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“The idea of looking at a dynastic family just felt really appropriate right now,” says director Adam McKay of Succession, now streaming exclusively on Showmax in Africa. “We’re seeing wealth skyrocket in a way we’ve never seen before.”
To put that in context, in November, Forbes reported that a study had found that America’s three richest individuals – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – collectively have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population there – 160 million people in 63 million households.
In Succession, Logan Roy (Emmy-winner Brian Cox from War & Peace) controls Waystar Royco, one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world, but his children face a difficult choice as family loyalties collide in a feud over company control.
“It’s about a fictional media family with a patriarch and the children jockeying for succession,” says McKay, who won the Oscar for his screenplay and was nominated for his directing on The Big Short, about the American housing bubble that triggered the 2007-2008 financial crisis, but remains best known for his Will Ferrell collaborations like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers and The Other Guys. “This is about power; this is about media; this is about where our country is; this is about where our world is – it’s a perfect show for right now.”
“It’s a mixture of the enjoyment of soap opera with the enjoyment of Shakespeare with the enjoyment of comedy,” says McKay.
Critics agree: the hit HBO series is currently at number 32 on IMDB’s Most Popular TV chart, has an 82% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been hailed as everything from “my favourite show of the summer… the only thing I’ve been able to think about” by Vox to “King Lear for the modern media age” by The Telegraph.
Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong from The Big Short), Logan’s eldest son from his second marriage, is currently a division president at the firm and the heir apparent. Roman Roy (Golden Globe nominee Kieran Culkin from Igby Goes Down), Kendall’s younger brother, is Logan’s outspoken, fun-loving son and no longer works at Waystar. Siobhan “Shiv” Roy (Sarah Snook from Steve Jobs), Logan’s only daughter and youngest child, has been pursuing a career in politics. Connor Roy (Alan Ruck from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Logan’s eldest son, and only child from his first marriage, has pursued an independent life in New Mexico. But they’re all drawn into the succession battle for the family business.
“When you have a parent who is so driven by power and profits, and you want their love, you have to jump into their game,” says McKay. “It’s very hard to look at a kid who’s brought up set to inherit a billion dollars and have compassion for him but in this case I did. You could really see they were trying to love their father but at the same time to be their own people. And you get this sense that it’s this really difficult, no-win situation to be in.”
In addition to the family, McKay singles out Pride & Prejudice star Matthew Macfadyen’s performance as Tom, Shiv’s ambitious boyfriend and a senior executive at the firm, and How To Be Single’s Nicholas Braun as Greg, a younger cousin who has moved from Canada to New York looking for work. “They have this weird, twisted dynamic between them. You can tell Tom is a guy who just smells out weakness and loves to play with it. They’re just hilarious. I never get tired of watching them.”
Succession is created by Oscar and WGA nominee Jesse Armstrong (In the Loop) and executive produced by Armstrong, McKay, Ferrell, Frank Rich (HBO’s Veep), Kevin Messick (The Big Short), Jane Tranter (HBO’s The Night Of) and Mark Mylod (HBO’s Entourage).
“It’s a mixture of the enjoyment of soap opera with the enjoyment of Shakespeare with the enjoyment of comedy,” says McKay. He’s not bothered if that sounds like a strange mix of genres. “Any time you’re struggling to define genre that means someone’s written something really original.”
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