‘Succession’ Director Says Episode 8 Serves as ‘Great Foil’ to Fox News’ Partnership With Republicans
Sunday’s episode of “Succession,” titled “America Decides,” saw the Roy siblings squabble with one another and put their thumb on the scale in ATN’s first election night coverage since the shocking death of Logan (Brian Cox).
The latest chapter’s high stakes were reminiscent of real-life election coverage in recent cycles, which director Andrij Parekh told TheWrap did serve as an inspiration for the episode. He also broke down some of the standout moments – from Shiv’s shocking pregnancy reveal to Tom to the chaotic wasabi and lemon La Croix moment.
Check out TheWrap’s full conversation with Parekh below.
‘Succession’ Season 4, Episode 8 Recap: ‘America Decides’
How does Succession’s election night compare to what we’ve seen in the U.S.?
So interestingly, I think before our first day of shooting in 2016, there was an election party at Adam McKay’s apartment. Jesse was there, I was there. I think a couple of actors were there. But “Succession” was brand new. We had just finished prep, we were about to start shooting and then the election comes along and Adam was getting these texts sort of 15 to 20 minutes before things would come on the TV. So sort of like an eyewitness in how news in America works and I think that plays very much into what happens in this episode. You have a sort of unique angle.
I think what “Succession” has done interestingly, maybe, the most pronounced is tying the news and politics together in an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back’ sort of way. Jesse did it in the episode I directed last year, which was about choosing the president where Mencken is sort of brought forth, brings him a coke and is thereby christened the president by Logan Roy. And it was I think very much based on real events and based on the Trump election. But I would love to say that I think that Trump winning [the 2016] election just helped propel “Succession” in a way that may have not if Hillary [Clinton] won. “Succession” was a great foil to Republicans’ and Fox News’ partnership.
How did you approach crafting Sunday’s episode “America Decides?” What were the biggest challenges for you in bringing these episodes from the page to the screen?
The biggest challenge is that there’s an entire world of an episode inside the episode. All the things that you see on the screens had to be shot, there’s no blue screen at all. So everything was prepared ahead of time for actors to react to. So there was the whole world-building of ATN and the other networks, PGN that had to be sort of mapped out.
We had to figure out what we needed and “Succession” is shot in a very, I would say, documentary way. So you wanna have a lot of freedom and not get boxed into a 30-second clip where you can point the camera at and then have to pan off. So there was a lot of overlap that had to be done in terms of the storytelling. So that was the biggest challenge. And then we shot in CNBC over the weekends and at nights so that was another challenge of having to be there on a live location and get all the material, fit it all in the box and the box was very small and quite tight. The words are always amazing, right? The scripts are always incredible and they may come in a little bit late, but then you forgive them immediately because they’re so good. In Jesse [Armstrong] we trust is the mantra.
All the scenes between Roman, Kendall and Shiv as they’re deliberating what to do in episode 8 are incredibly emotionally charged and lengthy. What was your experience like blocking, shaping and putting those scenes together?
I think what’s interesting in this episode is that for Roman, his objective is the most clear. I think it’s the first time that we’re seeing a Roman who is assertive, confident, knows what he’s doing, doesn’t feel like he’s second or third wheel, is basically carrying his father’s torch.
For Kendall, he’s able to sort of tragically compartmentalize. He knows what electing Mencken is going to do for the country. He sees that in his daughter and his wife, but yet he understands that Mencken is good for business. So he somehow in his mind excuses it.
And then Shiv is obviously for Jimenez, but then she’s also compromised by her relationship with Matsson. So Shiv and Kendall I feel are struggling with the kind of moral dilemma a little bit more than Roman and this episode for me was really interesting to see Roman sort of just take off and coming into his own.
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There are a ton of standout moments in this episode, one of which is Shiv drops the baby bomb on Tom to tragic and upsetting results. How did you approach that moment and what did you think of how Shiv went about finally sharing the news?
