‘My wife started crying when I got the call about Succession’: Alan Ruck on parenthood and power plays
Alan Ruck, best known at the moment for playing the damaged and overlooked eldest sibling Connor Roy in the savagely sharp and universally hyped TV show Succession, is sitting opposite me, cheerily miming pumping breast milk. He’s talking about the pre-Succession era, when he took a career break to look after his two children with the actress Mireille Enos (she’s Sarah Linden in the US version of The Killing). Back then, in 2010, Ruck’s biggest role to date was another son of a wealthy yet pathologically selfish father, Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which put him on the periphery of the Brat Pack.
“My wife’s career rocketed when she got pregnant with our first kid so I was, like, this is my wife’s time. I’m Mr Mom,” he says lovingly. “When our daughter Vesper was seven weeks old we drove from Los Angeles to Vancouver so Mireille could film The Killing. I’d be in the trailer with the baby and Mireille would shoot a scene, come back busting with milk, feed the baby on one side and pump on the other, give the baby back to me and that’s how we did the whole first season. Whoever is the breadwinner in the couple, let them go work.”
It’s an attitude the characters of Succession would find alien. We are in a hotel room near Trafalgar Square the morning after the third series premiered at the London Film Festival. The room is chilly and Ruck buttons up his navy blazer, which looks like something Connor might wear. But that’s where the similarities end. With far more twinkly charisma than Connor could ever dream of mustering, Ruck says that the temperature could be deliberate; comedy writers like Succession’s creator Jesse Armstrong say a cooler room makes you funnier.
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Ruck nearly didn’t go to the Succession audition. “I had promised my wife that I’d join her and the baby at a Mummy and Me music class when my manager called to say I’d been asked to audition for an HBO show. When I told my wife she started sobbing uncontrollably. We were both working and the kids were little and being needy, calling for Momma all night. I was due to fly to Chicago for a job and had promised to go to the music class before I left.”
They went to the class: “We had to leave our phones outside and bang tambourines for an hour. Then I came out and my phone was filled with messages from my manager saying, ‘Just go see Adam McKay’, the Succession producer.” Eventually he did and his wife, whom he met when they were in a Broadway play called Absurd Person in 2005, is glad and proud of him.
Ruck plays Connor with pathos; he is the family’s outsider, half-brother to three plotting power players. “Connor is a person who has never held a job in his life because he has never had to,” says Ruck. “There has always been this huge pile of money for him, mostly because his father feels guilty that he abandoned him when he was eight years old, leaving him with his mother, who had psycho-emotional challenges.
“Now Connor is in his fifties, he wants to be needed, but there is no one who needs him. He’s starting to feel that. That’s why he’s running for President — he’s shooting for the very top to impress his pop. He’s also land and stock-rich but cash-poor — poor fella.”
Ruck “took clues from Jesse Armstrong” on how to play Connor. “This is a person who says in all seriousness they want to be President of the United States,” he says. “He has delusional disorder. I haven’t styled it on any particular person, but there have been people in my life who have been similar to Connor.”
The one criticism levelled at the show is that the characters are unlikeable. Ruck describes it as “like an anthropological study. These are horrid people. If we were looking at Nazis it would be the same thing. You are not cheering anybody on but you’re, like, why do they behave like that?”
Would Connor be any good as President? “I don’t think he’d be as bad as some,” says Ruck. The first read-through of Succession happened on the night that Trump was elected — and the manoeuvrings of the Trump dynasty made the Roy family look less fantastical.
“When the news came in, Adam McKay turned to everybody and said, ‘I think we are making the right show.’ No matter how crazy our show was, it still wasn’t as nutty as what was going on in DC. The Roys are a highly dysfunctional, high-powered, vicious family. We’d read the things that Trump and his people were doing and just shake our heads. But it didn’t impact us that much. We were in our own universe.”
Working on the show is as fun as it looks. “In any given job there is usually one idiot, but we don’t have that. It’s a bunch of lovely, professional, smart, funny people, from Jesse down. We were champing at the bit to film series three.”
Ruck grew up in Cleveland, Ohio; his mum was a teacher and his dad worked for a pharmaceutical company. He became interested in acting through his sister who is four years his senior. “I watched her in shows and thought I could do it too. I played Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow in a school production and was well received, so I thought maybe I could do it. I put it in my hip pocket for a bit and didn’t do anything.”
In his late twenties he was cast in a play with Matthew Broderick, which proved to be transformative. They became friends and Ruck ended up being cast alongside him in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as a nervous teenager who is talked into taking his dad’s beloved Ferrari out for a spin, with disastrous consequences. “At first the casting directors didn’t want to see me because I was too old, 28,” he says. “But then they saw Matthew and me on stage and realised our friendship was natural. Also, I looked like a baby.”
Ruck speaks warmly about John Hughes, the film’s director who died suddenly after a heart attack in 2009, aged 59. “He honoured that experience of being a teenager, those huge feelings and events that feel heart-wrenching and serious. All those things like when you’re 16 or 17 and fall desperately in love with somebody and you think you’re going to die. Some older person says it’s going to be OK, in 20 years you won’t even remember it. But at the time it couldn’t be more real.”
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He pauses thoughtfully. “Who’s to say that you have another 20 years? We all think we have time and maybe we don’t. A lot of teen comedies are about sex-crazed kids or ‘let’s get loaded’. There’s a touch of ‘what can we get away with?’ in Bueller but it’s mostly about friendship. Here is this kid who could do anything, and what he does is try to show this sick kid a good time.”
After Bueller, Ruck had a range of jobs in theatre, TV and film. He drunk a lot, because there was always an excuse, but he wasn’t getting the work he wanted and it got to the stage where he would try anything to turn that around, and so he stopped drinking.
He feels lucky to be in the spotlight again but is aware of how brutal his industry can be. “Before The Killing, my wife went to 30 auditions and nothing happened. We were eating ice cream and she said, ‘I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the truth. Does it worry you that I had 30 auditions and I didn’t get anything from it?’ I said the right thing would come along and it did.”
Ruck has two grown-up children from a previous marriage and his younger two are now 11 and seven. He credits Enos with kickstarting his career again: “I coat tailed off my wife. She was the new girl in town, really cute, and I slid in behind her.”
I leave my most difficult question until the end: who does he think should succeed Logan Roy, Succession’s patriarch? “Gerri,” he says, without skipping a beat. We decide that Connor would learn to be happy for “Ger Bear”, after all, he may still have his sights on a far bigger job.
Succession continues Mondays on Now and on Sky Atlantic at 9pm
Which Succession sociopath are you?
1. What is your biggest fear?
a. Fear? Do I look scared to you?
b A cocaine shortage
c. Your father-in-law
2. How would you define a healthy relationship?
a. One where you are in charge
b. You don’t do relationships, relying on others is a sign of weakness
c. You’ll have to ask your wife what she thinks
3. Your brother gets a promotion. You...
a. Start plotting. He can’t get away with this, you must outdo him.
b. Publicly humiliate him in front of the whole family
c. Send him an expensive watch as a gift to remind him of your role in his success
4. Your favourite outfit is...
a. You can’t go wrong with an expensive beige cashmere roll-neck
b. A gilet and a baseball cap, keeping it real like an OG
c. Chinos. You make no apologies for your straight white man uniform
Mostly As — congratulations, you are Shiv, the poised Lady Macbeth of the Roy clan. You don’t have any friends but you are a shrewd operator
Mostly Bs — you could only be Kendall, and the jury is still out on whether you actually have a heart
Mostly Cs — you are Tom, the doormat of the show but you shouldn’t underestimate a man in chinos
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