Jeremy Strong, Christina Ricci, Helen Mirren, more reveal the inner workings of their series


So there they sat, Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart, speaking across a table one late April day with four other actors talking about the old days. They reminisced about being in the same late-1960s British theater scene, laboring to become top-flight classical thespians.

We both were saying earlier how strange it is to find ourselves here in Los Angeles and being screen actors,” Mirren says. “Because both of our ambitions when we started was to be theater actors and, very specifically, to be classical theater actors. There was a snotty attitude — wasn’t there?”

“Somewhat,” Stewart agrees.

“Of British actors towards American film acting, which I personally never subscribed to, that it wasn’t real acting. Real acting was doing ‘Lear’ in front of 2,000 people without a microphone,” Mirren continues with a laugh. “I always loved American actors. British acting at the time was like looking at a beautifully constructed piece of furniture. Beautifully carved. You know, perfect reproduction of something. And American acting was like the same piece of furniture, a bit more funky, but real. My ambition was to meld the two together. This sense of control and technique, for want of a better word, with the beauty of the improvisational, instinctive, wonderful thing that is American acting.”

So was it difficult then for Stewart to transition to American television, in a sci-fi series no less, with “Star Trek: The Next Generation”?

“I found being in front of camera awkward and difficult,” he says. “I don’t think I could relax properly. I was advised by a very good friend, very famous friend; he always said, before the camera rolled or before he made a first entrance on stage, ‘I don’t give a f—.’ And then he would go on and, of course, give a f—.”

Actors Bella Ramsey, Jeremy Strong, CHristina Ricci, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren and Diego Luna
Emmy contenders, clockwise from bottom left, Bella Ramsey (“The Last of Us”), Jeremy Strong (“Succession”), Christina Ricci (“Yellowjackets”), Patrick Stewart (“Picard”), Helen Mirren (“1923”) and Diego Luna (“Andor”).
(Alex Harper / For The Times)

Stewart, who brings his Jean-Luc Picard character home this season in “Picard,” and Mirren, who stars in the “Yellowstone” prequel “1923” (both from Paramount+) were joined by four other top actors who, it’s safe to say, do give a ... well, a damn, about their work, for The Envelope’s annual Drama Roundtable: Diego Luna, who reprises his “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” role in the well received Andor” on Disney+; Bella Ramsey, star of perhaps the buzziest new show of the season, HBO’s “The Last of Us”; Emmy nominee Christina Ricci, playing one of the signature characters of Showtime’s “Yellowjackets”; and Emmy winner Jeremy Strong of HBO powerhouse “Succession.”

The actors jumped right into a far-ranging conversation that touched on melding with their characters, diversity in storytelling and Ramsey’s screen moment with that ax.

These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Jeremy, this shocking moment happens on “Succession” when patriarch Logan Roy dies. You and your TV siblings, Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook, played the whole thing — getting the news, figuring it out — in this long sequence on a yacht.

Helen Mirren: Great stuff.

Jeremy Strong: Thank you.

Christina Ricci: It was amazing.

After you shot the coverage, you got to shoot it straight through, like a 28-minute unbroken take?


Strong: It was a brilliant piece of writing, first and foremost. And I’m sure we all feel, you know, “There but for the grace of the writing.” The way they wrote about the suddenness of grief and the mundane way that it plays out — I don’t know about you guys, but when you get something that you just think, “Oh, f— me,” because this is a moment that requires something in you cracking open and being overtaken by something, and will that or won’t that come?

Ricci: So much anxiety.

Strong: We shot it over three days. It was a 28- or 29-page scene. And I think everybody felt pretty loaded with what was happening, and there wasn’t a lot of discussion, and everyone was very focused. And then, at the end, [director] Mark Mylod said, “OK. I want everyone to walk away for two hours. Then we’re going to come back and we’re going to just do it all in one continuous take.” And we shoot on film, so they were tag-team reloading cameras.

Actor Jeremy Strong in holds up a dropcloth like a matador's cape for a portrait.
Jeremy Strong says “Succession” showrunner Jesse Armstrong gave insightful stage directions for a pivotal scene: “‘Something awful, the unimaginable, had happened, but he was also liberated, and the world was both off its axis but still solid, and he felt like he could be a wraith or a super being.’ ”

Patrick Stewart: Several cameras?

Strong: Yeah. Four cameras.

Stewart: [Laughs] Wow.

Mirren: So that was almost like theater.

Strong: It was like a play, but with the intimacy of [on-camera work], and that’s mostly the take that’s in the —

Diego Luna: Really?

Mirren: I thought that was improvised, a lot of that.

Strong: Some of it. But the text is quite precise.

Mirren: I thought, “That can’t be written and learned. [Laughs] They wouldn’t be acting like that if it was written.” And you were!

