As the only female Roy sibling in Succession, Shiv, played by Sarah Snook, has a bit of a hard time. She’s offered the CEO position, but she blows it. She’s in politics, then she’s out of it. She marries Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), but doesn’t seem to like him all that much – and he knows it. After that conversation on the beach, Shiv is starting the new series on shaky ground.

We spoke to Snook about achieving a sense of spontaneity on set, what makes those big dinner table scenes so special, and Shiv’s big moments to look forward to in Season 3:

READ MORE: Succession Season 3 Review

READ MORE: The 20 Greatest Quotes From Succession

PILOT TV: At the London Film Festival screening of the first episode of Season 3, the response was like a mix between a rock concert and a football event. What was your feeling about the whole thing? Why do you think it’s become such a phenomenon?

SARAH SNOOK: I was completely baffled. I was very surprised and in awe of the response, and I presume you could tell from when we were on stage, looking around kind of nonplussed at the audience. We got a huge amount of exuberance and joy from that, but were also just at a loss of how that happened. I think it’s this magic combination of brilliant writing, seeming looseness and spontaneity, and characters that you just can’t get enough of being mean to each other.

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Talking of spontaneity, some of Shiv’s greatest scenes are ones where we don’t know which way she’s going to go, or respond to something. How do you make those feel so natural and real?

I think it’s about being present as much as possible, and always listening to the other actors and their characters. So much of my job is done by engaging with others on set, so it’s just about remaining in that present moment and actively listening. And part of that spontaneity and improvisational feel is that yes, we’re allowed looseness and freebies and improv to a point, but you kind of just have to create the moment around where the main thrust of that scene is going, because we’re always on camera. So it always feels really energetic, and as an actor, it’s been a gift.

Without spoiling anything, there’s a scene in the third episode of the new season where Shiv has to give a big address to the company, and it goes very wrong in various ways. You really start to feel for Shiv at that point, which is an achievement considering all the things she does.

I think it would take a very specifically unlikeable character for us to suffer their public humiliation, because we see these characters with such multi-faceted, human qualities. It could be something that is very similar to us, or very different. We might recognise a family member that is like one of the Roys. Anyone suffering a public humiliation, I think you end up feeling for.

Each of the siblings, in some sense, have the potential for chaos.

When you get the script and see a scene like that, are you punching the air with how fun it’s going to be to do, or is it more of a challenge?

No! [laughs] That one in particular, I was like, I have to make a speech in front of people? That’s a lot of words! It’s a lot of words at once and I’m going to be the only one saying them! I don’t know, I much prefer having a dialogue with somebody that you can bounce off, and sort of have a teammate to rely on and throw the ball to and have them throw it back. Standing in front of a crowd preaching is not my favourite.

Shiv feels like a character who’s always just about to get what she wants, and then loses it by making just one wrong move. Would you rather she had some moments of great success?

No! Moments of almost-success are far more fun to play. I think that’s what’s smart with Jesse [Armstrong, showrunner], that they tease these characters, and allow them to grow incrementally, rather than in various satisfying, but perhaps unrealistic, leaps and bounds.

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You’ve talked about how Shiv has an iconic moment in this series. Was that the scene you were talking about, where you were addressing the company, or is there another one?

Oh, there’s another one. It felt more iconic to me, perhaps, because it was a different version of what we’ve seen Shiv do. But it also harks to a past life of Shiv’s when she was in her twenties and more rough around the edges, less buttoned up, less in control, less polished. It’s a bit of a catharsis moment, her letting that energy out.

Shiv is quite mysterious. We don’t know that much about what she’s gone through.

No, and I think in the way that each of the siblings, in some sense, have the potential for chaos – we’ve seen Kendall [Jeremy Strong] do that more publicly – I think each of the siblings has something of that in them, and I’d be interested to know what Shiv’s is.

When you’re doing scenes with the siblings, particularly Roman [Kieran Culkin], and he’s giving lots of different versions of these wild insults, do you sometimes have to stop yourself laughing?

