Nicholas Braun (‘Succession’) on how Cousin Greg is a ‘shapeshifter’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Nicholas Braun just earned his first Emmy nomination this year for playing fan favorite Cousin Greg on the HBO drama series “Succession.” He is nominated alongside his castmates Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen in the Drama Supporting Actor category.

Braun spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria before the nominations about how much Greg has changed over the course of two seasons, how his character is starting to attain power and why he thinks “Succession” has become so popular. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Nicholas, Cousin Greg orbits the inner circle of the Roy clan as an outsider, but he’s slowly becoming one of them. How do you think that progression has gone over the last two seasons? 

Nicholas Braun: Yeah, I think Greg started out a clueless spectator, just desperate to get inside however he could, didn’t know what his purpose would be, didn’t know how he would be used. But I think his ambition is what keeps him pushing forward, trying to figure out who to pair up with, who to use, how do other people play their cards in this family and how can I do the same? So it’s been a really interesting growth for Greg. I think he’s collecting a lot of information and collecting some leverage and by the end of Season 2, it seems like he’s starting to know how to wield it. 

GD: Yeah, I mean, if you think back, he started out as basically a kid with no money in a car and now he’s so much more switched on. He’s always been ambitious, but I just feel like he is almost like a different guy. Do you feel that way when you’re playing him? Have you played him differently towards the end of Season 2 as opposed to Season 1? 

NB: Yeah, I have. I think there was more embarrassment earlier on to be in the room and just sort of feel like, “I don’t know what to say.” There was a tightness maybe about him in the way that I held myself in trying to play him, and as time goes on, I think in the D.C. episodes and even just earlier moments, he’s starting to get a bit more of a spine and so, to have him standing a little bit more confidently and to feel like his wardrobe is a little less ratty and cheap and that he’s actually trying to find a personal style a bit, he gets a haircut, it’s like those little things, those little physical changes kind of signify there’s growing, that there’s growth in him and that he’s starting to feel a bit more like an actual person as opposed to some sort of blob of a guy that’s just around. Not that he’s a blob, but he couldn’t really assert himself in a room. So now I think he’s starting to figure out how he can do that in a Greg way. 

GD: Yeah, I think a really great moment, for example, is Episode 4 where Greg is basically blackmailing Tom, but he’s so nice and he’s so unthreatening, but he just mentions in the way that you are able to do it, “I’ve got leverage against you,” and he says it really contritely, like, “You know, I’ve got a few documents that I’ve saved.” What were you trying to get out of that scene? Because it was really interesting that he’s quite astute, but yet, he comes across so unthreatening. 

NB: I think that that scene was written really well because it had a lot of dynamics to it. For Greg to make a move like that, just the behavior of that is a really big move against Tom. But Greg is always kind of covering himself, in a way. So it’s like, if he can do something that’s really advantageous and aggressive by nature but he can deliver it in a sort of clueless, questioning if this is the right thing way, that it kind of softens it. And I think that that’s become a bit of a Greg trait is doing something ambitious, going for something that’s maybe a little bit too much but if he does it with a question mark, maybe he can backpedal. Maybe he can be forgiven. 

GD: I love how you say that because I always wondered, the way that it’s written, the way you’re performing it when you’re talking this through with Jesse Armstrong, is that intentional or is that just the way he is? Is he actually a brutally ambitious person underneath or is he just trying to keep up? What do you think? 

NB: I think he is ambitious, I think when we meet Greg in the first season in the pilot, we’re meeting a guy who has not ever really been challenged or ever been activated to do anything in his life. You’re meeting a character at the moment where they’re sort of given permission to try to be something for the first time in their life. So I think I play him with a streak of ambition and he wants the success. He wants the money. I think the allure of power has a strong draw for him. So yeah, I think that is in there. But he is also clueless and he has no business background. He has none of this business savvy. 

