Jeremy Strong: ‘My mother always felt like going to Yale ruined me’

Jeremy Strong covers the March issue of GQ, mostly to promote the new season of Succession. I came to Succession later than most and it’s honestly one of my favorite shows now. It’s crazy to me that it’s still classified as a comedy – while there are some funny parts, there are also some really dark, dramatic parts, and they mostly involve Jeremy’s character Kendall Roy. That’s what Strong brings to Kendall and Succession: depth, pathos, a full-fledged and deeply flawed man, a man-child struggling with addiction and his father’s neglect, and a man continuing that cycle of neglect with his own kids. Strong takes the role seriously, some would say too seriously. Strong addresses that with GQ, the New Yorker piece from 2021 which made him sound like a fart-sniffing artiste who can’t separate a character from real life. Some highlights (the whole piece is worth a read):

When Succession ends: “It will feel like a death, in a way,” he says. He looks at his peers, who have filmed five, six, seven projects while he was in the Succession trenches. He envies “that freedom to just shoot yourself out of some different cannons. Sometimes Kendall feels like the same cannon over and over again.”

He has no idea where he’ll go from here: “When I was younger, I saw the future in the crosshairs. I don’t feel that anymore. There is a feeling of ‘Now what?’ that I don’t have the answer to…. I mean, it’s kind of like…f–k Brooklyn.”

Kendall’s Season 3 manic high. “I thought about Kanye. I felt like my task [in that 40th-birthday episode] was to really try and retrieve a sense, for Kendall, of a lost childhood that he really never had. There were some talismanic things: my childhood blanket, a stuffed animal that I had when I was a kid. There was a Mark Strand poem called ‘Where Are the Waters of Childhood?’ that I read a lot. You get in touch with that emptiness. You get in touch with searing regrets. I have three young children right now, and I’m at work almost all the time. That’s something that Kendall, in a way, is experiencing.”

Is Season 4 the end of Succession? “I have a broad-strokes sense of things. But this season, I didn’t want to know more. What I can say is I’m on the rack…. I feel a sense of really wanting to, now that we’re at the one-yard line, finish this season and possibly the show, in a way that delivers a real payload of what this journey has been. I still hope that there are rungs on the ladder that are redemptive for Kendall.”

He quotes a lot of people, he went to Yale. “Maybe the quoting is just a part of an armor. I don’t come from a very highly cultured, highly educated…I come from a family that has a lot of emotional intelligence and presence and empathy. But when I went to Yale, I felt like I had a lot to compensate for, and part of it was probably a way to cope and a way to feel a sense of belonging in that environment. My mother always felt like going to Yale ruined me. In the sense that she saw me become very turned inward and more depressive, or less free…. People used to tell me that I smiled too much, which is maybe hard for people to believe when they know me now.”

His first movie role in ‘Humboldt County’: “And no one saw that movie,. I was very used to, for years and years and years, doing work and used to it not being seen or recognized. And while that was hard, I was at peace with that…. No, that’s a lie. I was dissatisfied. There’s something about peer recognition that has always been important to me. Although the older I get, I try to cultivate a place of trying to not give a f–k what anybody thinks.”

The 2021 New Yorker profile: “[It was] 15 minutes of shame, with a long tail.” The fact that the writer went to Yale, too, brought him right back to his college days. “I hadn’t felt judged like that in a very long time…. [The shameful part is] The shadow is the part of ourselves that we don’t want to share with the world and we want to disavow. The part of me that is striving. The part of me that wants what I want. I was less bothered by other actors having feelings or opinions about the way I work. Really, it was just feeling exposed.”

He was never mad at his costars: “Everyone’s entitled to have their feelings. I also think Brian Cox, for example, he’s earned the right to say whatever the f–k he wants. There was no need to address that or do damage control…. I feel a lot of love for my siblings and my father on the show. And it is like a family in the sense that, and I’m sure they would say this, too, you don’t always like the people that you love. I do always respect them.”

The future of his career, being a father of three daughters: “I don’t feel that same fire. I guess I’m waiting for things that will come along that will rekindle that because I know it’s in me, but it feels more dormant now than it used to… I don’t know if I formulated that consciously. I don’t know if I would’ve been ready to have a family if I felt in that place of famine that I had felt that I was in—and not fulfilled at all artistically. And now, of course, I would do anything for them. It’s the one thing I feel like I’ve done right in my life is have these beautiful children, these three girls that I have. Work was a center, but it’s not quite a real center. I don’t think I knew that until I had children. Work is a very exciting, fraught perimeter to go to now.”

[From GQ]

Basically, everyone criticized him after the New Yorker profile because he was such a hardcore Method actor who took his craft seriously. And he was affected by that criticism because he’s also pretty sensitive and he wants his peers to respect him and like him. A working class guy from Boston goes to Yale, works super-hard and really only becomes a household-name actor in his late 30s/40s, kind of eccentric, kind of pretentious, but striving and trying. I don’t know – he seems interesting to me? I’d rather read about him than, say, any comic-book movie actor talking about his workouts.

Cover & IG courtesy of GQ.

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