Spoiler alert: Details on “Succession” ahead.
Brian Cox, who played the force-of-nature-and-not-in-a-good-way media mogul Logan Roy on “Succession,’’ has relatively little to say about the landmark HBO series in his memoir, “Putting the Rabbit in the Hat.”
Instead, Cox focuses largely on the way he built his career as a leading man on the London stage and then as a character actor in Hollywood, frequently pausing to dissect and explicate the craft of acting in illuminating ways.
A testament to how expertly Cox puts that craft into action comes in the book’s foreword, written by executive producer Frank Rich. Formerly a powerful theater critic for The New York Times, Rich knows a thing or two about performance, but even he strikes a tone of awe as he describes what he calls “a landmark in my lifetime of watching actors at work, whether on stage, on screen, or on set.”
What Rich is talking about are the nuts and bolts of the show’s much-talked-about season 2 finale, particularly the expression on Cox’s face at the end.
Another spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen that finale but intend to, stop reading this item right now.
OK, here’s the scene. It’s the spring of 2019, and the “Succession” cast is on a yacht in Croatia. The ruthless Logan has decided to pin the blame on his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) for the long history of terrible crimes perpetrated on Waystar-Royco’s cruise lines and the subsequent coverups.
Kendall agrees to be the fall guy and the scapegoat — or seems to agree — and heads to New York for a news conference where he will ‘fess up to the world on live TV. But as the cameras roll Kendall executes a stunning turnabout, denouncing his father and accusing him of knowing about the wrongdoing and involvement in the steps taken to cover it up.
As Logan watches his son, a small, intriguing expression — somewhere between a smile and a smirk — makes its way onto Cox’s face.
Here’s Rich’s description: “We shot the scene first thing on a sunny morning. The television screen Brian was watching was blank, since the press conference itself would not be shot until the following week in New York. So Kendall’s diatribe was not acted by Jeremy but instead read by a young female production assistant crouched a few feet away from where Brian was seated.
“I was also a few feet away from Brian. His performance could not have been more different from those I’d seen him give on stage. He had no dialogue. His assignment was simply to listen. Not that there was anything simple about the delicate interplay of emotions the camera captured in close-up.”
Yep. Cox’s expression became the most talked about smile since the Mona Lisa. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, I do not know how actors do what they do.