Strong: But it felt, I don’t know, one of those times where you touch on the garment of something that acting can be if you were very lucky and the lightning strikes. Did everybody see “[Top Gun:] Maverick”? You know, where a bunch of miracles had to happen? It was like 17 miracles had to happen. Everyone had to do this double black diamond in concert with each other, every person on the crew and the actors. Somebody texted me the other day, an actor, said, “You should probably just move to the desert and die.” [Laughter]


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You had a line that’s something like, “Let’s not restrict our future movements.” That was the first time I thought, “He’s ready. He can lead.”

Strong: Jesse Armstrong, the writer, had written this stage direction that there’s a moment where Kendall’s up on the top of the boat and finds out definitively that his father is gone. Jesse wrote this paragraph, essentially: “He was on the sharp tip of Manhattan but also of history, American history, and that something awful, the unimaginable, had happened, but he was also liberated, and the world was both off its axis but still solid, and he felt like he could be a wraith or a super being.”

Mirren: And that was in the stage direction?

Strong: I was like, “Right.”

Mirren: Oh, my God. How beautiful.

Strong: That was something to just set the subtext — put that in your unconscious and see what comes out.

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Did you all, in your various seasons, feel like your characters had hinge moments? I mean, for Misty, there’s one that happens to young Misty. But how about for current Misty?

Ricci: There are ways you can take her where she’s so extreme and she could be a caricature. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion. It’s the whole way she operates, and for much of Season 1, there was just no emotion. All this passive-aggressive, hard smile and veneer and everything. There’s one scene where she finally breaks and is emotional for, like, five seconds, and she gets it right back together. I thought that was a real moment, because from there she’s become more emotional. We’ve gotten to see more of her, and I think it’s helped to make her more well-rounded. You can’t just have a character that is always living in an artifice without seeing beneath it a little bit.

“Andor” has many moments that show him on the path to becoming the hero of “Rogue One.”


Luna: Definitely. For me, it’s the loss of the mother — Maarva, the character played by Fiona Shaw. She has every answer he needs; it’s just that he’s not ready when she’s around. It’s when he gets that. It’s a scene I did without having her on set. Because you’re hearing the voice, and he’s just listening to a message ... it was everything. I had to stop myself from crying nonstop and not being able to do it because it was so strong. It was, like, suddenly, everything that connects me with the character was there, exposed. It was difficult to say, “No. I have to do the scene.” You know? I have to stop being myself. “I’ll talk to my mom later” [laughs]. Because there was no way to not connect like that.

Actor Bella Ramsey with an impish smile, sitting before a burgundy backdrop for a portrait.
Bella Ramsey says her character on “The Last of Us,” experienced a frightening revelation when she brutally kills her captor. “What scares her the most in that moment isn’t what David did to her; it’s what she, in the end, did to him.”

Bella, same question about Ellie.

Bella Ramsey: I think at the end of Episode 8, when she’s just had this experience with David. She’s been kept captive by him, and then she kills him with the ax. That moment is a catharsis. It’s a release of all the pain and the fear that she’s been experiencing. And the loss. That moment is so pivotal, because there’s a line David says to her when she’s in the cage: “You have a violent heart.” She resists that instantly, because she knows, deep down, that she does. And then this moment at the end of the episode, you see that violence. She does have a violent heart. David was right.

What scares her the most in that moment isn’t what David did to her; it’s what she, in the end, did to him. He was dead after, like, the second hit. I think someone counted: There were, like, 28 hits to the face with this ax. She could’ve stopped, but she didn’t; she kept going and she enjoyed it. That’s what scared her. There’s a shift in her that will inform seasons to come.

Strong: You’re incredible in that scene.

Luna: Yeah.

Ramsey: Thank you.

Strong: It’s primal and —

Luna: Raw.

Actor Patrick Stewart in a dark blue jacket and gray T-shirt before a burgundy backdrop for a portrait.
Patrick Stewart had little to discover about Jean-Luc Picard in returning to the character for “Picard”: “One of the problems, as well as one of the pleasures, of shooting ‘Star Trek,’ being Jean-Luc Picard, has been that the longer I worked on it, the more he became me.”

Patrick, you’ve had such a long history with Jean-Luc Picard. Did you feel like there were steps along the way in Season 3 that felt like you were on the right path?

Stewart: No. I don’t think it did, because one of the problems as well as one of the pleasures, of shooting “Star Trek,” of being Jean-Luc Picard, has been that the longer I worked on it, the more he became me. By “me,” I don’t mean Patrick Stewart was flying the Enterprise [laughs]. But there was a blurring of the connection between actor and character. And that felt good. It felt authentic and honest — and honesty was always one of [his] most important elements, that he would speak the truth but always in a sensitive way.

