Succession: How Brian Cox felt about that major Logan Roy twist in episode three

The actor, who for three-plus seasons has played Logan Roy with a mercurial ferocity, seemed as surprised as anyone to learn about the fate of his character

Brian Cox as Logan Roy in Succession. "There’s a lot of goodness to him. I think he’s very misunderstood." Photograph: HBO

This interview contains big spoilers for Episode 3 of the final season of Succession

In the end, he died as he lived: abruptly and without ceremony, suspended between two worlds, a distant father to his belittled and bewildered children.

Logan Roy is dead, having keeled over in the toilet of a private jet in this week’s episode of the final season of HBO’s Succession.

It was an event that any Succession fan knew would probably happen sometime – Logan’s first brush with death, a stroke, came in the series pilot – just maybe not, paradoxically, so soon. (Sunday’s episode was only the third of 10 this season.) Compounding the surprise was the ignominy of Logan’s departure: One minute, he was a roaring media titan whose latest power move was to skip his eldest son’s marriage and fly to Europe on business; the next, he lay stripped to the waist and silent, surrounded by lackeys. No grand soliloquies. No deathbed tears. Just the thump of vain chest compressions to a body that was probably already dead.

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Brian Cox, who for three-plus seasons played Logan with a mercurial, leonine ferocity, seemed as surprised as anyone to learn that his character was fated for such a swift demise. In a video call last week from his home in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, he described getting the news from the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong.

“He called me, and he said, ‘Logan’s going to die,’” Cox said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ I thought he would die in about Episode 7 or 8, but Episode 3, I thought ... ‘Well that’s a bit early.’”

He laughed. “Not that I was bothered,” he added.

At 76, Cox is a titan himself, albeit of a different kind. A native Scotsman and a renowned Shakespearean stage actor, he has earned two Laurence Olivier Awards and was named a commander in the Order of the British Empire. For his screen works, he has won an Emmy, (Nuremberg, 2001), a Screen Actors Guild Award (Adaptation, 2002) and dozens of other nominations in North America and Britain.

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And yet, at an age when many successful actors might be tempted to bask in the glow of their trophies, Cox dove headlong into what has become a career defining role, the kind for which strangers stop you on the street and beg you to do a bit. (In Cox’s case, their requests are often for him to repeat a catchphrase that is unprintable here.) When they aren’t terrified, that is.

“People are very nervous when they come to meet me for the first time because they think I’m Logan Roy, and I’m not,” he said, laughing. “I’m simply not that guy.”

Brian Cox as Logan Roy, with Jeremy Strong as his son Kendall, in season one of Succession. The character had his first brush with death, a stroke, at the beginning of the first season. Photograph: Peter Kramer/HBO
Brian Cox as Logan Roy, with Jeremy Strong as his son Kendall, in season one of Succession. The character had his first brush with death, a stroke, at the beginning of the first season. Photograph: Peter Kramer/HBO

In conversation, Cox was certainly warmer and more generous, if just as quick with a strong opinion and a four-letter flourish. He spoke at length about Logan’s death, about Logan’s complicated feelings toward his children and about what a lot of actors get wrong about their profession. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

That was an abrupt end to such a titanic character. What did you think of how Logan died?

Well, they had to end it somehow, and it was Jesse’s choice. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the problem with a lot of television, particularly American television, is it goes past its sell-by date. And the great thing about Jesse and the writers is they wouldn’t do that. It was difficult for them because it wasn’t easy to bring this to an end. And I think Jesse found it sad – at the premiere, somebody shouted out, “Well, if it was so sad, why did you do it?” But I think there are lots of reasons for Jesse finishing it. And I applaud the fact that he did that. It was courageous because everybody loves the show. Always leave the party when it’s at its height, not when it’s going down.

The Irish goodbye is a tradition in my family, so I can respect that.

I just think that’s what makes the show. You think about Game of Thrones, when they didn’t know what they were doing at the end, and they had an ending which was not really satisfactory. And the audience was furious. The audience [for Succession] might be furious; they might miss Logan and say, “Oh, what are you doing killing off one of the most interesting characters?” But it’s fine by me. I’m doing a lot of other stuff. I’m going back to the theatre. I’m going to hopefully direct my first movie in my grand old age. And I’m doing Long Day’s Journey Into Night in London [in spring 2024]. So I know what I’m going to be doing probably till next summer.

What do you think about Logan’s death as a plot driver? It immediately changes the stakes, right?

It does change the stakes. The main protagonist is gone. And the kids are having to deal with it, or not. I think it’s going to be hard next week for a lot of the audience because they’re going to miss Logan. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing – I think that’s actually quite a good thing.

Logan was coming to a rest point anyway. He realised that his children were never going to be – he’s got that great line when he says, “I love you, but you’re not serious people.” And I think that is so fundamental. The whole premise is really about entitlement and the rich and the fact that he’s ploughed this particular furrow. And the consequences of that ploughing are these kids and how [expletive] up they are, not necessarily because of him, but because of the wealth. They all suffer from entitlement in one form or another. And they behave like entitled spoiled brats a lot of the time.

Do you feel that there’s any goodness in Logan?

Oh, yeah. I think there’s a lot of goodness to him. I think he’s very misunderstood. I think it’s just all gone horribly wrong. We have these little moments of – and they’re not dwelt on – the scars on the back, the story of the mother, the sister, the relationship with the brother. That’s where he becomes a human being because he is full of the foibles and all the problems that we all have on a day-to-day basis, and all the horrible decisions that we make or we don’t make.

And that’s what we [as actors] do. We reflect, we’re not it. And I think a lot of actors do not understand that. They don’t understand the responsibility of that position. They think it’s about, “Oh, I just subsumed myself in the character and then I live it 24/7.” A real problem that America has – and I think it’s also what our show is about – is that United States is only interested in the pursuit of individualism at the expense of community. When you look at the European theatre, it’s all about community and groups who have dug in and have kept going year after year after year. United States hasn’t done that. It’s the ensemble, the community that’s important in any project that you’re working on as actors. You have to create the community and you have to behave toward the community; it’s not about your, “I have to do this; I only can do it this way.”

[Expletive] that. It’s absolute [expletive] nonsense. Join in. It’s a game. It’s playing. It’s what kids do. Kids don’t think, “Well, I’m this character and I can’t throw it off.” They have the natural instinct of play, and we forget about what playing is about. Sorry, end of lecture. [Laughs.]

Well, it’s nothing new for viewers to blur that distinction between actor and character, too –

Oh yeah. I’m suffering from it!

– and I’ve read about the way strangers ask you to tell them to [expletive] off. Does getting such a career-defining role at this stage feel like a gift? Or does it feel like it’s boxing you in? How does it feel when those strangers approach you on the street?

The power of the dramatic work is so extraordinary, and the need for people to make that identification – and somebody like Logan, he has become a cultural icon. But it’s a bit of a thing where you go: I’ve been an actor for 60-odd years. I’ve done a lot of great work. [Succession] is a very special work that I’ve done, and it’s given me so much, and I’m really eternally grateful for it. But it’s only a stop on the way. It is not the destination, as far as I’m concerned. Now that may be wrong. That may define me. But I’m just going to go on regardless. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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