Oh absolutely. And so much of that as well is like, that’s kind of where character choices as Shiv comes from. Like the side-eye and blanking him, that’s me trying not to laugh just as much as it’s Shiv trying to shut him down.

I think she knows that Tom can be an arsehole at work, and she probably likes it.

Those scenes where the siblings are all together in one room feel so special. Do you rehearse that much, or do you go straight into it and let it flow naturally?

We do both. We read the lines – and this is for most of the scenes – we read the lines, do a director’s rehearsal, and then go into the performance of the scene. But what tends to happen is that it evolves and changes as we perform it, and we create the scene as we’re getting the coverage.

You have cameras on you at all times when you’re filming. When you watch the show back, are you ever surprised by the choices they’ve made when editing?

Absolutely. There’s three cameras, so you can never know what’s on you or when. You get a sense, and you can feel them moving around, but they never feel intrusive or invasive at all. It feels like they’re another character in the show.

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Is there a line or a scene that was the most fun for you, either from this series or the one before?

Hmm, what is the most fun? They’re all pretty fun. The ones where we get to hang out in the room together, the four siblings, or the big dining table scenes. Actually that was pretty fun, round the Pierce dining table at Tern Haven, because Mark [Mylod, producer and director] would just shout out, ‘Kieran’s end’, and that end of the table would just have to have dinner and make conversation. I was in the middle, and so was kind of on the edge of every conversation. I could hear the inventions and improvisations and life going on around me, and it was just so much fun to create and invent.

And that was the scene where you made your big misguided announcement. Do you clock other people, for example Brian’s [Cox, who plays Logan] facial expression?

Oh yeah, it’s right in front of me and we’ll be shooting at the same time, and it’s just white hot fear [laughs]. There’s this moment afterwards – which wasn’t scripted, but the deal is you keep acting until they call cut, you don’t cut yourself – where we played it all out and at one point, Brian was just tapping on a glass. It was just this death knell, which you can absolutely see in my face. It was improvised, which is why it was so terrifying. It was just the perfect, simple, not-doing-much, don’t-know-which-choice-to-make-from-here… it’s what Logan would do. And Shiv really understands what that means.

It’s interesting how different Shiv is with Tom, with her siblings, with her Dad. She’s like a completely different person sometimes.

Yeah, and that’s the same with Tom as well. He acts very differently with whoever he’s talking to, whether it’s one of the Roys, or Greg [Nicholas Braun]. He is quite different with Greg than he is with Shiv. And I think it’s the same with all the Roy siblings in some form. They’ve been taught to shapeshift in order to get what they want, and some of them are more at ease doing that, but I think Shiv does that quite happily. It’s a good way to get what you want.

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What do you think Shiv thinks of Tom and Cousin Greg’s relationship?

Oh, it’s fine. I think she knows that Tom can be an arsehole at work. I think she’s definitely aware of that, and she probably likes it. She likes that there’s a killer inside him somewhere.

Do you feel like Shiv and Tom have any kind of friendship at the root of their marriage?

Yeah, I do think they have a friendship, but it’s probably rapport built on putting down other people. They’re those people you meet at parties that are more likely to talk about something negative, and expect you all to jump in on the negative thing, and I think that’s a bit of a cheap way to build rapport. And it ends up building distrust between people, because you might be the focus of that negativity at some point. I think that’s probably what’s happened between Tom and Shiv. They do have fun, but it’s at the expense of other people.

You and Matthew Macfadyen are English and Australian, speaking dialogue as American characters, written by mostly British writers. But somehow, it works.

Yes, but we do have continuity people who are really quite particular on whether we’re saying a ‘Britishism’ that’s not what we would say in America. We have to make sure that the patter sounds American still, as well as the accent. But we have a lot of support around us helping make sure that works. You know, it’s just fun to say British insults – even with an American accent!

READ MORE: Brian Cox on Succession Season 3, Logan’s Anger And The C Word

READ MORE: Matthew Macfadyen on Succession Season 3, Achieving Authenticity And The Tom/Greg Relationship

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