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Kieran Culkin is having a blast playing the no-filter bad boy of ‘Succession’

Kieran Culkin plays Roman Roy on HBO’s “Succession.”
“He can literally say anything to anyone and get away with it,” Kieran Culkin notes of his “Succession” character, Roman Roy.
(Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times)

It wasn’t quite a surprise when Kieran Culkin got a Golden Globe nomination for supporting actor in a television series for the second year in a row last week. After all, his character Roman Roy — the youngest son of the media empire at the heart of HBO’s “Succession” — is one of the show’s funniest and often most fascinating characters.

“I wouldn’t want to hang out with him in real life,” says Culkin. “But it’s so much fun to be the guy who doesn’t have a filter: He can literally say anything to anyone and get away with it. It can be freeing in a climate where people have to be careful with their words — although I think he is eventually going to get in trouble.”

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Prior to stealing scenes in “Succession,” the 37-year-old actor and recent father of a baby girl was best known for starring in the “Home Alone” movies with his older brother Macaulay and the 2002 feature “Igby Goes Down,” for which he received his first Golden Globe nod. He spoke about playing “Succession’s” entitled enfant terrible during a phone conversation from New York City.

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Why do you think people are so fascinated by the despicable, filthy-rich Roy clan?

I cannot figure out why people like them. I knew the show was good, because the writing was so great as I was reading it. But in the beginning, I felt like I didn’t care about these people, but somewhere around the fourth episode, I inexplicably started to give a ... not because they’re good or I like them, but I just want to see what happens to them. I also found myself rooting for Kendall [an older brother played by Jeremy Strong], because I feel for what he’s going through.

So, do you know people like the Roys? Did you do any research?

I always go by instinct. The writing on the page is so great that any time I try to do any kind of research, it sort of messes with my head. Some actors put on the costume, and they really get the character. It doesn’t work like that for me at all. For some reason, Roman rang true to me. Something about that character clicked with me — a guy that grew up so privileged that he didn’t have to suffer any consequences for his actions. I know people who are like these people without the billions of dollars and the power and the influence.

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He can be charming and witty, but he can also be a cruel jerk.

Are you talking about him or me now?

Do you have any ideas where the writers may take him next season?

I don’t have any ideas what will happen to him. Between Seasons 1 and 2, I had two ideas, and they both happened, even though I never even spoke my mind. I wanted Roman to try to understand the business, which happened because he had to go to business school, and I also wanted something pseudo romantic between him and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), and they both happened. They won’t start writing the third season until the spring, and I have no predictions, no information or influence whatsoever!

What would you say is the toughest part of playing this character?

I am having a great time. The toughest part is maybe knowing in the back of my head that my mom is watching every time I shoot one of those masturbating scenes. She hasn’t mentioned them yet. I shot four of those scenes, and three of them have made it in the show. Thankfully, at least they cut one. I hold the record. The first time I did it, our director Mark Mylod didn’t yell cut so I kept going and thought, “Does he want me to finish?” so I just stopped and looked at the camera and said, “Mom, I hope you’re proud of me!”

The cast seems to get along very well with each other. Is that real?

It’s almost entirely a fantastic group of people that work really, really well with each other. It feels like we all mutually understand our [fictional] common background and our childhoods. Everybody seems to have a pretty clear vision of how we knew Cousin Greg as a kid. We’ve never talked about it, but we feel like we’re all on the same page. We can read between the lines and fill in the gaps ourselves.

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People must have funny reactions when they run into you on the street.

It’s usually one of three reactions: They say, “Hey, do I know you?” In which case, I pretend I went to school with them. Or they yell, “Hey, I love you on ‘Billions!’” or they say, “Hey, you’re on that show. You’re a real asshole,” and I say, “Thank you!”


So, how does it feel to be nominated two years in a row?

You know, it’s great. My wife encouraged me by telling me she thinks I’m going to be a three-time Golden Globe loser. I mean, it’s tough to beat a hot priest [“Fleabag’s” Andrew Scott]. This year, there are so many shows out there and so many actors, to be nominated twice was very unexpected. Plus, Henry Winkler [“Barry”] is in this category too!


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