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Read Kenneth Lonergan’s Essay on ‘Succession’ MVP Kieran Culkin: ‘He’s the Opposite of Precious’

According to Oscar winner Lonergan, Culkin is the opposite of Roman Roy, the hilarious and spoiled brat he plays on HBO's "Succession."

Succession Season 2 J Smith Cameron Kieran Culkin

J Smith Cameron and Kieran Culkin in “Succession”

Peter Kramer/HBO

It would please Roman Roy, Kieran Culkin’s unctuous, cocky, spoiled-brat character on “Succession,” to know that Culkin has been featured among Variety’s New Power of New York List. Culkin plays the sniveling but charming Roman in the HBO series, one of Waystar Royco’s chief and most incompetent leaders. As played by Culkin, Roman is impotent, locked in a bizarre, can’t-turn-away-from, downright Oedipal relationship with his colleague Gerri, who in turn gets off on sending him to the bathroom to wank it.

She’s played by J. Smith-Cameron, the wife of Academy Award winner Kenneth Lonergan, who’s worked with Culkin onstage, as well as in the director’s sprawling and famously beleaguered film “Margaret,” which finally saw the light of day in 2011 after a bout of post-production hell. (By the way, it’s masterful.)

For Variety’s New Power of New York list, playwright turned Oscar-winning screenwriter Lonergan (“Manchester By the Sea”) has penned an essay on behalf of Culkin who, for his hilarious and self-degrading turn as Roman in “Succession,” is a likely 2020 Primetime Emmy contender.

“It’s hard to write about Kieran in this context because I genuinely love and admire him, and genuinely find him aggravating. Only when he is unsure of himself is my first impulse to praise and encourage him. But I have to clarify: His values, for lack of a less dirtied-up word, and his morals — which are way too severe for me — will always restrain him from being obnoxious because he’s doing well. He’s just one of those people who are pleasanter when you have them at a disadvantage, so that’s how I prefer it. Maybe that’s just my own insecurity talking,” writes Lonergan in the essay.

Succession Season 2 Episode 3 Kieran Culkin

Kieran Culkin in “Succession”

Peter Kramer/HBO

Culkin starred in Lonergan’s play “This Is Our Youth” in 2014, but he also worked with Lonergan while shooting “Margaret” in 2005. That film — a messy, sprawling, moving post-9/11 coming-of-age drama set in New York and led by Anna Paquin — took years to get off the ground, with Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker stepping in to edit the version that finally reached theaters in 2011.

The essay goes on: “Another reason it’s hard to write about Kieran as a New Power in Hollywood is that apart from the perfectly reasonable desire to make a good living and play good parts, he has never demonstrated the slightest ambition to be anything of the kind. His career has dragged behind his creative interests, not the other way around. That he hasn’t totally sabotaged himself as a result is only partly a testament to what a good actor he is; it’s also a testament to the reassuring if sporadic persistence with which audiences respond to exceptional work even when it’s not under a horrible and garish spotlight. When someone like Kieran does gain the appreciation of a wider audience, it’s so rewarding to your sense of justice that you don’t mind having to strike another name off your private roster of underappreciated great artists.”

Who the hell knows what’s next for Roman in “Succession,” but all fans of the show are enjoying riding the ride. Season two ends October 13 — all too soon.

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