these dramatic actors from the equally histrionic Roy men they’ve inhabited for years now.

Oftentimes, the kind of work that Strong does to prepare for and remain engaged with his characters is referred to as “Method,” a word that once described a very specific acting approach but has, over time, come to be a blanket shorthand for any time an actor doesn’t immediately snap out of their role upon the director yelling “cut.” Strong’s professional kinship with and admiration for the famously locked-in Daniel Day-Lewis, for whom he used to work as an on-set assistant, only adds to that popular impression.

But as it turns out, calling Strong a Method actor is imprecise; Isaac Butler, who recently wrote a book on the history of the Method, has pushed back on this with polite exasperation more than once. Still, when Strong plays Kendall, there is certainly a method, lowercase, to his sadness.

Part of it is that Strong brings his own personal intensity to the role, in the same way that Kieran Culkin’s slippery sarcasm shines right through as Roman—that bendy fuck!—or the way Cox’s ursine roars sound perfect coming from Logan’s mighty maw. Some people are thought leaders, but Strong is more of an idea hoarder: In an A+ appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Strong talked about motes of dust, hummingbirds, and Proust; as Kendall, he mentions Gatsby, Machiavelli, Zadie Smith, and the phrase: “Just Rickles the fuck out of Oedipussy here.”

Strong likes to present weird scraps of monologues and other ideas to showrunner Jesse Armstrong, even if—as was the case with a handwritten Velveteen Rabbit–based idea he had for a scene—they don’t always make the cut. But some do: One artifact Strong displayed during his GQ video was one of the hot-pink, 3D-printed drink stirrers with Kendall’s head on it (said head wearing a Notorious B.I.G.–like crown) from the character’s 40th birthday party. They had been Strong’s brainchild, one of umpteen bazillion that he delivers to the prop and costume departments on the regular.

Another precious keepsake he displayed was a business card from a bar in Arizona on which he had scrawled, “double Smirnoff rocks.” As Strong recalled it, for a Season 1 scene in which Kendall starts drinking again while visiting his brother’s ranch for some ill-fated family therapy, “I called a friend of mine who was recently sober, and I said, ‘What would you order if you were going to go off the wagon?’” He wrote the answer down so he could remember to say it.

During an interview for a noncontroversial GQ cover story that came out last month, Strong roamed the British countryside with writer Gabriella Paiella, who remarked to the actor that the pastoral terrain reminded her of one of Kendall Roy’s gnarliest scenes from the first season of the show—when, during the festivities for his sister’s wedding, Kendall gets into a car accident with a cater waiter he’s trying to score drugs from and leaves the poor young lad stuck underwater and unconscious and, ultimately, unalive.

Kendall fights to save him, fails, and then switches to flight mode, running over fields and hiding behind trees and climbing over railings in a soaking-wet suit. (He escapes the crime scene but not his conscience, and never those initials: KLR). In the Season 2 finale, when Logan tells his son that he’s not cut out for the top job because “You’re not a killer. … You have to be a killer,” the statement is both true and false.

For most of their interview, Paiella writes, Strong had been extremely chatty, rambling on about everything from LCD Soundsystem to the New Yorker article to his brown-ass clothing. On the subject of that frantic first finale scene, though, he was a bit more mum; she describes him as suddenly seeming a million miles away. “One day, when the show is over, it’ll be easier for me to maybe talk about that stuff,” he says, “but while it’s still going, that thing still feels real to me in a way.”

In 2018, I wrote about that Season 1 finale. Director Mark Mylod recalled it being a rainy, muddy, grueling shoot, one in which crews blasted “this god-awful cacophony of music” on the speakers and poured buckets of icy water on Strong’s head before each take. Armstrong told me he was glad he wasn’t the one who had to do it: “fucking freezing cold,” said producer Frank Rich. Scenes like that underline why Strong operates the way he does. For some people, misery loves company. For Strong, accessing the misery he needs to go full Kendall often requires remaining more cloistered during projects.

While writing that same article, I found that Strong had learned several years earlier, while working on The Big Short, that it didn’t really work for him to pal around with his colleagues on or around set. “There was a day where people were cracking jokes and laughing, and I started to allow myself to have a good time,” he told The New York Times. “I immediately found it distracting and depleting.” Never again! “Had it been anyone other than Jeremy,” Mylod told me at the time about Strong’s process, “anyone with less talent, it would have driven me crazy.” But it wasn’t anyone other than Jeremy, so here we are.

In the first season of Succession, Kendall was a go-getter who couldn’t handle the rug getting pulled out from under him. In the second season, he was alternately a broken man-child and a mega-bro who finally stepped up his game and backstabbed his dad when it mattered most. (Atta boy, son!) And in the third season, he went through a number of iterations—performative feminist, talk show ghoster, party host—before stumbling into the unlikeliest role of all: truth teller.

In the Season 3 finale, Kendall finally tells Roman and Shiv what really happened to that waiter back in England. It is one of the great scenes of the series, alternating between the raw exhaustion of Kendall’s confession and the darkly comic remarks that both Shiv and Roman use to cope with the news. After the episode aired, The New Yorker’s Schulman tweeted that shooting the scene had not initially gone well. Strong was sitting on a stone pillar that he had asked the production designer to make, but he was struggling to conjure the emotion he wanted and needed. He was in a “place of despair” and felt like a failure. Nine takes went by, and none of them were it. Strong tried one last gasp: He got off the pillar and sank to the dusty, gravelly ground. It was the action of a broken man, though whether that man was the desperate actor or the aching character is both impossible and unnecessary to parse.

What’s next for Kendall Roy? What would it mean for him to win? Is that even still possible? All of that is unknown, though it’s safe to assume his final season will involve a heated conversation (or several) with Father; a whole lot of creatively deployed f-bombs toward his siblings, his underlings, and/or the president; a lot of hip-hop references; a heaping dose of cringe; and, maybe, possibly, every so often, just for a moment, that rare actual smile, the kind that crinkles the sides of those sad eyes and makes me wish that Kendall could go live a calm, happy, inconsequential life in Aspen or some such. But then he wouldn’t be our no. 1 boy anymore, would he?

There’s probably no other character in Succession who is as simultaneously blessed and cursed by his name, who has such a wide gulf to swim between the shores of winning and succeeding, whose inner vision of victory is also his undoing. “Don’t block your own escape,” Naomi tells him at Tern Haven as they do drugs in an idle cockpit. “Just imagine getting out from under this. You can take the money, and you can just get the fuck out.” The Roy kids have been taught their entire lives that everything is either a hidden test or a zero-sum game. If you’re not winning, you’re flailing. By the end of Season 3, Kendall—having shed the secrecy of his biggest sin—seems to be inching closer to understanding that, in the ruthless Roy family, getting “out” might actually be the biggest alpha play of all.

And what’s next for Jeremy Strong? He has reportedly been working on a few projects, including a series about 9/11 first responders and another about Boeing 737 crashes. Without Succession on his schedule, he’s also newly freed up for whatever other big, bold, time-consuming opportunities might come next. As Kendall, he has spent the past few years trying to prove that he deserves to take over Waystar Royco. Now, he gets to look for the next role that is worthy of taking over his life.

Last month, out of all the 10-plus things Strong identified to GQ as not being able to live without, one of the most prominent was a big empty black binder given to him by Robert Duvall. “What’s scary about holding this right now,” Strong said of the script binder, “is that it is really just, at this point, the exoskeleton that is gonna contain something that I don’t know what that thing will be next.” On the outside of the binder, etched in gold, are his initials, the OG ones: JS.