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Fisher Stevens on Wrangling a Beast—and Season 2 of ‘Tiger King’

Fun fact: The actor who plays Waystar’s crisis manager Hugo Baker on ‘Succession’ is also partially responsible for one of the biggest hits of the pandemic

Getty Images/HBO/Netflix/Ringer illustration

When it comes down to it, Logan Roy demands the same thing from his family as he does from the people who work for him at Waystar Royco: unflinching loyalty. As Kendall and everyone else has been reminded on this season of Succession, anyone who is deficient on that front quickly ends up as the object of Logan’s ire and the recipient of his mighty wrath.

That hasn’t been a problem (so far) for Hugo Baker, Waystar’s part-time crisis manager, part-time travel agent, and full-time Logan toadie. Hugo first appeared on the show in Season 2, and has recently been seen probing the forehead of a poor fellow who had Kendall Roy’s initials tattooed onto his face. Fisher Stevens plays Hugo with all the over-the-top ass-kissing required of this sort of character, which sometimes entails little more than keeping his mouth shut and his face neutral when the boss says the latest outrageous thing—which happens all the time. That’s no easy task for Stevens to keep it together while Brian Cox unleashes yet another foul-mouthed and hilarious screed on Kieran Culkin.

When I recently spoke with Stevens, we discussed his reactions to those over-the-top Logan lines—along with some pretty great ones Hugo delivers—and what it’s like to work on Succession. We also discussed his very different work as an executive producer on both seasons of Tiger King and his deep love of the NBA. The conversation was a mouthful.

What are you eating?

I made tuna salad. I just finished another Zoom—I’d go and stop the video and take a bite.

How’d you do on the tuna salad? Did you nail it?

My grandmother Shirley taught me. My daughter is 5, and she goes “make Shirley’s tuna fish.” You do it with your hands. You wash your hands and do it with your hands.

Is there a secret ingredient?

Red onion. Fortunately we’re on Zoom. You don’t want to be near me right now.

This season of Succession opens with you playing it straight while Brian Cox yells “Do you want to suck my dick?” at Kieran Culkin. The acting—amazing job by you. I would have lost my shit and doubled over with laughter.

Brian would scream at me if I did. It’s such a great job because I don’t say much but I get to watch everything. I have this lucky job where I get to look and watch these masters at work, and I get to participate. Just watching Brian and Kieran, they’re so funny. Sometimes we do break up in rehearsals, but Brian is always in it, so he’ll just start yelling at us.

I talked to Matthew Macfadyen a couple weeks ago about this exact thing: just playing it straight in moments when the lines are plainly hilarious for the rest of us. Who gets the biggest laughs in some of those situations when you can’t keep it together?

Matthew, I find. I used to do a lot of theater, and there are certain actors who just make me laugh. He is definitely one of them.

The lines you get to deliver are pretty great: “We all set for New York City and a fuck fest?” And you had “Got a problem in there buddy? Can’t find a vein?” which was with Matthew. When you’re reading that on the page before you get to deliver it, what’s your general reaction?

Very, very excited that I get to say that. Me and Matthew, very little of it is on-screen, but we’ve created this very antagonistic relationship where Hugo just thinks he’s such an ass-kissing sycophant who’s only there because he’s married to Shiv. Hugo just can’t stand him. He’s the most venal character to Hugo. So any moment that I can let him have it ... And he just thinks I’m the exact same thing: ass climber, why am I around? I love that I get to give him a little jab, and then he jabs me right back.

I think with the “fuck fest,” Hugo is always trying to entertain Logan when he can. So whenever there’s a moment where he can dispel some information and at the same time be very kind of Logan-esque—I’m just trying to impress the guy. I want him to love me.

Sycophant is a good word. Logan demands that sort of fealty from all his lackeys. You mentioned what Hugo thinks of Tom, but where do you think Hugo falls on that sycophant spectrum?

It’s different with different people. With Shiv, he’s definitely up her ass because he thinks at any minute she may be moving up. Listen, if he got the call from Kendall to go on Kendall’s side, it would be interesting. He hasn’t gotten that call yet, but it would be interesting to see what side he would have landed on. He has no problem being straight with non-family members like Gerri. Gerri is important because she can fire him also. But it’s really important that he kisses ass. He doesn’t love Roman so much, but he likes hanging out with Roman. Hugo loves Roman’s sense of humor and crassness and oddities, but I don’t think he has faith that Roman is going to take over. And by the way: He could be very wrong.

