'Succession' Season 3, Episode 2: J. Smith-Cameron on Gerri's Tension With Roman (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Succession season 3 is back on HBO and wasting no time seeing the Roy family engage in civil war over control over Waystar RoyCo after Kendall (Jeremy Strong) blamed his father, Logan (Brian Cox), for the company’s various and potentially illegal activities. After an explosive season premiere, during which Logan named Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron) CEO while he deals with the fallout of his son’s actions, episode 2 sees the lawyer settling into her new position and navigating her fraught and tension-filled relationship with Logan’s youngest son, Roman (Kieran Culkin). While speaking to ET, Smith-Cameron breaks down how Gerri feels about it all.
[Warning: Spoilers for Succession season 3, episode 2, “Mass in Time of War,” written by creator Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod.]
After the premiere, Cox explained why Logan chose Gerri over his two kids, Roman or Shiv (Sarah Snook). “She is the ethical face of Waystar. So, in a way, it’s a no-brainer,” he said, adding, “It was always going to be Gerri.”
Meanwhile, Smith-Cameron says, “I think that’s appropriate and maybe expected,” especially given Logan’s limited options. “Gerri is the most trusted of his bumbling advisers and the least bumbling one, in my opinion,” she adds, knowing that it’s largely a “figurehead position” and “a very temporary thing.”
That said, while episode 2 sees the Roy siblings slowly gathering at the apartment where Kendall’s estranged wife, Rava (Natalie Gold), lives with their two kids to discuss a formal coup, Gerri is back at Waystar snapping cellphone pics of the announcement on TV. “Well, you know, for my daughters,” she admits when Roman catches her in this solitary moment.
“She’s still chuffed to get named,” Smith-Cameron says, noting how that scene is a brief peek into Gerri’s private life. “She plays things so close to her vest that she’s sort of a mysterious figure. We don’t really know about her sex life, we don’t really know about her politics, we don’t really know much about her and that’s fun -- and I don’t want to lose that.”
“By the very same token, I think the little glimpses are really fun. To see her behave like a proud mommy when she’s such a stone cold killer b**ch, it’s like, ‘What? That’s crazy,’” the actress continues, adding, “Those little flashes are just priceless.”
And just as quickly as Gerri flashes a little bit of pride, it’s gone again, especially after Roman interrupts her. “Don’t talk about my daughters,” she tells him before the two begin scheming about what move she should take next as CEO and how the two should work together moving forward. “I hope that you’re not anxious that you chained yourself to a fire hydrant that spews out cultural insensitivities,” Roman says.
After Roman, who is there on his father’s behest, suggests that Gerri create an executive committee, she counters with working him into bigger and more important meetings. “Here we go, your apprenticeship begins,” she says with a smile.
And now that Gerri is Roman's boss, in that moment, one thing is clear: there is a major shift in dynamic for the two, who have developed a flirty, sexually charged relationship over the course of the first two seasons, with Roman even getting off as Gerri berates him at one point. “I think that both piques his interest and also is a little annoying to him,” Smith-Cameron says of Roman. “And I think that he is really getting under her skin more than she knows.”
That said, “Gerri’s determined to make this a functional thing out of a dysfunctional, messy, pervy thing,” she continues. “She’s trying to make it a great business duo and channel his energies -- his sexual energy -- towards the rock star and the mole woman.”
That of course is a reference to Roman’s pitch in season 2, when he tries to get Gerri onboard with Roman being the front man while she manages things behind the scenes. But only this time, Gerri is the one that’s front and center -- at least temporarily. And despite her best efforts to mentor him, Smith-Cameron teases that Roman is not the most cooperative pupil. “So that comes to a boil, but that’s not until much later,” she says.
Before that happens, Roman turns to Gerri for advice after the four siblings -- he, Kendall, Shiv and Connor (Alan Ruck) -- seemingly come to a workable solution about overthrowing their father and taking over Waystar in the process, seemingly saving it from total destruction. At that moment, Gerri convinces him it’s a bad idea to go that route -- and that he should stick with her. And it’s not long before the siblings’ plan falls apart and the four are at odds with each other once again.
“I think he knows that the more the family dynamic is in play, the more dangerous it is, the more combustible it is, the more Gerri is going to shrink away from it,” Smith-Cameron says of Roman. “He’s in a hard place because he’s got to suss out whether he should trust his siblings, where there is safety in numbers, or whether it’s better to continue on this path where you have a confidant who’s very experienced, who’s gonna be in your corner. But you’re not going to have it both ways.”
When it comes to the relationship between Gerri and Roman, Culkin revealed ahead of season 3 that the idea was inspired by the two actors’ on-set flirting and interactions between takes. Prior to acting together on Succession, the two developed a friendship while Culkin was working with her husband, playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, and that natural chemistry spilled over here.
But as more and more moments were being written in, Smith-Cameron says it became tricky to navigate. “It’s wild. I don’t know how we do it,” she quips, noting that as everything was unfolding in season 2, “I had to piece through that little microbeat by microbeat because, as my husband pointed out to me, when I was learning lines, like, if Gerri didn’t want Roman there, she could throw him out of her room. All she has to do is raise her voice and some servant will come down the hall. She’s not helpless, she’s not being preyed upon.”
“That was one of the trickiest acting things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” she says of trying to figure out how Gerri felt about the whole situation. And without a scene partner like Culkin, she’s not sure how she would have gotten through it. “I trust Kieran.”
While what becomes of the two during season 3 remains to be seen, HBO sent fans into a frenzy by releasing a tantalizing poster of Gerri standing behind a sitting Roman with her hand playing with his shirt collar. “It was just supposed to be my hand on his shoulder, but I kept playing with it. And at one point, I was whispering in his ear. But it looked like I was nibbling on it. You couldn’t really tell what was happening, like, is he reacting to what she’s saying? Or is he turned on?” she reveals.
“We did a bunch of things, you know, that were kind of reckless, but we knew that they would pick the right thing for their campaign,” Smith-Cameron concludes.
Want to watch Succession? The series is now streaming on HBO Max and new episodes air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. (We may receive an affiliate commission if you subscribe to a service through our links.)