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J. Smith-Cameron on 'Succession', careers and consolidating power

J. Smith-Cameron plays Gerri Kellman in HBO's <em>Succession.</em>
Macall Polay
J. Smith-Cameron plays Gerri Kellman in HBO's Succession.

Updated December 12, 2021 at 2:48 PM ET

The fictional Roy family on HBO's Succession is one of the most dysfunctional to ever grace the silver screen.

The family is in a constant battle for control of the global media and entertainment company Waystar Royco. And as they continually stab each other in the back, Waystar General Counsel and acting CEO Gerri Kellman is always there to keep the motley crew on track.

Logan Roy, the family patriarch, does what Gerri tells him to do and that puts her in a class by herself because Logan,who is played by Brian Cox, doesn't listen to anyone.

Gerri is played by actress J. Smith-Cameron, who says that when she auditioned for the role it wasn't even clear it was for a woman, yet she embraced the foul language and outsider status of the role.

"I thought it was a funny little character quality that Gerri could have if she was, you know, sort of one of the guys, but you could tell that she thought they were all idiots and that she was rolling her eyes, not clutching her pearls," Smith-Cameron says.

Gerri doesn't clutch her pearls, but she does — like everyone else on the show — works to consolidate power. Smith-Cameron spoke to NPR about her character's relationships on the show, powerful women and her acting career.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On Gerri's attitude of thinking about herself and how things advance her position as a woman in power.

I think that has had to be her credo because [otherwise] she might not have survived ... I feel like her job must feel a bit like spies who have a legend that they have to memorize who they are and stick to it. Or it's a survival thing like they will die or they'll be shot or they'll be disappeared in some way. And I feel like it's almost that kind of pressure, or that's what it feels like to Gerri.

On the relationship Gerri has with the Roy daughter Shiv, especially as Gerri may be in a position to file a sexual harassment claim against Roman, the youngest son, whose wildly inappropriate flirtations are not reciprocated, according to Smith-Cameron.

Well, OK. I think I know that Shiv is coming for me, but I obviously know she's not concerned for me as she's pretending to be. And, you know, as CEO if I'd felt compromised by a co-worker such as Roman, I would have reported it to my superior and called H.R.. I researched this, so I think in the past, I think she's thought, "Well, I'm the boss, so I can't get fired." But she is uneasy, like, that's why she keeps telling him to cut it out, cut it out, cut it out. And I think she's almost more worried about him getting in trouble.

On how being on the show has made her think about her career differently.

When a scene goes really well on this show, it feels like we've done nothing, like we're just horsing around. And so sometimes I think, "It was a little too easy. Why was that so effortless? Why did that kind of just flow?" And then I think maybe that is the years of experience and the fact that you're working with these really great professionals and all you have to do is sort of be there in the space and react to them. So sometimes I feel like, "Gosh, I don't know how that scene's going to turn out because it felt like I didn't do [anything] like, you know, it felt like you're just horsing around."

But I'm like, oh, maybe that's suitable to this medium. And maybe that is years of experience that you can now forget the technique and just kind of let go and be in the moment. And I suppose that does come from having done something for decades. I don't think about myself that way, but you know, I've got to learn something after 40 years.

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