What I love is just how it’s come off the tail of their election night party where they’ve said things to each other that I don’t think any couple can sort of recover from. I just love how it was delivered in a totally matter-of-fact sort of way. And Tom’s reaction makes me crack up every time. He sort of can’t believe it, doesn’t want to believe it, wants to believe it and there’s like 17 things going on in Tom’s mind at that moment and you see it in his response. It’s one of my favorite scenes that we shot. It’s such a small moment but it just speaks to where they are as a married couple at the moment.
How did you approach staging for the scene where wasabi and lemon La Croix is poured in Darren’s eyes? Was the wasabi and lemon La Croix always written in the script?
There was a bit of finding it on set, just making sure the mechanics worked, making it feel real that it could happen. It was really about just setting it up in a really subtle way and then it’s a pretty ridiculous scene. But just kind of managing it so that it doesn’t become totally over the top.
I love Roman’s reaction of just watching it and he’s like, ‘Oh my, you guys are such f-ing idiots’ and you see that the moment that this election has been called is because this guy has wasabi in his eye and can’t protest. It’s just such a great moment in the episode. It’s Jesse’s writing finding the comedy and the total tragedy.
It was just originally like a soda water and then the props department had all these La Croix and I think La Croix is kind of funny anyway. And then Greg just sort of thinking he’s doing the right thing but doing absolutely the wrong thing, Tom lambasting him, Shiv arriving and seeing this ridiculous scene and Roman just wants to get the go-ahead to call it for Mencken. So everyone’s got these different things going on in the scene. It’s just such a wonderful actors moment in “Succession”
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What has it been like to be in the director’s chair during the final season of one of the biggest TV shows of all time?
It’s intense for sure. It’s been a really beautiful trajectory from being the cinematographer on the pilot with Adam McKay and then I was allowed to direct on Season 1. I try not to think about what it is beyond the show that we’re making. So just keeping the head down and just doing the work we’re supposed to be doing.
What are your favorite moments and memories from working the show?
There was a hilarious moment in the pilot where I was operating the camera and there was a 10-minute take and I didn’t roll the camera and we’re shooting on film. So you hear the camera but I was just so engrossed at the performance and I remember telling Adam, “The great news was that was a great take one, the bad news was for camera A it was just a rehearsal.”
It’s been such an amazing experience. I’m always just happy they’ve asked me back each season. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. I’m proud that it became its own unique thing in the way that it was shot, in the way that actors would love to come work on the show, in the way that we became a real family.
It sort of warms the heart or the soul when you feel like you’re making something really good and really important that will hopefully have legs in the future and people will look back at it as something amazing.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from working on the show? What are you going to miss the most about working on “Succession”?
I think what’s amazing about the show is the freedom that we gave the actors on sets to basically do kind of anything. One of the hard and fast rules I had as a cinematographer was never to give marks to the actors. When there were new operators, I would tell them always try to tell the whole story of the scene with your camera, imagine there’s no cuts, and give a lot of freedom for people to sort of improvise. You give people room for their own instincts to make the show work. You have to be in it at every moment. We had two amazing camera operators with Gregor [Tavenner] and Ethan [Borsuk] this season and they would always find these amazing moments and actors never really knew where the camera was and that sort of forced all of them to be in it.
One of the great bullets would always be when the day player or a new actor would come onto set and they would be halfway through a scene and be like “When is my close up?” And normally the answer was “We’ve already shot it.” To have an environment where everyone was giving their all and in the moment was something quite remarkable. And I hope that feeling, that style of filmmaking will continue. I think it’s much more interesting than what is standard television coverage where everyone gets their medium close up, close up over the shoulder and it becomes very formulaic and it’s basically driven out of fear of having the material as opposed to knowing what the scene is about, strategizing of how to efficiently get it as quickly as possible, not burning out the actors but still getting amazing performances. It’s a different approach. We were shooting nine and 10-hour days on “Succession.” Other shows shoot 15 and I’ll take our eight or nine hours of excellence over the 15 hours any day. The experience has just been incredible and I think all of us hold “Succession” very dear to our hearts.
“Succession” airs on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday nights.
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