Cathy Yan interview: ‘Succession’ director
“I’m such a big fan and so I just rewatched the first two seasons,” reveals director Cathy Yan about how she prepared to take on a “Succession” episode of her own in the acclaimed HBO drama series’ third season. The feature director tackled the third episode, “The Disruption,” which also marked her first-ever episode of television. For her efforts, she just received her first Emmy Award nomination, an acknowledgement she calls “a great honor.”
Yan’s approach to her “Succession” episode balanced the series’ well-established visual language with some modifications that best represent her style of filmmaking. The director shares that she tried “to find moments within” the show’s “unique style” to “be a little bit more still and a little wider” because she felt “The Disruption” had “moments of real melancholy.” She explains, “It’s the first time you really see the siblings at each others’ throats… this episode was really about this breakup between Shiv and Kendall.”
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Indeed, their dynamic is at the heart of one of the most memorable scenes in the episode, in which Sarah Snook’s Shiv gives her first Waystar Royco town hall meeting as company president. Her introductory speech is “disrupted” by Jeremy Strong’s Kendall blasting Nirvana’s “Rape Me” as she tries to address allegations of company sexual abuse in their cruise line division. Despite all that goes on in the scene as confusion and chaos unfold, Yan decided to keep one camera focused solely on Snook. “I knew her reaction was going to be everything,” notes the director, who goes on to share that the scene is “so painfully hilarious but also deeply painful at the same time.” To keep Snook, the other principal cast members, and the background actors on their toes, she played the actual song while filming and “tried to always cue the song at a different time” so nobody was “anticipating the interruption.”
Immediately following that pivotal scene, Shiv walks alone to Kendall’s office, sees evidence that he set up the speakers to ruin her moment, and angrily spits in his notebook as retribution. Yan celebrates that scene as “so juicy” and “immature,” and discusses how she captured Snook’s incredibly raw and visceral performance. “We didn’t have to do too many takes of that… I did not want to interrupt her,” recalls the director, continuing, “Sarah just had it… It’s a lot of rage in the front but there’s all these different notes behind it, too.”
WATCH our exclusive video interview with Sarah Snook, ‘Succession’ Season 3
“The Disruption” boasts many pivotal scenes for Strong’s Kendall, too. After waging war against his father Logan (Brian Cox), Kendall chooses to come back into the company offices for the first time in this episode. Yan describes this eventful moment as “almost a farce” because “the things that seem like big deals to these characters are really not.” To create suspense and tension as Kendall approaches and enters the building, the director “intercut between what’s going on upstairs and what’s going on downstairs,” noting how Nicholas Britell’s “incredible” score helped to underline the anticipation.
Yan expertly balances these big, broad sequences with incredibly intimate character work. Toward the end of the episode, Kendall sees a vicious letter that Shiv has shared publicly in order to discredit him. Reacting to this betrayal just moments before he needs to record a television appearance, Strong walks down a hallway despondent and breaking in real time, all of which the director captures with a tracking shot. She admits with a laugh, “I kept insisting on a longer and longer hallway.” She wanted to keep the camera work very simple to honor the emotional intensity of the scene, sharing, “I was thinking that would be a moment to let it land on him and just follow him,” allowing the actor to “find different nuances” in his performance.
The episode ends with a grand finale, as the FBI raids the Waystar offices after a reluctant Logan finally agrees to cooperate. “I always thought of that final sequence as very operatic… high drama, high opera,” reflects Yan. While she filmed the early beats of the sequence in a “crazy, handheld, round-robin way” to reflect all the characters’ swirling emotions, she opted for something “very elegant, very smooth, very cinematic, very classic” to reveal the dozens and dozens of agents swarming the scene. “There is something very tragic about it… seeing this family split apart,” observes the director.