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“I Want to Stay Uncomfortable”: An Interview With Cousin Greg

Nicholas Braun, the breakout actor behind the best character on ‘Succession,’ talks California Pizza Kitchen, awkward acting, and going toe-to-toe with Matthew Macfadyen

Cousin Greg wearing a green jacket over a blue suit Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

On Succession, characters can’t so much as attend a wedding of a family member without having an agenda—even the bride-to-be spends her big day attempting to send Discount Bernie Sanders to the presidency. Entering the final episode of a propulsive first season, the Roys are still plotting: to take over the company; to launch a rocket into space; to start a Napoleonic podcast. Everyone is deceitful, but some are better at the game than others—and then there’s Cousin Greg, played by 30-year-old actor Nicholas Braun.

Cousin Greg, the black sheep of Succession’s Murdochesque Roy family, has been one of the show’s most compelling characters. He is a bottomless well of comic relief and Tom’s de facto punching bag, and often comes off as a gangly doofus. And yet. He has kept himself within the tight-knit Roy family circle, which is why Tom feels so threatened by his presence; he’s been at the fore of several crucial narrative threads, such as destroying files related to Waystar Royco’s cruise line sexual misconduct scandal and uncovering Shiv’s infidelity to Tom. Cousin Greg has a ton of ammunition in his arsenal, but the question remains: Does he know how to leverage it? Or is he just a guy who thinks California Pizza Kitchen is fine dining?

Ahead of the Season 1 finale Sunday night, The Ringer spoke with Braun about his approach to the role, Greg’s iconic scenes with Tom, and where he believes the character’s story is headed. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How were you first approached for this role, and was there anyone—real or fictional—who was mentioned as a good model for Cousin Greg?

It was hard to understand exactly what the tone was at first, so it took a few readings and meeting [showrunner Jesse Armstrong] and [executive producer Adam McKay], and eventually table-reading the script to really understand how funny it is and how well-crafted it is and how many layers are there. They didn’t tell me anybody in particular to look up for Cousin Greg. I think I understood how he fell into the whole dynamic. The rest of the group has a certain pacing, they’re riffing on each other, and they’re smart as shit. And they all have motives—these power plays or whatever. And Greg, his whole thing is just trying to learn what a power play is and how to even sit in a room properly.

Right, he often feels like a fish out of water. How do you think he perceives his extended family?

I think when he first gets [to New York], he can’t even get his head around conversations. But he quickly realizes that everybody operates with an agenda, and everybody is like, you know, they come in pretty hot. Greg has learned the skill of being aggressive and taking what you want, and he realizes there’s not a whole lot of power in sitting around and watching. You have to eventually make moves. Everybody in this family relates to each other based on how successful they are in their moves and in their strategies and stuff. So, he’s like, “All right, I gotta start trying doing that.”

Do you think, heading into the finale, he has an agenda?

I think he knows what card he has to play. I don’t think he knows exactly how to play it. He knows he has something really good. He just doesn’t know what to do.

My favorite part of the show is the ongoing dynamic between Greg and Tom. What was it like working alongside Matthew Macfadyen for those scenes? It must have been impossible to keep a straight face.

Oh my gosh. That was the hardest part, I think, of working on the show. You really only get a couple of takes before you start feeling guilty about ruining—because we’re shooting on film, so there’s this added guilt of wasting actual money. For instance, that one scene where he’s telling me about the death pit, he comes around the desk and he says something like, “He used to suck his dick for da-da-da-da-da.” Every time he came over and sat down right next to me and looked me right in the eye and said, “He used to suck his dick,” I just fucking lost it. Because it’s just, I don’t know. He’s another version of Greg. So it’s like two guys kind of looking at each other being like, “We’re both clueless, but we pretend to know everything.” The dynamic is so fun, and Matthew is just such a great guy.

For some of those back-and-forths, are you guys completely sticking to the script—

Oh, you probably can’t print “suck your dick.”

It’s OK. Don’t worry.

Oh [laughs] OK, all right.

So are you sticking to the script, or was there some improvising, too?

There was some improvising, but we take the cues from Jesse’s writing. We want every scene to play for real, more than playing for jokes. We started improvising less as the season went on because you didn’t want to make something better when it’s already good.

Do you have a favorite Greg-and-Tom scene from the season?

[Laughs.] There’s so many. I think my favorite scene might be when I’m at Thanksgiving and I’m super high off of Roman’s joint. And Tom comes out and I have to throw the joint over the side, and he basically tells me about this enormous task that I have to go and complete, and I’m just completely, completely high out of my mind talking to him. Matthew ended up getting closer and closer to me throughout the scene; it was fun to wriggle away from him, or try to.

GIF of Matthew telling Greg, “A chimp could do it. A little chimpanzee!” HBO

With playing someone like Greg, whose natural state is being really awkward, what’s the biggest challenge as an actor?

Probably never getting too comfortable. Naturally, you develop a good rapport with Matthew or with any of the other actors in real life. I want to stay uncomfortable. So that takes a little bit of checking myself to make sure I’m not too smooth or I understand things too clear. It all should be a little blurry and a little confusing.

A theory that’s been brewing around the workplace (as well as the internet) is that Succession is actually about Cousin Greg rising up the corporate ladder, soaking up the Roy family knowledge like a sponge, and eventually becoming a capitalist monster. Where do you think Greg’s story is headed?

Greg wants more control, but he doesn’t yet envision himself as a CEO or like he can do Logan’s job. But he does want some power. It could be a thing of slowly getting more and more opportunities to be powerful and him maybe actually being well-suited for that. Something about Greg is disarming. We’ll see where he ends up on the totem pole here, but I don’t know. He’s very malleable, but at the same time he’s got some balls to him that are starting to show.

Do you have any hopes for Season 2 in particular?

I’d like to see Greg get some opportunities to wield some power and be the boss of some people. I would just like to see how he operates in a room like that when he’s given a chance. And I’d like to see him buy a really dope car or something, start spending some money, maybe get a really cool apartment.

Get out of the youth hostel.

That youth hostel is getting pretty old. There were a couple scenes in the youth hostel that weren’t included. I wish everybody could have seen it. He was sleeping in a room with three other guys, and there was one shower and one sink in the room. And the door wouldn’t lock, so that other people came in and saw Greg naked when he’s showering. It was pretty uncomfortable, but it was fun. It was like the early days of getting into the office and just the worst possible place to start your day—in like a smelly, dirty room with a nasty bedsheet and three kids looking at your ass.

Are there any actors that you’d love to get some more screen time with?

I loved working with Jeremy [Strong], so I’d love to see what Kendall and him could get up to. And I loved working with Kieran [Culkin] too. You know, Kieran laying into Greg is always really fun. And he just talks so fast that Greg really does never know how to come up with anything to say to him. I’d also like to see Greg get a love interest this year.

That’d be awesome.

What does Greg do on a date? Where does he take a girl?

California Pizza Kitchen, for sure.

CPK! Cajun Chicken Linguini, baby!

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.