Succession’s Jesse Armstrong wrote a screenplay about Rupert Murdoch’s family

David Brown chats to Jesse Armstrong and Brian Cox ahead of the BAFTAs.

Jesse Armstrong (Getty)

This interview is part of our BAFTA 2020 special for more interviews visit The Big Interview hub.

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Coronavirus may have halted work on the new series of Succession, but star Brian Cox has devised a neat way to incorporate the pandemic into the season-three plotlines. “Logan could be handed a mask, just look at the person giving it to him and then tell them to f*** off,” he says, down the line from upstate New York (where he rushed off to straight after the RT photoshoot, before lockdown was enforced). “That could be the COVID crisis dealt with for the whole season.”

It would be in keeping for the tyrannical media mogul Logan Roy, who leads the cast in this year’s most critically acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated drama (in the international category), as well as earning Jesse Armstrong a nod for best writer: drama. But it could all have been so different for Logan. “At one point, I did think he might expire at the end of the first season or even the first episode,” reveals Armstrong. “Though this all changed before we committed ideas to paper. And once I saw Brian, I realised how big a weight he is at the centre of our solar system. He’s great to write for.”

Brian Cox by Mark Harrison
Jesse Armstrong and Brian Cox (Mark Harrison)

When asked previously about the inspiration for the Roys and their media empire, Waystar Royco, Armstrong has always distanced his creations from comparisons to the real-life Murdochs. But he admits now that those ties are closer than we’ve been led to believe.

“They’re fictional creations who’ve come out of a ton of reading and research. I’d written a screenplay about Rupert Murdoch’s family and it never got made. And it got me interested in the similarities between all these guys — Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black — who are passing from their position of predominance as tech takes over. But, also, how cable news and newspapers are still shaping our political climate.”

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Two things Armstrong won’t be drawn on, though, are when the cast will be back before the cameras or how COVID-19 will actually be handled. “We’ve carried on writing during the lockdown,” he says. “And we hope to start filming in the not-too-distant future, but it’s still up in the air. As for coronavirus, there are things to think about, in terms of how we deal or don’t deal with it. But I’m not going to get into it in public.”

Cox is happy to “live in a state of ignorance” until his scripts arrive, trusting the writers to keep the character as exciting as ever. “He’s a much more interesting character than, say, Donald Trump,” the actor explains. “Trump is a bad part because the man has got no dimension. He’s a nitwit. A dumbass. The man’s a congenital idiot. If someone asked me to play Trump, I’d say no. Logan Roy, on the other hand, is a great part. And it’s true what they say, the devil does get the best tunes.”

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