GD: And what I love about him as well is he’s really childlike and innocent. Episode 2 is when he’s jumping around that apartment that Kendall gets for him after being in another apartment where he could barely stand ‘cause you’re so tall and there’s Episode 9, “D.C.”, which you mentioned, he’s a nervous wreck answering questions. And he looks ridiculous and out of place. I love that about him. Do you? Talk us through the childlike nature and how fun that is. 

NB: I love that part of Greg. That is one of the most fun elements of him. In a world where nobody shows their true feelings, nobody lets pure joy ever come out, no one ever is like, “This is so fun!” A Roy would never say that. But Greg, because he just doesn’t come directly from this family, I guess you could say his grandpa Ewan would probably be one to shut down any of that kind of excitement, but I just don’t think he comes from that. So he enters the world. He just has this streak of innocence and excitement, he just doesn’t have that mechanism to shut down true feelings. When he hugs somebody, he really hugs Kendall sometimes and it’s a feel-good moment. It’s not robotic. So I think that’s such an important element to Greg and kind of an important element to the show, to have somebody who is feeling real things and not afraid to show them. 

GD: Yeah, he’s really a counterpoint to a lot of, as you said, a lot of what we see in that family, which is so refreshing. It’s why we all really love Greg and relate to him in some way. The scenes that you shared with Matthew Macfadyen as Tom, I could literally just watch that as an improv spinoff series and I would watch it 100 percent. I’d be down for that, ready to go. So hopefully that might happen in the future. How long did it take to establish that really great rapport that you both have? 

NB: It did not take long. It did not take long. I think he and I, we just meshed in the pilot. I remember the first scene, I think it was maybe my second day of work where we come in and we surprise Logan at his house for his birthday and I have a gift for Logan that maybe I bought the airport or something, it’s like this gross, sweaty tissue paper thing and Tom has his box that’s the watch and it just makes me laugh. Matthew and I, we were both sort of presenting our gifts towards Logan in a couple of takes and at one point, he looked over to me and checked my gift out and gave me sort of a, “Who the hell are you and why are you stepping on my gift-giving moment?” And I think in that moment, we sort of understood that’s where these guys are. They’re having a total different conversation than the rest of the room and I think that’s what they’ve started to write towards. So it was very quick that he and I jived. 

GD: Yeah, that’s so perfect, and Tom as a character is also essentially an outsider. He’s way in front of Greg in terms of how he can fit in but the other great example is in Episode 4 when Greg’s trying to make a move and Tom’s horrified, but he’s also really kind of proud and I just wonder, I know this show was beautifully written. Is there ever any room for you guys to add your own flavor to the script or do you just kind of perform it exactly how it’s written on the page? 

NB: I mean, I’ll speak for myself. I tried to do at least a couple takes that are as word perfect as we can be just because I think the writers are so good. Their lines are so sharp and the rhythm of them is really important to get. And then they usually give us an opportunity towards the end of every setup to do a take or two that’s just whatever comes out and sometimes we end up just doing another take that’s most in the script and then sometimes you veer off and you go in some direction that’s completely unexpected. Usually with Kieran, when I work with Kieran, I don’t know where it’s going to go, and I love that. A whole new scene is sometimes created when he and I work together. With Matthew and I, we like to stay pretty close to it but there’s definitely stuff that has gotten in the show that just came out of something that happened and then he and I roll with it because there’s a lot of trust there. When he tries something, I roll with it if he makes a strong choice and vice versa. So we’re just there to backboard for each other. 

GD: Yeah, I think it totally comes across. That rapport, it feels very organic to me that you have not only with Matthew but we Kieran and so many of the other cast. I was looking back at some of your other interviews the other day and I saw something that really resonated with me. You said in the past that Greg is a shapeshifter and I think that’s really quite accurate, and it leads me to wonder where he’s headed. What can you tell us? I mean, obviously, you can’t tell us what’s going to happen in Season 3 but what would you like to see for Greg? 

