Though it broadly references the Murdoch family and the inheritance of a media empire, HBO’s Succession is basically Large Adult Son: The TV Show, a savage comedy about the venal idiot-children of the ultra-wealthy. As health issues finally loosen the grip their domineering father Logan Roy (Brian Cox) has over his company, the four Roy kids — Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), Connor (Alan Ruck), and the aptly named Shiv (Sarah Snook) — fight over a throne that would collapse like the seat of a dunking booth if any of them planted their asses in it. They are vicious and they are incompetent, two factors that the melodrama uses to fuel the story of American power in the early 21st century.
And yet, there’s Cousin Greg, a.k.a. “Greg the Egg.” The corporate tycoon’s sweet, gangly, half-touched great-nephew started the first season barfing through the eyeholes of a mascot costume and ended it by quietly leveraging a seat at the table. He’s the one true audience surrogate on the show, a fan favorite defined by a turnip-truck innocence that’s been an essential counterbalance to the worldly assholes that populate it. At times, Cousin Greg recalls Tim Robbins’ mailroom dope in The Hudsucker Proxy, aw-shucks-ing his way to the top. Like that Coen brothers’ character, he’s also unusually tall. Cousin Greg doesn’t enter scenes so much as crane into them like a giraffe.
“I think it’s great to be the tallest guy in the room with the least amount of power,” says Braun, speaking over the phone. “To be the guy who physically should be an obvious authority, but he has none.” When asked about how his height figures into his performance, the 6’6″ actor brings up James Comey, the 6’8″ former FBI director, specifically the notorious post-election moment when Comey was beckoned across the Blue Room of the White House to embrace the man many felt he helped elect. “When I heard the story of [Comey] trying to blend into the curtains, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s Greg.‘ He’s the biggest person, but sometimes he hides just so he can watch and not be an obvious figure in the room.”
Braun’s image as an awkward, ungainly good-guy type has been cultivated from his very first role in the 2005 superhero comedy Sky High, in which he played “Zach Attack!,” a sidekick-in-training whose only special power is to glow in the dark. From there, the 30-year-old appeared in a couple of Disney Channel original movies, scored a regular role on the one-and-done season of ABC Family’s 10 Things I Hate About You and worked steadily in mostly small parts on film and television. When the script for Succession found its way to his agency, he modestly thought, “At the very least, I get to meet [executive producer and first-episode director] Adam McKay and tell him that I’m a fan. But we kind of synced up on who Greg is … and the rest is history.”
And what was the take on the Machiavellian beta male that got him the part? “Everybody else on the show is sure-footed,” says Braun. “Like they talk the talk, or at least they pretend to know how to do it. I just accepted the fact that Greg doesn’t even know what the next sentence is he’s going to say. I think he just kind of stumbles through life.”
Yet the young man has figured a few things out. For much of the first season, he was attached to Shiv’s fiancé Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who managed to finagle his way into a job overseeing the company’s theme parks division. Greg and Tom are both outside the inner circle of the Roy family — to stay on board, the latter cheerfully swallows both an “unconscionable” pre-nuptial agreement and his own discharge at his bachelor party. Still, Greg is in a subordinate position and Tom is in a position to take advantage of him. In a crucial turning point in their relationship, he sends “the Egg” to the office on Thanksgiving to shred documents related to the cruise business that could be devastating to him and the company. In a moment of rare shrewdness, Greg runs off some copies for himself.
“He’s learning,” says Braun. “He learns a little from Tom in the being-a-dickhead department, and then he watches Logan and all these people [in the Roy family]. He’s thinking, ‘Do I have that inside me? I could do that. I could shit on somebody if I was asked to.’ I think he’s just waiting for moment where he can do some of this stuff, too.”
The actor doesn’t get much screen time in the season finale, but in typical Greg fashion, he slips into a major scene with Kendall, who’s busy making power moves on the eve of Shiv and Tom’s wedding. Greg lets him know that he’s in possession of these incriminating papers; it might be wise, he suggests, to keep him in a comfortable position at the company. Even Kendall, stressed sick on coke and nerves, has to smile at Greg’s surprisingly predatory instincts. The kid’s got some game after all.
Yet Braun doesn’t see Greg as a mastermind, however opportunistic he’s starting to become. One of his favorite Cousin Greg scenes is a brief exchange he has with Willa, Conner’s prostitute lover, who has a passion for theater. He doesn’t even bother faking to like theater, but does ask her if she’d rather be trapped in a cage with a shark or a tiger. “It’s pretty great that the best conversation he could come up with was that,” laughs Braun. “This is the version of small talk where you can just say exactly what you want.”