Succession’s James Cromwell on the ingenious way the show kept major secret from him

Succession actor James Cromwell has revealed fascinating details about how the show’s creators hid major plot points from him.

***Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Succession season four episode nine***

In the latest episode of Jesse Armstrong’s HBO wealth satire, which airs on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK, Cromwell’s character Ewan returns to the show to make a surprise speech at his brother Logan’s (Brian Cox) funeral.

From episode three onwards, after Logan died, show creators replaced the word “Logan” in every script with the name “Ewan”, so that if there were any leaks, the press and the public would think that Ewan had in fact passed away.

When it came to the funeral in episode nine – which was filmed in the very public setting of New York City’s Church of St Ignatius Loyola – the funeral was billed in all of the scripts, and even in posters outside the church, as if it was Ewan’s.

Asked in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter about how much Cromwell knew about the final season and the funeral episode when he returned to set, the actor, 83, said: “Nothing! I didn’t know what it was until I actually got there and I looked at these phony fliers for the service they were handing out, which said I had died.

“I thought, ‘No, they can’t be having a custom fitting if I’m dead…’”

He added: “Because of all the people involved, there were NDAs, the security was very tight. There were all of these extras. There were crowds outside as well. Civilians passed by and would go, ‘What’s going on? Are you dead? Are you dying?’ And I would just sort of smile at them. So, I had no idea where it was going.”

Cromwell also talked about how he struggled to learn Ewan’s brilliant speech, which gave an insight into Logan’s childhood trauma.

“I couldn’t remember lines, and I’d never had that problem before,” he said. “I could say the speech to myself, but as soon as I went out for a walk, every word was gone. It turned out I had long Covid.

“I told [director Mark Mylod, who oversaw unbroken takes for the eulogies], ‘Listen, I don’t know what I can deliver. I might misremember some lines.’ I had written it out in long hand, and he told me I could read the speech if I wanted, just raise my head every once in a while.”

James Cromwell as Ewan in ‘Succession’ (HBO)
James Cromwell as Ewan in ‘Succession’ (HBO)

In his eulogy, Ewan revealed that as small children, the two brothers ended up adrift in a boat from Scotland to the US during wartime, and that they had to be silent for three days in order to avoid detection by a U-boat.

He also suggested that Logan believed that he killed his baby sister by infecting her with polio, and that his uncle and aunt wouldn’t disabuse him of the notion.

Read a full recap of the episode here.

The last ever episode of Succession will air in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW on 29 May.