I asked Rich for one of his favorite moments working on the show.
“There are many, many, many,” he began, “but one incredible moment was the end of season two, when Kendall gives his press conference in New York excoriating his father. The end of that episode, you see Logan, with a couple of the siblings, on a yacht in Croatia, watching Kendall give that press conference on a television set. The press conference had not been shot yet. It would be shot in downtown New York a week or two later. So he’s watching it on a green screen, because there’s no image, no video yet, of Jeremy Strong doing that scene. A young woman production assistant is reading Kendall’s lines, maybe three yards out of view. I’m watching Brian [Cox]”—the actor and Royal Shakespeare Company veteran who plays Logan Roy—“and I’m also that close to Brian, behind the camera, looking into the monitor.”
“I’m watching his face, and I’m watching him react to Logan’s son betraying him,” Rich continued. “He has no dialogue. He is just reacting. And he’s not even reacting to the actual bit, he’s reacting to someone just reading it flat, and it’s so powerful. And I think, How fucking lucky am I, as someone who’s spent his entire life loving the theater, loving actors, loving this kind of drama, to be a stone’s throw from this scene on a yacht in Croatia? As someone who spent their life treasuring this kind of work, this kind of acting, this kind of writing, what a great thing to have a front-row seat to.”
In journalism, you do a piece and it appears in the newspaper the next day, or in the magazine in a few months. In the entertainment business, half the things you work on never see the light of day, and when they do, the wheels of Hollywood grind slowly. But for Rich, when it comes to actually being on set, there’s something about the experience that feels in sync with his earlier career. “You walk onto a soundstage, and it’s very much like a newsroom,” he said. “It could be a hundred people, brilliant people, prima donnas, people who are not so brilliant, people of all ages, ethnicities, races, and people with very different skills, from acting, to being a camera operator, to being a script coordinator, to being a makeup artist, writers, whatever—and you’re working against a very tight deadline where, at a certain point, the train has to leave the station.”
Succession’s “newsroom,” to borrow Rich’s metaphor, has been conquering deadlines since the series first got rolling at the end of 2016. “It has exceeded everybody’s expectations,” said Rich. “Anything that becomes a phenomenon, you can’t predict it. It’s a mystery. It’s like being struck by lightning.”
He told me the cast and crew had for some time sensed that season four would be Succession’s last. But Armstrong only made it official “literally weeks ago,” said Rich, when they were doing the “table read” for the final episode of season four. Armstrong broke the news publicly in a February 23 New Yorker interview. “One misconception,” Rich continued, “is that people said, ‘Oh, well once you decided [the show was ending], you had to change the ending of the season.’ That’s not how the show works. The ending didn’t change.”
Rich’s demanding Hollywood schedule has put his journalistic life on hold. The last piece he wrote for New York magazine was published on January 7, 2021. (“What Will Happen to the Trump Toadies?”) Is journalism behind him? “It would take extraordinary circumstances for me to want to write political pieces anymore,” Rich said. “I feel like I’ve said what I had to say. Might I do other magazine pieces? Yes, in fact I’ve talked to David Haskell”—the editor who succeeded Moss at New York—“about what I might do during my summer break.”
Barney Greengrass was getting crowded and our table appeared to be in demand. I proposed wrapping up with a quick lightning round:
What will Rich miss the most?
“I’ll work with many of the people on the show again, but all of us being together on a show again is highly unlikely, you know? So you miss that.”
Could he tell me anything about season four?
Thoughts on the Fox-Dominion revelations, as someone who was writing critically about Fox News 20 years ago?
“What’s surprising is that it’s all coming out, because we all knew it. I have no idea what a jury’s gonna make of it. There are all sorts of First Amendment issues. But it’s fun to watch.”
Last one: Semafor recently asked Rupert Murdoch what he thinks of Succession. Murdoch replied, “Never watched it.” Does Rich believe him?
“No, I don’t believe it,” said Rich. “But on the other hand, I don’t care.”