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<i>Succession’</i>s Nicholas Braun reveals his trick to getting into Cousin Greg’s skin

Succession’s Nicholas Braun reveals his trick to getting into Cousin Greg’s skin

Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: Zach Dilgard/HBO, Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie

Nicholas Braun has officially joined the ranks of child actors who seamlessly transitioned to adult actor without so much as a pause in his career. From youthful roles in movies like Sky High to recent turns in films like How To Be Single and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Braun has consistently turned in solid work. And that work seems to be getting better every year, as evidenced by his latest performance: The actor just received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series for portraying Greg Hirsch, a.k.a. Cousin Greg (or Greg The Egg, if you prefer), in the second season of HBO’s Succession.

When The A.V. Club spoke to Braun, he was staying at a remote farm up in Vermont, and had just spent the morning hanging out with some sheep and assorted animals, sounding very zen about the whole thing. But he took some time to discuss his breakout role, the tricks he uses to get into the mindset of his awkward alter ego, and how he plans to threaten costar Kieran Culkin, also nominated in the same category, if Culkin should win the award.

The A.V. Club: First of all, congratulations on the Emmy nomination.

Nicholas Braun: Thank you. I was just talking to Jeremy—Jeremy Strong [who plays Kendall Roy]—and we were, like, this is so cool and so momentous. He was like, “Should we dress up? Are you going to wear a tux?” I said, “Hell yeah, I’m wearing a tux. I’m going to look as fancy as I can look.” Even though it’s not a real, full ceremony this year, I think we just got to do it up. It’s a great thing, so crazy.

AVC: You’ve spoken about how you’ve tried to put a lot of yourself into the character of Cousin Greg to make him feel very real and lived-in. As he evolved from season one to season two, what do you find are the parts of yourself that you ended up putting more of into him as he grew as a character?

NB: Season one, I was really looking to just give him an energy that feels so, like, uncarved. He’s sort of a blob, he’s not wearing clothes that fit him well. The shape of him is just unclear, like he’s kind of a blur. Then, that gets a little bit clearer as the season goes on. There’s more maybe resentment building for Tom, some signs of the discomfort of things, and everything’s still really exciting. And then season two, a little bit of the allure—the luster of being in the Roy family starts to wear off—so I wanted him to have some more of that. You know, he’s settling in, things aren’t as shocking, he’s losing a bit of his naïveté. He’s become a bit more jaded, which leaves room for him to be a bit more decisive. But I just didn’t want it to happen too quickly.

This is all in concert with Jesse [Armstrong, Succession showrunner]—I’m not trying to do anything the script’s not allowing for. But Jesse was really trying to build in this arc of Greg growing a bit more into a gentleman, you know, a guy that can really have some weight in a room. More than just an onlooker.

AVC: And as he’s gained confidence in being part of this world and this family—even when his words and deeds are sort of backfiring on him—he’s less of a shrinking violet. Are you finding new challenges in playing a more confident Greg?

NB: Well, I think it’s probably a little bit easier to shrink. I know how to do that and it was fun to do, but I guess I’m thinking of the Greg/Sprinkles moment in the finale; that’s probably a moment where he would normally shrink, but he actually volunteers Roman up, and he snaps back a little bit. And so that’s kind of fun to rewire him a little bit in that sense. There’s also the moment after Tom blows the congressional hearing and Greg kind of storms in. When I was thinking about that scene, I didn’t want to enter the room hiding or thinking internally about it. I wanted to give myself permission to be outward, you know? If I had to throw my binder, or if I had to just take up space in the room, I think that’s a fun place for Greg to grow. For him to fill more of a room, you know?

Normally he blends—at least, early on he’s the guy who blends into the curtains a bit. And the Greg that’s growing, I think, should feel more permission to just take up space. Yeah. It doesn’t feel like a challenge. It feels exciting as I’m playing the same guy with some of the same fundamentals, to try and build in some of these things and grow some confidence. It feels a bit more outward. Because he can be really internal and a lot can be happening inside of him—things he’s wishing he could do. But, as the season drew on, I could be a bit more external.

AVC: It seems like the challenge then would be to maintain that sort of fundamental awkwardness about him, because that must get tougher the longer you inhabit a character and the longer you get to know your co-stars and develop a comfort level. And Greg has this sort of innate inability to be comfortable.

