Power dressing with Kieran Culkin
The Succession star on becoming sharp-tongued antihero and unlikely style icon Roman Roy.
‘Fortunately, because of what I do for a living, I get to explore other versions of myself.’
Considering that Kieran Culkin (he/him) has been filming all day with no sleep, the Succession actor is on outrageous form, right down to the opening gambit of jokey expletives that kick off our call. Just a taster of unfiltered wit that makes Roman Roy one of the best-loved characters in arguably the most eagerly awaited series on TV.
With a wardrobe of tailoring as sharp as his tongue, Roman has become the traumatised poster boy for billionaire entitlement. A big-business nepo baby with daddy issues and an impressive collection of bespoke shirts. Of course, in real life, the only similarity Culkin shares with his emotionally damaged, man-child character is the work ethic of the Roy family. Today, Culkin just had to deliver a page-and-a-half speech, with just caffeine to keep him going. ‘It wasn't heavy or hard to do but I’ve been at work since six’, he says. ‘And now I feel like I’m about to pass out.’
His ability to roll with things so easily probably comes from growing up in front of the camera, starting out in Home Alone alongside brother Macaulay, before influential roles in The Cider House Rules, Igby Goes Down and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. ‘My sweet spot is doing work that flies under the radar, and that's how I thought this show would turn out’, he says of Succession. However, instead of it being a ‘fun’ project to work on with friends that would only ever appeal to a cult audience, as he initially suspected, Succession grew into a widely acclaimed, award-winning behemoth, with a fourth series about to hit our screens.
Speaking from home in that precious window of downtime before his kids’ baths and bedtime begins, the father of two opens up about history repeating itself, the importance of being true to who you are and taking lessons in power dressing from Logan Roy.
‘I wouldn't say that I dress very cool, but I dress like myself.’
‘I remember reading the pilot for Succession and thinking, “this is really good quality writing and I very much look forward to being a part of it, but I don't know anybody who would want to see this.” Then, halfway through shooting the first season, I came home and said, “I think we may have something here.” My wife said, “Really? I haven't heard you say that before.” Something happened and suddenly I cared about the characters. And I think that’s the experience a lot of people have, you want to see them not fail even though they’re going to constantly make the wrong choices and disappoint you. You know there’s something good in them, they just can’t access it properly.’
‘I’ve never really thought of acting in terms of a career, or what’s a good move that sets me up for the next thing, I just think about the job I have now. That hasn’t changed. But one thing it’s led to that was always a dream of mine was hosting Saturday Night Live. That was nuts because it was almost thirty years to the day that my brother, Mack, did it. So, I was revisiting these nostalgic childhood memories and it was kind of surreal, and that never would have happened without Succession.’
‘Succession works very differently from any job I've ever done. We do these long takes, almost like a play, and often don't rehearse to see what happens. It's open for us to explore the room and improvise. There are always last-minute changes and pages of dialogue to get done in a day. So, I thought I’d be fine with SNL, but it’s a whole different animal! For one sketch they gave me another actor’s dialogue and changed the ending completely without telling me, so you quickly learn to go with it, do your best and let them figure it out.’
‘My sweet spot is doing work that flies under the radar, that's what I thought Succession was going to be.’
‘I remember making a choice early on, when we were doing the pilot, to treat this guy as someone who believes he will never have to suffer any consequences. He can talk his way out of anything. He's never had to deal with the repercussions. So, that explains the lack of filter, and the fact that he doesn't care, because he will always be fine no matter what. Even if it's not true and he's dying inside, he still feels like he's impenetrable.’
‘I feel like it's easy for Roman to access his feelings in certain ways, and that he actually believes he’s pretty well adjusted and in touch with himself, thanks to his therapist. He certainly has a strong sense of family, so those moments when it looks fragile or like it’s about to break down do genuinely affect him. But he really doesn't have much of an idea. What's great about our show is that because it's very fluid, and the episodes are almost written as we go, we can troubleshoot and figure out how a character develops.’
‘I once told my wife that I really liked how she dresses, and she rolled her eyes and was like, “Oh I just wear jeans and a sweater”, or whatever, but I think she finally understands now what I meant because I always notice when people dress like themselves. It's not about wearing specific styles or having a fashion sense, but some people just dress exactly like who they are. I wouldn't say that I dress very cool, but I dress like myself.’
‘Something happened and I suddenly started caring about the characters.’
‘For the last three days I've been wearing the same T-shirt I bought at a Virgin Megastore in Union Square in 2002. When I'm working all I do is travel to set, change into a costume for 12 hours, go home, shower and get into my pyjamas. Fortunately, because of what I do for a living, I get to explore other versions of myself. I don't dress the way Roman does but it's still nice to wear his tailored suits and perfect custom-made shirts . That's not how I dress, because it wouldn't really be me, but it’s fun to be him.’
‘It’s very specific and the costume department always wants to hear what I have to say about fit and colour. The whole idea is to pick something, get it right in a fitting, and then once it's on it's forgotten. It becomes a part of me, like my skin. Some actors want to build a character from the outside in. They need the clothes and the hair and to see what the guy looks like before they can become who he is. I try to get that part over with so I can focus on being the guy first.’
one character whose clothes I've really noticed in the last couple of seasons is Logan’s. He's top dog and he's surrounded by these people in really nice suits, but he’ll just put on a cardigan and cosy slippers. It's such a perfect power move.’
‘You know, I had a call a couple of days ago that basically mapped out the rest of 2023 and it put the panic in me. All I really want to do is finish this season and relax for a month. Worry about it in March. People would think you want that kind of security, but I don't. I want to take a breath before picking the next job. There’s too much planning. It's like asking me now what I want for dinner in October. I just don’t want to know.’
Last picture saved in your phone?
My wife holding our sleeping 17-month-old son
Favourite luxury that comes for free?
I don’t have time for luxuries now, but I’ll get them back
Best sitcom character ever?
George Costanza from Seinfeld
Worst thing you can say to cheer someone up?
I can’t remember, but I can picture my wife’s expression as I say it
Words by Ben Perdue
Kieran Culkin wears the Spring Summer 2023 collection for COS. Photography by Glen Luchford. Styling by Suzanne Koller.
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