[Editor’s Note: The following story contains major spoilers for the series finale of “Succession.”]
Jeremy Strong almost dove into the Hudson River for the sake of playing Kendall Roy.
During the shocking “Succession” series finale, Kendall (Strong) is shown sitting in Battery Park facing the water after his sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) voted against him taking over as CEO, and subsequently agreeing to the sale of their family legacy conglomerate. Strong shared in a “Succession” exit interview with Vanity Fair that he was inspired by creator Jesse Armstrong’s admiration for poet John Berryman, who died by jumping into a frozen river.
“I tried to go into the water after we cut — I got up from that bench and went as fast as I could over the barrier and onto the pilings, and the actor playing [bodyguard] Colin (Scott Nicholson) raced over,” Strong told Vanity Fair. “I didn’t know I was gonna do that, and he didn’t know, but he raced over and stopped me. I don’t know whether in that moment I felt that Kendall just wanted to die — I think he did — or if he wanted to be saved by essentially a proxy of his father.”
He added, “To me, what happens at the board vote is an extinction level event for this character. There’s no coming back from that.”
The series instead ends with Kendall solemnly looking out over the water at sunset, subverting the motif of Kendall diving in the ocean during his previous successes at the Los Angeles Living+ presentation and in Barbados after his siblings agreed to anoint him the new “king” of Waystar Royco.
“It’s a much stronger ending philosophically, and has more integrity to what Jesse’s overall very bleak vision is of mankind — which is that fundamentally, people don’t really change,” Strong said. “They don’t do the spectacular, dramatic thing. Instead, there’s a kind of doom loop that we’re all stuck in, and Kendall is trapped in this sort of silent scream with Colin there as both a bodyguard and a jailer.”
Strong added if the suicide scene were to be shot, “My God, it would’ve been hard to do.But I think you even feel on a cellular level the intention or the longing to cross that threshold. The way [series creator Jesse Armstrong] leaves us with a kind of ambivalence stays true to his vision.”
Series finale director Mark Mylod told Variety that Strong was “just in the zone” during the final scene, making the “gravitational pull of the water on the character” evident.
“We reveal that Colin is behind him in this Banquo’s Ghost element, though I think that’s my allusion, not the script,” Mylod said. “Jeremy was certainly very keen to get down to the water’s edge. So we moved our action down there and then we hit what was, to me, a golden theme. We ran a 10-minute take with a 1,000 foot roll of film and just kept shooting. It was crazy cold — it was literally the coldest day of the year. The windchill was minus-something in Fahrenheit, and it was absolute purgatory to shoot. Jeremy initially was feeling nothing but cold.”
As for the would-be final scene, Mylod said, “There was a safety element, obviously, with Jeremy going into frigid water. The first thing to do was actually make sure he was safe. Once we got him back over the railing, we were able to safely continue with the moment because both actors were still in it.”