‘Succession’ star J Smith-Cameron is as surprised by Gerri’s new plot line as you are

Sonia Rao

THE WASHINGTON POST – It’s difficult to be the outsider, let alone among a tightknit clan whose self-serving members switch from supporting each other to throwing daggers at their every whim. In Succession, the witty HBO drama chronicling the professional and personal pursuits of a Murdoch-esque family, this is never more clear than in scenes involving Tom Wambsgans, a bumbling man who marries into the media dynasty; Cousin Greg, a naive relative of the family; or Gerri Killman, longtime general counsel to the company.

Whereas the two men still struggle to dodge the Roy family’s daggers, Gerri has learned that in such an environment, it’s best to learn how to throw them yourself. The character, played by theatre veteran J Smith-Cameron, has become a fan favourite for her snippy one-liners and slight unpredictability.

“She’s the one character I can think of who is really at the heart of the power infrastructure, but she’s not actually a Roy,” Smith-Cameron recently told The Washington Post. “She’s there by merit and by skill and by earning it. There’s a part of her that I’d say is always looking out for number one and for a way to finesse the situation so she stays alive in the game. It’s not a given, the way it is for Kendall, apparently, or Roman.”

While Gerri therefore aims to stay in the good graces of aging Waystar Royco chief Logan Roy (Brian Cox), her relationship with the less powerful, foul-mouthed Roman (Kieran Culkin), Logan’s youngest son, is more playful.

Smith-Cameron describes a moment from earlier this season, in which Gerri retrieves a hungover Roman from his bedroom during a corporate retreat, as “almost parental, but there’s a twinkle in her eye. There’s a sort of intimacy. They’re both uncomfortable with it, but they clock it”.

Kieran Culkin (L) and J Smith-Cameron in an episode of Succession. PHOTO: HBO

Showrunner Jesse Armstrong hit the gas on that dynamic in the following weeks, a testament to the show’s ability to keep viewers on their toes. In last week’s episode, after Roman fails to appeal to his girlfriend (Caitlin FitzGerald), he calls Gerri and treats himself while she peppers him with insults. In Sunday night’s, they re-create the bizarre situation in person.

“They had this idea that the relationship was going to evolve, but I still didn’t ever really know where it was going,” she continued. “I’ve never really known how to think about it. Gerri is an extremely careful person who wouldn’t ever consciously do anything rash that could come back to haunt her. And yet, I think she’s always into cultivating business relationships, or she’s always trying to find her hook.”

Could she be manipulating Roman for professional gain? Perhaps. Such a concept is never out of the realm of possibility for characters in Succession, who are known to act often and furiously in their own self-interest. But Gerri does seem to genuinely care for Roman in a rather perverse way, and vice versa.

Their first on-screen interaction took place in the second episode of the series, while Logan was still in the hospital. Gerri swings by because of her professional ties to the Roys, but also as a friend of the family.