Until in “Picard,” in Season 3, when he learns that he has a son. All his life he has said, “Starfleet is my family. I don’t need anything else.” And then we realize when the impact of that news hits him, that he wanted that all his life. And just built up this pretension of being OK, and he wasn’t OK. So that was a great revelation and an opening for me, which I like very much, because it made him vulnerable, weak. I was shouting at Beverly Crusher; things that had never happened before, and yet they were authentic, and that felt good. Writing is so important. When you turn the page and there’s something there that stirs feelings inside you.

I was doing ‘Rogue One’ for my kids. I’m doing ‘Andor’ for myself.

— Diego Luna

Diego and Patrick, you’re picking up these characters after years off from them. Did you feel you brought something new, maybe from changes in your life or your perspective?

Luna: Definitely. I was doing “Rogue One” for my kids. I’m doing “Andor” for myself. This is a more mature approach to the character. I’m finding a way to reflect much more of what worries me in this than in “Rogue One.” But you change. That’s the beauty of our job. Otherwise, you would be very, very unhappy repeating yourself over and over. We change, and the characters that we can play change, and our perspective is never the same.


You’re a producer on it. You’re involved in the writers room. Right?

Luna: I mean, I’m there to celebrate them. To clap. “S—, you just keep going.” [Laughter]

Strong: They won’t let me in the writers room. [Laughter]

Jeremy and Christina, do you feel like each season you’re bringing more of yourself, your own experiences and perspectives?

Actress Christina Ricci in a polka-dot dress poses for a portrait.
Christina Ricci sometimes has trouble seeing the humor in Misty, her “Yellowjackets” character: “I think it really is because my ego has melded with hers, and it feels like ... she wouldn’t want to be laughed at.”

Ricci: I do. It’s interesting what you [Stewart] said when you realized how much you and Jean-Luc Picard were melding. I really have an issue with that. When I did the first season, you know, Misty is sort of this outrageous character and is supposed to be funny. But I never played her funny, because I’m not a comedian. So I play her in the most truthful way I can, and she ends up being funny, and it makes me so uncomfortable when people tell me that they think it’s funny. And they’ll be like, “You have to figure this out, why you hate that she’s funny.” And I think it really is because my ego has melded with hers, and it feels like ... she wouldn’t want to be laughed at. I’ve been doing this for 35 years; eventually I’ll learn how to separate myself emotionally from my character.

Ramsey: Or not.

Mirren: No. [Laughs] You never will.

Actress Helen Mirren sits on a prop cube and kicks up her leg for a portrait.
Helen Mirren kicks some backsides as the matriarch in “1923.” The actor says she was drawn to the “Yellowstone” prequel in part because of its cold-eyed look at American history.

Helen, for “1923,” which has been picked up for a second season, you’ve said you’re interested in exploring that period of American history in a less-clean way than we usually see it.


Mirren: Well, it’s hard for any country. We’re all still in the process. Britain, they’re suddenly recognizing the fact that, yes, they were involved in the slave trade. So it’s not surprising that America will take — it takes many centuries, maybe, to come to terms with what your true history is. I find it so terrifying here in America, the whole idea of not really teaching American history in schools. ... But, yes, I do see what [“1923” creator and showrunner Taylor Sheridan] is doing as an investigation of American history as much as anything.

Actor Diego Luna sits pensively on blocks before a burgundy background at L.A. Times HQ in 2023.
When “Andor’s” Diego Luna learned only one Latinx actor had ever been nominated in the category of lead actor in a drama series (in which he and Pedro Pascal of “The Last of Us” are leading contenders this year), he said, “I didn’t believe it [when I was told] yesterday. I was, like, ‘Ah. Come on. That can’t be real.’ And then we realized it’s real. You know what I think? If there was no stories, if you couldn’t see the experience of people that comes from a context like mine, I would be very disappointed.”

Diego, if you were to be nominated for lead actor for a drama, my understanding is you’d be the second Latinx actor ever nominated.

Luna: Yes. Obviously I don’t care about those things. But I was told that yesterday. It’s just one actor has been nominated. [Jimmy Smits, five nominations as the lead for “NYPD Blue”; no wins] One Latino actor has been nominated in the history, in 75 opportunities.

Ricci: That’s wild.

Luna: It’s just insane. It’s ridiculous. If there were no stories, if you couldn’t see the experience of people that come from a context like mine, I would be very disappointed. The opportunity to be telling stories that matter to you is what you have to fight for. I grew up thinking what I’m doing now was impossible. To do a show that I care about, that I like the acting, the tone, that I feel challenges the audience and is popular, too. That is huge. I was told that couldn’t happen [with a Latino actor]. And today I’m doing that.

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