By Clark Collis
September 26, 2019 at 01:18 PM EDT
Peter Kramer/HBO

The most surprising development in the current season of HBO’s media family drama Succession has been the burgeoning romance — if that’s the word — between J. Smith-Cameron’s lawyer Gerri Killman and Kieran Culkin‘s Roman Roy who, it seems, can only achieve sexual satisfaction while being berated by Waystar Royco’s General Counsel. Turns out, no one was more surprised by this turn of events than Smith-Cameron.

“Well, Kieran seemed to be more in the know than I did,” says the actress, whose other recent credits include the TV shows Search Party and Rectify. “We were on set for episode 1 of the second season and we were doing the scene where we’re looking at the press briefing Kendall (Jeremy Strong) did. At the top of season 2, Kendall in Iceland does a press thing where he’s trying to address the takeover news and Roman and Gerri are studying it on an iPad. Mark Mylod, who directed that episode, encouraged me to kind of cozy up to Kieran, closer than I was in an earlier take. He said, ‘You know, sort of foreshadowing.’ I was like, huh? So, we finished the take, and meandered up to him, and was like, ‘Did you say ‘foreshadowing?’ And he was like, ‘Oh my god, has nobody told you?’ I was like, ‘Told me what?’ I think they were kind of floating this idea, but it’s the nature of television writing, and definitely our show, that there is a sort of fluid feeling of sticking your toe in the water of a certain storyline, and then deciding as you go along. So, I think they were toying with the idea but I did not have any sense of where it was going, so that’s been really fun.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, with season 2 of Succession, Gerri has really become one of the great cult pop culture figures of 2019.
J. SMITH-CAMERON:
I guess. No one’s more surprised or delighted than myself. But I’m not sure what to make of that.

What have the past few weeks been like for you?
You know, it’s been very exciting and suspenseful for me. When it was revealed to me, sort of gradually, what the storyline was going to be between Gerri and Roman, I really did not know what to make of it. [Laughs] But that was appropriate, because I don’t think Gerri quite knows what to make of it either. It’s weird and my character finds it weird as well. I mean, that’s how it seems to me. So, it’s been suspenseful to see what the story of it actually is, because when you’re working on a show, particularly in the way these folks work, you’re trying it different ways, and doing different takes, and notably this company does a lot of improv. It’s very carefully scripted, but there are also rewrites that come at the last-minute, and alternate lines, and they often give you a “freebie” take where they just let you see what happens. So, when I am watching at home, I’m not sure what I’m going to see either. For instance, last week’s episode did not have much of that storyline. I remember shooting some other things that do. So, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

So. you’re somewhat in the dark yourself?
Well, I know what we shot, but it could be colored by which takes are chosen and how they edit it. So, I’m not just being mysterious when I say, I’m not really sure. I’m kind of watching with anticipation too. Because I don’t really know either exactly what the story being told is. It’s fun that way. It makes it nice and juicy and suspenseful for me as well.

I don’t want to get too much in the prurient weeds, but there was what I guess you’d have to call a phone-sex scene between your characters. Did you do that live with Kieran, or did you shoot that individually?
[Laughs] In that case, he had shot his stuff that day, and gone home. But he called in. He called in and did his lines on the other end of the phone. So, when I called him a “slime puppy” and so forth, that was all kind of improv that was happening after the written part of the scene. It’s such a fun show to work on!

And you’ve know Kieran for quite a while?
I have. Although we’ve certainly gotten to know each other much better now! No, I have known him. He was in a production of This Is Our Youth (written by the actress’s husband, Kenneth Lonergan), years ago, in the West End, in London. Then he was in Margaret, and he was in The Starry Messenger — we were both in the New York production, off-Broadway, a while back — and then he was in another production of This Is Our Youth on Broadway. So, I have hung out with him when he was working with Kenny and then when we were both in a play together. Our storylines did not intersect directly on Margaret but we were on the set at the same time sometimes. And I just know him socially. So, yeah, I’ve known him for quite a while.

Presumably, that makes it easier to shoot these somewhat strange scenes?
Definitely. The first scene I happened to shoot for Succession was a scene when Logan (Brian Cox) is in the hospital. So, after the pilot episode, the next episode was the long 24 hours of deciding what to announce — he’s had a stroke, and he’s asleep, and we don’t know if he’s coming back. So, there was a scene that we shot where Gerri and Roman are making coffees in a groovy, fancy, rich people hospital. I remember feeling so relieved, because I knew Kieran. We had already developed a kind of bantering, playful relationship. So, I think it just took its cue right away from that. Because right away we had a rapport on set.

Do you think Gerri has the chops to be in charge of the company?
Definitely. I think she has really good instincts and certainly has the knowledge. I think the thing is that the company has lived or died by Logan Roy’s bravado. So, she has deferred to him at times against her own better judgment, because she knows that, right or wrong, his audacity has been the horse she would bet on each time. But I think she feels like, if there was a successor, she’s more fit than certain other contestants, you know.

I agree entirely.
[Laughs] But I don’t think she’s foolishly trying to oust anyone, that’s my impression so far.

Do you think there‘s ever been anything romantic between Gerri and Logan?
I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m not sure where the writers land on that question. There have been scripts where that’s been hinted at, but it hasn’t been expounded on yet. I think it’s purposefully ambiguous. Gerri does mention her husband in the very first episode she appears in, so I’ve always sort of imagined he also worked for Waystar, maybe he was even the General Counsel at one point. I’ve kind of been a lifer there, almost. That’s just always how I pictured it. But depending how long ago [Gerri’s husband] died, I can imagine that there might have been something. I mean, looking at Lady Caroline (Harriet Walter) and Marsha (Hiam Abbass), Logan seems to like clever, formidable women. He doesn’t seem to have trophy wives per se, right? So, yeah, I could see how it might have been possible.

Can you tease anything about what Gerri is up to for the rest of the season?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, we certainly shot some more scenes between Gerri and Roman. But I can’t really tell you with confidence how it’s left, because we shot some slightly different versions, because they will leave the camera rolling. [Laughs] So, you really just don’t know how they’re going to make it all add up. But, yes, there’s some more coming with Gerri and Roman. I’m sworn to secrecy about the way the season ends off. But you wouldn’t want to hear that anyway, because that’s what makes it fun!

Succession airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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