Mark Mylod Wants You to See the Downside of Wealth
By Bradford William Davis
The director and producer shares how Succession gives a different spin on the one percent.
Mark Mylod was immediately drawn to Succession’s unique approach to genre, family and how Americans view wealth. Here, the veteran director discusses the show’s untraditional approach, how it ensures no one envies the Roy family, and how shooting it differs from Game of Thrones.
HBO: Why did you decide to work on Succession?
Mark Mylod: My agent sent me the pilot when they were recruiting directors for the first season, and I just loved it. It was so fresh. In my resume, you'll see a recurring theme of various incarnations of family. That's the stuff I'm drawn too. I've worked on Shameless, another dramedy with an unconventional family. Even something like Entourage was, in my mind, an incarnation of family.
The show's use of these atypical, unlikeable characters was incredibly daring. I had a conversation of Jesse Armstrong — whose work I've long been a fan of, even though we had never crossed paths before even though we’re both in the very small world of British television comedy. But I loved his work on Peep Show. There was an acerbic wit to it, and he had incredible insights
HBO: What did you admire about the directorial approach from the pilot?
Mark Mylod: Adam is an extraordinary storyteller. I loved the almost anti-aesthetic of the pilots. It gives it an authenticity — the way the camera is always running and just catching a moment, instead of actors playing a moment for the camera. It's a brilliant tonal approach to the material. Just the right choice. As a viewer, you felt like you're in the room, eavesdropping on the Roys and their bad behavior. Works for both the comedy and drama.
Also, his choice to not fixate on the fantastic setpieces was such a fresh way to approach the subject matter because it didn't fetishize their wealth. It was never Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, it wasn't about the "bling," it was about the characters and what their money was doing to them. That was impressive.
HBO: How do you think creators and directors inadvertently glamorize power and wealth?
Mark Mylod: There are certain things that viewers will always find attractive, so you have to be intentional about showing it's not. We're programmed on some level to admire power and wealth and see it as valuable. When things are gorgeous, as directors, we want to point the camera at them. Think of something like Wall Street, an anti-capitalistic film, but one where Gordon Gekko's life is still alluring. We created an aesthetic where we did not celebrate the Roy family's riches because we know we tend to unconsciously glorify the thing you're trying to analyze or critique.
HBO: Can you compare your experience working on Succession versus Game of Thrones?
Mark Mylod: While I tend to focus on connections rather than differences between the shows I work on, they're worlds apart on a technical level. Game of Thrones can take six to eight months to complete two episodes. Almost everything is storyboarded and pre-visualized with the visual effects team. All the choreography is necessarily specific to achieve the production values you see when you watch the show.
With Succession, I try to avoid my own compulsions and impulses to choreograph, in favor of letting it happen more organically. What comes out of that is a messy, somewhat chaotic, but authentic vibe. It works because the characters are defined enough and the writing is tight enough. Plus, the cast is so intuitive and comfortable with improvisation, they can naturalize any moment. They're the type of actors that can come together and create that kind of alchemy that makes you feel like they're a family.