‘Succession’ Star Harriet Walter Says Caroline Is ‘Frightened’ by Shiv, Unpacks Those Big Funeral Moments

·10-min read

Warning: Spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 9 follow below.

Sunday’s episode of “Succession” saw the long-awaited funeral of Logan Roy following episode 3’s shocking twist, and among those in attendance to mourn the Waystar Royco chairman’s death was Logan’s second wife Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walter).

Walter spoke with TheWrap about returning for the HBO drama’s final season, learning about Logan’s death during a costume fitting, keeping that shocking twist a secret while filming episode 9 and why her character is intimidated by Shiv (Sarah Snook). Check out the TheWrap’s full interview with Walter below.

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How much of the storyline for this season did Jesse Armstrong lay out for the cast before filming? What was your reaction to learning about Logan’s death?
I didn’t get much heads up. Now I don’t know whether the close family get much more of a sort of “This is what your line is gonna be” and “This is what’s gonna happen.” I get the impression that even they don’t find out stuff until quite late on. But I knew there was no point asking, I knew I could trust Jesse [Armstrong] and the team was going to work on something fantastic.

I thought how do you build on the success of that? You know, each season getting richer and richer, where can it go? What can happen next? A bit of you goes, “Well, obviously Logan’s got to die, or does he or will he?” It’s sort of in the back of your head. But I managed to forget that because when I went to New York for my costume fitting, without having read a script, I certainly didn’t know what had to happen between the end of Season 3 and where I was going to come in in episode nine, I didn’t know any of that plot and I walked into a room full of railings of black clothes and I said, “Did somebody die?” That was my first words. And he said, “Yes, the big one,” and I was really quite upset because he’s such a giant and he leaves a giant vortex where he should be. But the skill and the brilliance is that people have carried on filling that space in a riveting way. So you’ve had four episodes before he actually gets buried. Keeping that going, that’s pretty astonishing.

Harriet Walter as Caroline Collingwood in Succession episode 9 (Macall Polay/HBO)

How has Caroline’s relationship with Kendall, Roman and Shiv evolved over the course of the series?
Well, in a funny way, it hasn’t, has it? I mean, in a funny way, they’re stuck in a certain loop in that area of their lives. So I don’t feel they’ve developed that much because they have attempts occasionally to talk things out, as that scene with Shiv there is an attempt to talk things out, but when things are too painful and you’re not in the habit of talking about them, then there’s a stop point at which you go, “I can’t go here any longer” and you flip it out and I think Caroline is really hopeless at any intimate conversation. She just doesn’t want to go there.

I argue in my head that that’s because she never learned that from her parents. If anybody knows anything about a certain kind of British upper middle class, it’s not done to talk about your emotions, it’s not done to examine yourself in any way that’s considered to be self-indulgent and so she has that ambivalence about those things because I think she’d like to be closer to her children. Every time you meet her for the first time in an episode, she’s so wanting and then it goes very wrong very quickly but she starts off kind of wanting to be.

I think part of our problem and I said this to Jesse at one point, I think she wants to be their sister rather than their parent. She wants to smoke dope with them behind in the boat house, she’s not really a grown up. I think that’s what’s in my head because I’m basing her on several people. My age group is the age group that grew up with the Stones and the Beatles. And the first time that young people were calling the shots and setting the style and it was our world. We inherited it. We made the rules and so we think of ourselves as the ever-youthful youth movement and the idea that we would get gray hair, I mean, you look at Mick Jagger, he’s still a young guy, and his whole posturing as a young guy compared to what you think of an old man is, so it’s that kind of mentality.

I think there’s a sense of it’s too late now with our children but I think she has an affection for them very much. I think she’s frightened of Shiv for some reason, I think she’s nervous of Shiv, I think she’s more perceptive and more detailed in how she thinks than the other two.

But it’s funny because I breeze into the series just like [Caroline] does and you have this very quick bonding. You’re not really intrinsic or vital in some ways and you can feel that as an actor, you feel I’m not really part of this thing. But then there’s another bit where you say “They’re my kids.” So it’s a strange sort of parallel universe where you’re part of it but not quite part of it.

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What were the biggest challenges of filming episode nine? What was the experience like getting to actually attend Logan’s funeral in person?
There was the whole deal that everyone had to go through of sort of keeping it under wraps that Logan had died because there was lots of street interest in New York. When you start shooting something, obviously, people will recognize it, they knew what we were shooting, trying to keep that profile down and trying to keep from all the sort of crowd who were there as invited guests at the funeral, they tried to keep them out of the picture and say it was somebody else’s funeral. But it became very obvious that it had to be that and also because people were eulogizing about Logan.

So you couldn’t really keep that down and that’s a whole new thing that’s come into filming that you have to be so protective of the story, not because it’s sort of top secret material but because you don’t want to spoil it for people, you don’t want to tell people the results of the match before they’ve watched it. So it’s as simple as that. So it can look like you’re being frightfully secretive and mysterious, but actually, it’s just that you’re just trying to protect people from disappointment. So that was that experience and we were sort of keeping our heads down. It’s the first time I’ve ever shot in New York, which was a bit exciting for me, the Streets of Fifth Avenue. There I was in a movie, that was a little quite exciting.

What was it like getting to work closely with Sarah Snook on this episode and learning about Shiv’s pregnancy?
There’s another little bit that was cut, a tiny little moment when she’s on FaceTime with Caroline in Episode 4 and she was trying to tell her mom that she’s pregnant, that she can’t make it. And it becomes about “I’m very sad your dad’s died” and I had a little window of opportunity to show that. I was genuinely sad about that because I don’t want her to be a complete feelingless monster that’s boring. I don’t believe in people like that and I think if you were ever married to someone and you had three children with them and they die, you have a certain pocket of your memory that’s treasured and I was going there really, the good days and feeling a certain sort of attempt to be there for my children.

She doesn’t have much maternal instinct. Shiv isn’t showing very much but “Uh, uh, uh, I think you might be…” there’s that going on and it’s all in the church, this very important event. So she can’t really get into that. So she cracks her usual jokes about her silly husband going around with his autograph book trying to me all the senators and things. And that’s her way of dealing with things.

And then she sees this wonderful opportunity to get all the mistresses and wives together, put them in a single pew and that’s so mischievous and so her, but underlying it there is a real message when she says it’s all water under the bridge. Now we can all be friends. What the f–k? So there’s a bit of that. So I think it’s sort of very in-character that she does that.

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What has it been like working on one of the biggest drama series of our time and returning for the final season?
It’s been fantastic. I really didn’t realize that anything could get that big because I suppose when I was growing up and even up until the last 15 years, I suppose things didn’t go so viral and so global. But having said that I don’t know what the actual viewing figures are and I know that you have to add in all the times people repeat things and watch again and all that. But when I was doing something like “Inspector Morse” back in the day, it would have 17 million viewers or 20 million viewers and now when people say, “Oh ‘Downton Abbey’s gone crazy viral, they’ve got 10 million viewers.” You know, that’s half of what we used to get. So the audience is making more noise but may maybe in smaller pockets for all I know. But they’re certainly making their feelings felt and I love it.

I am both a fan of the series and in it and that’s a brilliant place to be. I don’t get the scripts of anything I’m not in so I can watch as an audience member with the same jaw hanging down in astonishment up to a point. I know some things but I tend to get to know things quite late in the day, and then I kind of breeze in and visit and have a very light load and go away. And for that light amount of work, I’ve got quite a lot of work out of it, attention out of it. Different things have come my way because of it and that’s extraordinary.

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