NB: Yeah, I know. I mean, it is innate. It is a part of Greg, to be… he’s not cool. [Laughs.] He doesn’t shove down feelings easily. And it’s kind of the joy of playing him, too, is that he wears it—a lot more than the rest of the family—on his sleeve. So I don’t want to get rid of that part, because it’s so fun to get permission to, you know, whatever arbitrary feeling comes up, I don’t have to crush it. So I don’t know how it will be once we go back into season three—and, you know, we’ve been doing this now a few years—but I think that that’s just a part of Greg, and that’s what makes him such a different texture in the family.

AVC: Greg can sometimes function as the audience surrogate, because he’s the only main character who’s still sort of looking in on this incredibly wealthy family from the outside to a degree. As the one who plays him, are there other Roy family members that occasionally function in that way for you? Ones that you can see yourself more in or relate to more than some of the others?

NB: Hm. I feel like I have some Kendall in me. He kind of burdens himself with his own ambition. He wants so much from himself, he holds himself to such a high standard. It’s this equal mix of insecurity and crazy ambition. I don’t know, I recognize a lot of that and it generally just leads to what looks like exhausted depression or something. That’s kind of how it comes out, but I think it’s because these two things are battling each other inside of Kendall all the time. You know, when he goes in for the hug with his sister—I forget what episode that is—that was just such a heartbreaking moment for me. It’s a moment of relaxation. I look at Kendall and I just want him to find that peace [Laughs.] sometimes, because it’s just constantly so heavy. So heavy.

AVC: At this point, having lived with him for a couple years, are there certain mannerisms or little movements or things that you use to help you get into Greg’s skin?

NB: Yeah, definitely. That’s cool to think about. Because there’s a thing I—[Laughs.] Oh, man. There’s a thing I do kind of with my eyebrows and a sort of flicker in my face that sometimes puts me into his mind. And then sometimes if I want to create a sort of busyness in my brain as Greg, I’ll just start counting and count the same set of numbers over and over again. To get my mind to obsess over something, you know? Because I think that’s a little part of him—he’s an overthinker sometimes, so if I need to just get busy, I’ll start running numbers. Or start flicking my eyes from person to person and just try to stimulate a lot of thoughts. And there’s a little posture change, kind of hunching or looming; leading with my face and my ears, to sort of be a listener. Stuff like that.

And then the clothes are really helpful, too. Creating the sort of feel of the clothes—usually with the suits, they create these long, tapered legs, so I kind of feel like I’m on stilts or something sometimes with the dress shoes and everything.

AVC: It does seem like there’s a real sense—especially when you’re entering a world that’s unfamiliar to you as an everyday person—it’s almost like, for Greg, he’s putting on a costume in the same way that you are, as he’s trying to access this world.

NB: Totally. And the costume’s been really fun, because you start with him—I think there’s an eagerness and a sweetness to the suits and the clothes that he wears, at least through season two. But then we sort of started to try to move him into maybe more dark colors, or ties that are a little less fun or cheap-looking. Yeah, he’s definitely trying—there’s a bit of effort, there’s a trying-ness in the suits that he wears and everything. But I feel like once the congressional hearings started, some of those suits felt more solid. And then, like—a little thing, but the haircut, it changes the shape. Suddenly I’m not so awkward.

AVC: Is the cast keeping in touch during quarantine? Zoom game nights or anything?

NB: We’ve been in touch, not much in big groups, but texting. I Facetime with [Sarah] Snook a bunch. I keep in touch with Jeremy. The producers have organized a couple of big group Zoom hangouts, like with the cast, crew, writers, and stuff, and those were great; it’s really good to see people’s faces that you’ve missed.

AVC: You’re up against both Kieran Culkin [Roman] and Matthew MacFadyen [Tom] in your Emmy category. Have you guys spoken to each about it? Are you taking bets? 

NB: I spoke to Kieran yesterday. I think he, and I, and Jeremy will all be in New York that day, so maybe after the ceremony we can all meet up and share a bottle of champagne—or rather, NOT share [Laughs.], but maybe enjoy a drink together. Kieran’s been pretty public about the fact that he’s going to punch me in the balls if I win, so if it happens, I will gladly accept that.

AVC: Have you threatened him in return?

NB: No, I haven’t yet! I guess I should. He’s a big wrestling fan, so maybe a bodyslam would be the right move. [Laughs.] A good bodyslam for Kieran if he wins—pick him up and slam him onto, uh, a soft piece of pavement.

AVC: Have there been talks about a timetable for resuming production?

NB: Yeah. It’s going to happen. I mean, there will be a bunch of protocols in place, and I think the set will probably look very different this year than in seasons past, but I think we’re all pretty ready to get back to it. I’m excited to start making it again.

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.