[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Sunday's episode of Succession, "What It Takes." Read at your own risk!]
Succession has made it clear from the beginning that the Roy family has almost unfathomable influence in the world of politics. It's played into the plot before — take Shiv's (Sarah Snook) former career as a political consultant, or Logan's (Brian Cox) ongoing relationship with the president — but never has the series been so explicitly political as it gets in the sixth episode of its third season, when the Roys head to Virginia for a conservative political conference, where Logan will decide which candidate to throw his support behind in the upcoming election. Among those candidates, as any devoted Conhead knows, is his eldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck).
The majority of the episode is made up by a tense, claustrophobic scene in a hotel suite, where Logan has gathered his three most loyal kids to weigh their options. Connor, caught up in his own shameless entitlement as ever, throws his own name into the mix; Logan seems to half-consider it, while Shiv is dismissive and Roman (Kieran Culkin) openly mocks his brother's ambition. After Logan ultimately agrees to back Roman's choice, Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), an alt-right YouTube provocateur, the camera lingers on Connor as he sits by himself in silence, processing the latest rejection.
The melancholic feeling that's been hanging over the entire season is as pervasive as ever in this hour. Watching Ruck's performance, there's a foreboding sense that Connor, perpetually treated as a joke by his father and siblings, is not far from hitting his breaking point. (Or, as Ruck puts it, "Let's just say that he's not going to remain the family punching bag forever.") Ruck caught up with TV Guide to unpack the episode, how Connor might fare on the campaign trail, and the piece of his character's backstory he hopes to see in the show someday.
I want to start by talking about President Connor. It was funny to see him get approached by a supporter in this episode because we really have no idea what his platform is or what he's even running on.
Alan Ruck: I think there [are] just very few planks in his platform at any given time. I think it's whatever Connor finds interesting on any particular day. I do think two things that are constant are his dislike of paying any sort of tax, and that will be part of the central pitch to the American people. Not giving any thought on how to pay for anything, but he'll just say, "This is ridiculous, we don't need all these taxes." I think the other thing he's interested in is the environment because he's got this ranch out in New Mexico and early on in the pilot episode, he was talking about the aquifer that runs into his property well. So I think since it directly affects him – and it is, obviously, hugely important, but I think this is something that he would be interested in because it's really going to affect the value of his land more than anything else. So in that way, he's just as much a sociopath as any of the other Roy people. He has no idea of how the real world works. He's never worked a day in his life, he doesn't know what regular people go through. He's removed.
I felt for him when Logan and Shiv were going through all the reasons that he maybe would work as a candidate. Does he know to some extent that it's all just manipulation?
Ruck: Yeah, because Connor is not stupid. He's delusional, he's got, probably, ADHD, some sort of version of that, and he does live in a fantasy world, but he's been around these people his whole life, and this is nothing new. The way they're treating him is the way they've always treated him. So I just think that he just carries this little thing in his heart, "Someday my dad's going to be proud of me." This is a man who's somewhere in his 50s and he's still waiting for parental approval. As they all are, actually, it's what drives all of the kids. Certainly, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who feels betrayed and is waging this war, but Siobhan, too. In the second season, when [Logan] said, "Pinky, it's always been you," she just kind of melted in a puddle at his feet, and where was that toughie, go-getter woman? She was reduced to a little girl. So, yeah, [Connor] knows what's going on. It's just that he does get invested and he still thinks, "Maybe this time." I mean, it's insane. It's like doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results.
Do you think there was ever a part of Logan that was going to take Connor seriously as a candidate?
Ruck: It just depends, always, on Logan's business situation, because if there was some huge advantage for him to put me in as a puppet president, and that was going to solve all of his problems, he would have done that in a heartbeat.
What's going through Connor's mind in that moment where he's left sitting alone on the couch after Logan makes his choice?
Ruck: He's still a human being like anybody else, so he's processing the slight. But he's not going to give up on this dream. He came to a point in his life where he was like, "Before the old man dies, I'm going to do something that he's going to sit down and say, 'My god, Connor, that was really impressive.'" But there [are] other ways to get money, Connor knows a lot of people, he knows a lot of secrets. He's been around, he's seen a lot of things, so he's not going to give up. But he's absorbing the fact that he just got burned out again, and just trying to figure out where to go from here. He realizes that there's nobody that needs him anywhere. There's no group of people saying, "OK, when Connor gets here, we can start work. When Connor gets here, we can ask him what he thinks." Nobody cares. So now, in late middle age, he's feeling like, "I've got to do something before it's too late."
