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‘Succession’: Nicholas Braun on the State of Cousin Greg’s Soul

"Once Greg entered this world, as much as it's against his personal morals and values, it's tough to leave and you swallow a lot of shit."

Succession Season 3 Episode 4 Nicholas Braun

Nicholas Braun in “Succession”

Macall B. Polay / HBO

When it comes to HBO’s “Succession,” it feels pretty obvious that one of the show’s central concerns is capturing the epic tragedy that is Kendall Roy’s existence. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great tragedy and everybody loves it but, what would you say if I suggested that there existed an even bigger — or at least taller — tragedy unfolding before the audience’s very eyes.

It’s been clear since the show’s pilot in 2018 that our beloved Cousin Greg, played to awkward precision by Nicholas Braun, would be in for a bumpy ride. And given that he was clearly intended as the audience insert character for a world foreign to the vast majority of viewers, we were in for quite the roller coaster ourselves.

For the past three seasons, Greg has gone from relative bumpkin to full-fledged member of an extensive corporate cover-up in a matter of months. And what’s really depressing is that he doesn’t show any sign of stopping. There are few things more gut-wrenching than seeing a good man turn bad, which is maybe why Greg’s slow slide into soullessness has been played for laughs more than anything. But it’s always there in the background, the crushing of the character’s moral compass, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stepped to the forefront when the audience least expects it.

For now, it remains to be seen exactly how Greg’s fate will play out. In the meantime, Braun has a lot of thoughts on the seductive nature of the dark side, his process in perfecting the character’s speech patterns, as well as the unique styles his co-stars bring to one-on-one scenes.

IndieWire: What do you think Greg really wants out of life and his work? Because it sometimes seems unclear.

Nicholas Braun: I think being in this world is really exciting. Once you’ve come into this world, then to let yourself get fired or let your self fail and going to go back to regular life? That’s not an option for basically any of these people. In the pilot, Frank gets fired and then he’s back a few episodes later. People hang on. Once Greg entered this world, as much as it’s against his personal morals and values, it’s tough to leave and you swallow a lot of shit. He takes a lot of shit from Tom. And a lot of stuff happens that I think Greg disagrees with.

Succession Season 3 Episode 4 Tom Greg Matthew Macfadyen Nicholas Braun

Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

Maybe it’s a nice lesson about good people turning sour in circles like these, which I think happens a lot of the time. I mean, a lot of the time. I don’t want to name names but there’s plenty of people in high political circles that were probably good people once and I think it’s a really pathetic part of people in these circles. But it’s a real human trait. It’s not like they’re forcing themselves, “I’m gonna convince myself I feel differently.” It’s natural. It happens quite easily. And they value the political clout or the attention from the world. I feel like people in that realm are happy to be talked about even if it’s in a negative way. Like they wake up in the morning and somebody’s talking shit about them and they’re like, “Great. I have a battle for the day.” It’s never, like, “Oh man, I wish I was a better person.” No, it’s, “I have to stick even stronger with my group because they’re attacking me.”

It’s kind of mafia-esque. “If you’re loyal to us, then we got you.” I think that’s the natural human trait that I feel a responsibility towards. Once you’re in the mafia, once you’re in this type of group, they protect you. And it feels good to be on the dark side of it.

Succession Season 3 Episode 5 James Cromwell Nicholas Braun Greg

James Cromwell, Peter Riegert, and Nicholas Braun in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

Do you think he has the capacity to be as ruthless as his cousins? Is this a slippery slope where he’s unable to regain purchase? I worry about Greg, I’m going to be honest with you.

Yeah, like once he goes dark, will he be able to get it back? It’s hard to say.

I mean, he’s talking about suing Greenpeace. It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around.

I can imagine him getting darker as this goes on. There’s a certain earnest quality, a goodness to him, or even if it’s just being a sensitive person. And I don’t know if that can get totally killed out of you. But actions speak louder than words. If he does shred those documents and he does sue Greenpeace and he does align with Kendall, the actions are everything. So he’s not such a good boy in these events.

So much of your performance seems to thrive on timing and inflection. How much of that do you play around with in takes? Is it a leap to find Greg’s specific voice? Or are you pretty locked in on that when when you get the script?

I think Jesse and the writers write in a really rhythmic way. In every character and every line, I think there’s a rhythm to it. And so I embrace that and if there’s a way for me to deliver that with a certain inflection, then that’s fun for me. I like the musicality of scenes. Like, what’s the exchange? If someone responded to me with a quick answer, they responded to me with a longer answer, it tells me how much what Greg is asking or doing is working.  Sometimes I have to slow it down to be like, “I really want this to land on you,” and then other times when he’s in a more comfortable space or whatever, like with Kendall or Tom, when things are good, then the rhythm changes and so I follow that a bit. And yeah, a lot of the lines are written with question marks so that leads me towards posing things that are statements as a question.

Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong in "Succession"

Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong in “Succession”

Macall Polay

Greg is having some very heavy one on one conversations with a variety of people this season. How do those scenes differ as you go head-to-head with different co-stars? How do scenes with Jeremy differ from scenes with Brian or scenes with Matthew? 

It definitely is different with each actor. Matthew and I have such an easy, enjoyable style. We don’t have to strategize much as we know what the relationship is, we know what the scene is, what the dynamic is, what’s true, what’s supposed to happen here. And then we just take a windy road towards it. And, you know, if things happen in a scene that feel different, neither of us are scared by that. There’s plenty of examples of that this year.

With Jeremy, he’s very malleable. He can roll with anything. He brings in such a specific energy because of where he is with Kendall. And the writers put characters together because, “That’ll be an interesting interaction.” So when Kendall and Greg are together, he’s so laser-focused on what he needs and Greg is just trying to figure out how he fits in. Like, “Do you want this for me?” Or, “Maybe I’m kind of afraid of what you’re locked onto right now.” He’s his own energy. And his attention to detail is extreme and so is mine. So we care a lot about getting that scene and mining everything we can out of it. At the end of the scene, we’ll usually have a moment of, “Did we get it? Did we fulfill what that scene was supposed to be?” And I think both of us as actors feel that about every scene.

Brian Cox and Nicholas Braun in "Succession"

Brian Cox and Nicholas Braun in “Succession”

Macall Polay

Then with Brian, Brian is just relaxed, comfortable, easy and in a moment he flips on the Logan switch and kills you with a stare and his voice has so much character in it. He just slips right into that.

So we have a lot of styles on the show and I think in an ensemble piece that’s essential, so that every time you watch a scene between people it’s different. It’s a different dynamic. And I wish I got to work with, like, David Rasche more or Peter Friedman or, I mean, Snook. She and I have nearly nothing together ever, unfortunately.

Everyone has their own way of working. But I just love going head to head with any of them and anyone. I have some stuff with Kieran this year and I wish I got to work with him more. He’s spinning in a way that no one can. And I like to work with Greg in a similar way. So we’re sort of like, “Where are we going to sync up? Do we both like that?” and then we go down that path, whether or not it’s in the script. It’s very exciting to work with him.

“Succession” airs its Season 3 finale Sunday, December 12 at 9 p.m. ET. The first three seasons are available to stream on HBO Max. The series has been renewed for Season 4.

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