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‘Succession’: Sarah Snook on the Ascension of Shiv Roy

"I read it and was like, 'Oh, well, I'll watch this. I want to know what happens after that final scene of the pilot episode,' but obviously I'm not going to be in it, so whatever, I'm not going to audition," Snook said.

Sarah Snook

Sarah Snook

Patrick Lewis/StarPix for HBO/Shutterstock


There is a certain tragedy within Siobhan  — Shiv — Roy, only daughter in the Logan Roy (Brian Cox) family empire. Arguably the smartest, savviest, most liberal member of the brood, Shiv still can’t manage to avoid the emotional pitfalls that ensnare brothers Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck), no matter how much clear-eyed strategy she employs.

She is forever Wile E. Coyote to the Road Runner of her father’s affection, smart enough to devise foolproof plans to catch her prey, only to end up running head-first off of a cliff, time and time again.

In the stellar second season of HBO’s “Succession,” Sarah Snook, the Australian actress who brings Shiv to life, found new layers to the character. Snook finds the nuance in a woman who is self-assured enough to know exactly what she wants, but still damaged enough to allow her plans to be completely derailed by the empty promises of her manipulative father. By the end of the season, Shiv is left in a place of uncertainty and not even Snook can say what her next move might be.

“She’s pretty smart,” Snook said of her character in a recent interview with IndieWire. “She’s not going to take any shit, but she’s also stuck between a rock and a hard place now, where Kendall goes out against [Logan], and she can’t now align herself with Kendall because she’s then second to him. She has to align herself with her dad in order to not be second, for the long-term.”

And while Shiv is now soundly embroiled in her family’s drama — after spending so much of her life trying to hold herself above the fray — that’s not the only one of her relationships experiencing turbulence, as the Season 2 finale shows things might finally be boiling over with her newlywed husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen). Luckily, those tensions are a far cry from what the actress experiences in real life with her fake husband.

“Matthew is like one of my favorite, favorite humans,” Snook said. “He’s such a lovely, lovely man. And he’s just so good at his job. So generous, so kind, so gentlemanly, so upstanding. And Tom is so different from that in so many ways. Not everyone’s capable of playing that, which is kind the kind of actor he is. It’s amazing.”

Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook in "Succession" Season 2

Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Zach Dilgard/HBO

“We do together have a lot of fun doing our scenes, and I find them easy because you get to watch and listen to him and then it kind of all happens. And then we have some of the most outrageous things to say, which is really fun to play.”

According to Snook, it’s not just scenes with Macfadyen that are a joy. “Succession” is the type of series that thrives when featuring a large portion of the ensemble, in no small part because the way the show is filmed captures so many background reactions and expressions too often either neglected or overlooked in other shows. The camera operators are so adept at their jobs that Snook said they’re keenly monitoring the actors movements at all times, seeing small things unfolding as the main action takes place.

“You might not think a person’s in the scene. They might not be in the regular setup, but anything is up for grabs, which I love,” Snook said. “And as an actress, it’s such a gift because it means when we’re on the schedule for a day, we will work. You will be doing something. You will be active. You will be in the scene, create. Your imagination is allowed to run wild. And then it feels more like it’s teamwork. That’s my favorite part of filmmaking.”

Succession Season 2 cast Episode 5 HBO


Peter Kramer/HBO

It’s all slightly unreal for the actress who was certain she didn’t have a prayer of being cast when the project originally entered her radar. “I read it and was like, ‘Oh, well, I’ll watch this. I want to know what happens after that final scene of the pilot episode,’ but obviously I’m not going to be in it, so whatever, I’m not going to audition,” Snook said.

“But when I first heard about it, I had some doubts. I didn’t know what character she was likely to become. She could just become the kind of handbag, pretty face, sort of trotting around as the female member of the family,” she said. “And because of that, she goes to the sidelines, which women really face in this world. In reality there’s still inequality in gender and gender pay gap and getting into business at that level. Clearly we see that within the show. And that wasn’t something I was really interested in, if that was the case.”

“To their credit, yes, they’re showing the reality of it. It’s a lot of white men in business at that level, but they are also willing to elevate and make interesting characters on the sides as well, and then Shiv had a chance to kind of crowbar that open,” she said.

In Season 2, both the show and Snook established Shiv as a real power player, both within her family and the family business, and in the meantime sparked a lot of internet conversation about another recent development: Shiv Roy, fashion plate.

“It’s kind of crazy, because that’s so far from what I am as Sarah. I’m not a fashion icon by any means, in any stretch of the imagination,” Snook laughed. “It was weird, it was sort of unbelievable. I’m sort going along and seeing people dress in that kind of costume. I was like, “What?” And then I was like, “Oh, come on you just threw that outfit together because you got invited to a Halloween party, like, 10 minutes ago. But also, it was just super fun and I tripped out, seeing people dressed up as Shiv!”

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