You’re obviously much more clued into that. I love the tease there.

He could be very wrong.

I’m also interested in what you think of Hugo as a crisis manager. Hugo gets Roman to do a softball interview about how much he loves his dad, and he comes up with the “We Get It” campaign. Is he good at his job?

I think Hugo feels that if he had more responsibility he would be doing better. He’s a crisis manager and also a transport coordinator. And he also works in publicity. So he has to deal with the traveling and the places and getting the planes and all of that. It’s a big job. I think at this moment in the Waystar world, the inner circle is getting smaller, so he’s having to do more and his job is getting more and more disparate. He’s been trying to get Logan’s ear more and get him to listen to him—there’s a good episode with Hugo coming up.

That sounds great. Hugo’s been at the bottom of our power rankings all season, so I’m glad to hear he might move up in the future.

Maybe. Yeah. For one episode, which I’m not giving away when. But there’s definitely one.

Listen, this is the kind of job as an actor where I don’t care if I have one line or 50 lines. It’s just so cool to be in the room with these people. When I first started on this show, as opposed to most shows, it felt like a theater company. Everybody is supportive. Everybody is cool. Everybody likes each other. You rehearse on your off time. It really reminds me of that kind of space. It’s a joy and it’s rare. I just worked on another Wes Anderson movie and it’s a similar kind of vibe. Hanging out, you feel like you’re part of something bigger than you.

You have your hands in all kinds of stuff—I saw you’re an executive producer on an untitled NBA Africa project.

It’s really amazing. I love basketball, and this year the NBA invested in a league in Africa. I think there’s 60 players in the NBA who were either born in Africa or their parents were born in Africa. There are 55 countries in Africa—some would say 54 depending on what you recognize and what you don’t—and of those 55, 39 have basketball leagues. Those 39 leagues had a winner of their league and they competed, they whittled it down to the top 12 teams, and those 12 teams played in a bubble in Rwanda at the first annual Basketball Africa League. We’re going to do a four- or five-part series on that.

Who’s your team? Don’t tell me Celtics or Knicks, please.

Well, my team is the Bulls, but I am a season-ticket holder of the Nets, because I live in Brooklyn.

What’s up with James Harden and your Nets? Rough start.

I think he just needs to get the kinks out. It’s still early. I don’t know what his offseason was like. The team has obviously been thrown completely off by Kyrie Irving and the fact that he’s stealing attention and they were banking on him. Honestly, I loved Kyrie Irving’s game. It’s one of the reasons I wanted tickets. And now we’re all mad. Are you kidding me, man? What are you doing?

I wonder if he’ll be back if NYC eventually relaxes the COVID protocols.

Yeah, but still. You’re playing professional basketball. You’re in public. You’re constantly around people, breathing on people, sweating on people. Have a little courtesy for other people. But whatever. He may be back, but I think people are a little upset. The team is certainly not happy. It’s a bummer, man. If he plays, if he does come back, they’re gonna be great.

You were also an EP on both seasons of Tiger King. Can I make a little confession here?

Yeah.

I didn’t watch it during the pandemic. I’m the only human at The Ringer—and maybe in America—who didn’t watch it. It was a sensation and I was wondering if you could give me the hard sell on why I need to get in on this.

Oh, so you still haven’t watched it? I would say give it 20 minutes. Watch the first 20 minutes and you’re gonna know. Most people, once you get in there, it’s hard to get out.

And now it’s back for another season.

I had very little to do, to be honest, with the second season. But I’ve seen it, and once you get in, it’s hard to get out. It’s real. It’s all real. That’s what’s so wild. They’re not acting for the camera—well, most of them are not acting for the camera. It’s just the way some people are. Sadly, some of these animals have paid a terrible price. But the upside of Tiger King is that there’s a bill in Congress to try to protect big cats and try to stop captivity in the homes. They’re trying to do a national bill. It’s had a good effect in that sense.

That’s cool. I’m sure Congress will take care of it.

It’s passed in the house but now it has to go to the Senate. It seems like Joe Manchin doesn’t want to pass anything, so I don’t know where we’ll go with that.

This interview was edited and condensed.