NB: He is a shapeshifter. I think he adapts to his environment really well. I think I would like to see Greg grow that authority that he has been growing in Season 2 a bit more and just to see where that goes. I think to watch a guy who used to be a pot-smoker, sort of pathetic, very whatever kind of guy to turn into someone with a strong point of view, I’d love to see him assert himself even more. I think that would be another piece of growth for him. But I don’t ask for anything much because I know Jesse knows how to chart this and he’s got a long-term journey in mind that I go to that. I go where he wants Greg to go. Jesse will tell me, “This is where I think Greg’s headed,” and then I’ll go, “OK, let’s try and get there, or how can I make that more personal? How can I customize that in a way?” But I don’t like to ask for too much. Like this season, I told Jesse a few things, the moments I’ve loved playing Greg and I won’t say what those are, just we’ll keep that between he and I. But just so he knows, that’s where I felt super activated in playing him. So hopefully more of those types of things come up. 

GD: That makes sense. Hopefully, you’ll get more of the same and that’s great to just throw that out there. “Succession” hadn’t started shooting Season 3, right, before the shutdown? But are you looking forward to getting back to work? How much have you seen of Season 3 so far in terms of scripts? 

NB: I haven’t seen a script. Don’t know where it’s going. I spoke to Jesse a bit about where things are headed and who knows if they’re the same, post-COVID or not. I don’t know. It’s definitely up in the air. I’m sure it’s not up in the air for him, but for me, I don’t know. I’m into it. 

GD: Just thinking about this as a bigger picture, “Succession” is about pretty unlikable one-percenters, people with power and yet I want to be around them all the time. I want to watch the show. I find it so appealing and addictive. Why do you think that is? Why is the show so popular? 

NB: I think we respect ambition even though this is a lot about greed and dominance over people and influence, they own ATN, which is obviously a hyper-conservative network. I mean, I think we’re just interested in what kind of person does it take, or I should say, how can we get inside the brain of someone who wants to do such things, who wants to acquire extreme wealth, who wants to tell people what to think and do? And they lack morals, it seems, for the most part. It’s like, why did we elect Donald Trump into office? I think part of it was people were just intrigued. They knew he was saying bad things about humans, his policies. I don’t have to get into all the depths of it, but that Donald Trump was clearly an immoral person. That was just fact. He’s been that for years. I mean, he’s a bad businessman, he screwed over a lot of people and yet he still got into office. So I think it’s the same type of thing that we have as just a human, like, “What is that person?” That person has failed, screwed over people, they live this lavish life. How do they live with themselves? And I want to see more of it, in a way. Like I want to see, “What are the ends of this? Does it get worse?” With Donald Trump, for sure. But with the Roys, you want to see. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I guess as humans, we go, “OK, that person has done X, Y, Z terrible thing, but I still think they might have a heart, right?” Always that question mark. Even now, you watch a Donald Trump press conference and you’re like, “Does he care a little bit about the people who’ve died, the 100,000 people who have died from coronavirus? Does Logan Roy maybe care about his children or does Logan Roy maybe understand that he’s immoral or that that was wrong?” And then most of the time, Logan Roy doesn’t or he sweeps it under a rug, but I think that question mark of, “Might they be good,” is maybe at the center of why we like watching the Roys. 

GD: I love that. There is that attraction to them and to people like that. You’re right, and always hoping for a glimmer of humanity in there. It’s like a sport. Yeah, I like that. I’ll go with that one. Final question is the show has become quite a sensation. It’s very popular and at the Emmys last year, I noticed a real palpable love for the show. I remember seeing you on the purple carpet. It lost a big prize to “Game of Thrones” but it seems like this is the show that everybody attracts to. Have you noticed that people are really, really into this the more that this show is on the air? 

NB: Yeah, I’ve noticed. It’s been pretty wild. I’ve never been a part of something like this. You know, as an actor, you take jobs that you think are interesting for a number of reasons, but when you really believe in something, sometimes nobody watches it and sometimes nobody cares about it. But to be working on this show and we love making the show, it’s a really good gig, for people to see it and understand what we’re trying to make and for a lot of people to start to find it, that’s just nice as an artist to make something and for it to be received. 

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