Succession’s matriarch shares her approach to portraying the Roy family’s most mysterious character.
While Marcia — the elusive, soft-spoken and quietly powerful wife of Logan Roy — may be something of a black box, Hiam Abbass has spent as much time as we have dissecting her role in the Roy family. The actress sat down with HBO to discuss her process for playing a character everyone is still trying to figure out.
HBO: Why are Marcia's decisions and motives so suspicious in the eyes of her step-children?
Hiam Abbass: I think this family and these Roy kids are used to having everything for themselves. The idea of this stranger coming into the family disturbs their way of being. Their father shows them that she's the only trustworthy person in his life. It's about jealousy. Also, they don't really know her. Not yet.
HBO: So because they've had everything handed to them they, in your view, demand control they haven't earned.
Hiam Abbass: Logan and Marcia are self-made. They have that in common. There's a love and respect among themselves in part because of that. Meanwhile, the kids aren't because they were born into so much wealth and power. It put them on the wrong track.
HBO: What do we learn about Marcia's role in the family and the extent of her control over the company?
Hiam Abbass: I think we learn about the centrality of her relationship with Logan and how important it is to her life. She's in love with Logan, even though he is not an easy man and not a simple human being. She's part of it now because they're married. We learn she doesn't get overwhelmed — she has control over what happens and enjoys being the serene, decision maker. The kids don't understand it, but it's really why Logan relies on her.
HBO: Marcia's clearly a very mysterious and complex character. One we're still learning a lot about.
Hiam Abbass: Me too.
HBO: So how do you, as an actor, prepare for such a black box of a character when you're still learning who that character is?
Hiam Abbass: It wasn't easy for me at first. It's my first time doing TV. In a film, you know the beginning and the end, so you know where you're going with your character. In TV, you might not. Talking with Mark Mylod and Jesse Armstrong through my scenes and asking lots of questions allowed me to make my own way through my material. Still, keeping things mysterious, even for me, was important to them. These are all components — ingredients that, I like to say, help me “make my own sauce” for how I play Marcia.
HBO: There’s a lot of priceless banter at the Thanksgiving dinner table. How do you balance knowing when to improv and when to stick to a script?
Adam and Jesse were really important here because they gave us an overview of the tone and dynamics we would need to show. Also, it was our first time meeting as a "family,” but that first meeting helped us deal with each other and relate to each other, both on and off the set.
Performing in this episode was very similar to theatrical work. You never leave character because you never know when the camera is fixed on you. So you develop the discipline of being in your role until the director says, "Cut."
Then, while we're following the writing, we were open to helping each other react to each other and improvise. Our characters are extremely competitive, but we the actors have zero competition. We have great chemistry and push each other to give the best possible performance. Those relationships make life much easier.