I'm really interested in the relationship between Connor and Roman. There's a moment in this episode where Roman laughs off the idea of endorsing Connor, and Connor looks genuinely hurt by it. It reminded me of earlier in the season where Roman mentioned Connor taking him fishing as a kid. Have you and Kieran had any discussions about the history of their dynamic?
Ruck: We haven't actually talked through it ourselves, but I'd bet you we have a similar story. Connor is somewhere between 12 and 15 years older than Kendall, so by the time Roman was six years old, Connor was probably 20, 21. I think at that point, the old man was like, "Could you do me a big favor? Can you take Roman fishing? I was going to take him, but this thing came up and I've got to fly to Paris." I think that Connor really loves his little siblings, and I think over the years, they felt very comfortable with him. But when they got to a certain age, they realized that in this family, the only way to get ahead is to be mean, is to play dirty. This is the thing about these three, Kendall and Roman and Siobhan: If they would actually learn to listen, if they ever learned to listen to each other, the three of them could run that company. They'd be great, they'd be tremendous. But they can't, because the old man, by example, told us that winning is everything, coming in second is still losing. You've got to win, you've got to be the one, you got to be the boss, you've got to be the one that gets the last word. So when they got to be in their teens, I think that's when the snarky comments started coming out toward Connor, how slow he is, and everything. Because they wanted to succeed in this nasty world that their father is sort of lord and master of.
I do think that this season has proved that Connor and Roman have lines they won't cross when it comes to betraying their family, but Connor is also in a unique position right now, since he finally does have a little bit of leverage. Do you think he'd ever actually play as dirty as everyone else?
Ruck: If we see Connor continue to be snubbed in the way he's been snubbed, if he's really going to try to pursue this dream of high office, he's going to do whatever it takes. That's up to [creator] Jesse Armstrong to decide how that manifests. But absolutely, I think you can only kick the dog so many times before he turns around and bites you.
I love any glimpse we get into Connor and Willa's (Justine Lupe) life together. How do you think those two would fare on the campaign trail if it actually came down to it? How do you think Connor would fare in general?
Ruck: That remains to be seen. I don't know. It could be that he's so delusional that it never occurs to him to be scared, or that failure is a possibility. It depends how deep his mania goes. I think what's interesting is I'm sure if this did come to pass that if [Connor and Willa] should go on the campaign trail, certainly, the opposition is going to dig up dirt on Willa. I actually think Connor would handle that well, because I think he'd say, "She's a person with the past, should we spill all of your secrets?" I think he would be very supportive of her, and that would help him. There's a lot of people who would respond to that.
You mentioned a few things about Connor's backstory. Are there any other details about his past that you hope eventually make it into the show?
Ruck: Well, I came up with some goofy ideas, because there have been some things that occurred to me where I was like, "Connor would have loved this." When I went away to college at the University of Illinois, there was a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. These young guys and women would dress up as medieval lords and ladies, people from the early Renaissance, and they would try to speak in archaic English, and make swords out of bamboo. They would dress up and they would have battles and stuff, and they would try to eat whatever the dishes were. It was like time warp immersion. I thought Connor would have fallen right into that circle. So I don't know if that could be a scene in Succession. He's like, "I just saw my friends from college, we were in the Society for Creative Anachronism together." Maybe that's all it would be.
There's been a lot of debate online this season about the morality of these characters and whether or not we're actually supposed to be rooting for them. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on that.
Ruck: Actually, when the show premiered, a lot of critics voiced that. They were sort of dismayed. They were like, "There's nobody for me to root for!" I've said that before, if we were making a movie about the Nazis, hopefully nobody would be rooting for anybody. So I've never had that problem ever, watching anything. If the characters are interesting, the story is interesting, I don't care if they're all horrible. And if we should all meet horrible ends, hopefully everybody's going to be okay with that. They're awful people. They're the worst.
I have to sympathize with Connor, you've got to find something about the person you're playing that you love. Or maybe not love — I mean, if you're playing a serial killer, maybe not love, but you have to have some compassion for some aspect of the character. So Connor, of course. But no, they're all horrible.
Succession is available to stream on HBO Max, with new episodes airing Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.