A Conversation With the Waystar Royco Comms Team on ‘Succession’

A Conversation With the Waystar Royco Comms Team on 'Succession'

Photograph: HBO; Collage: Gabe Conte
As Hugo and Karolina, Fisher Stevens and Dagmara Dominczyk are quietly one of the funniest duos on Succession.

A series of small ecosystems make up the Waystar Royco C-suite on HBO’s Succession; groupings of individuals bound by trust, loyalty, fear, and blackmail. There are of course, the Roy children; there are the disgusting brothers, Tom and Greg, the odd couple of Karl and Frank, the oedipal pairing of Gerri and Roman. Now with Logan gone, the gravity holding those groupings has left some flailing and revealed others to be tightly grounded. That chaos is perhaps no more apparent than in the pairing of Karolina and Hugo, the Waystar Royco communications team played by Dagmara Dominczyk and Fisher Stevens. The pair are equal parts desperation and composure, a perfect balance of icy professionalism and underworldly maneuvers.

Dominczyk has since been seen elsewhere portraying characters just as icy, if not more intimidating, like her role as a threatening wife in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter. Meanwhile Fisher Stevens has become a social media fixation as younger Succession viewers learn about his extensive filmography—and extensive dating history. And while the two often find themselves at odds on screen, in person their rapport is anything but. GQ talked to the actors about grief, loyalty, the always delicate balance of comedy in the writer’s room, Karolina’s sexuality, and Hugo’s dashed hopes for a potential hookup.

GQ: How would you describe Karolina and Hugo’s relationship? Do you think they like each other at all? Do you think they respect each other? Do you think they trust each other? 

Stevens: Well, I think Hugo kind of showed up out of nowhere and my immediate goal was to try to displace Karolina from the get-go, even though I respected her. And I think he saw an opportunity. I’m a really good ass kisser. I am too—Fisher is—but more importantly Hugo is. And I think there was an opportunity in his mind that, “Okay, I’m now in  power, I’m finally moving in the position of hanging out with the Roys.” Which Karolina had already been in. 

Dominczyk: You know when Fisher slash Hugo showed up out of the blue, Karolina, (and me, Dag) was like, “Fuck, am I not doing a good enough job so you bring in Fisher Stevens?” 

So I was already on my toes as Dag, like, “Wait, what does this mean?” And then I thought, “It’s Fisher Stevens. Like, anybody wants him anywhere, so don’t take it personally.” But I think Karolina gets her kicks where she can’t with the Roy siblings or with Logan. And there’s definitely some unexplored anger or resentment in her that I think gets projected onto Hugo. 

And what I loved about working with Fisher from the get-go is that first of all, he makes Hugo lovable, and he’s so generous and has no qualms about playing what we call in theater school, “lower status.” There’s no ego in Fisher. Meaning that he was always like, “What if someone punches Hugo in the face?” What if someone shits on him?” I mean, not literally but he was like, “Bring it. I don’t care.” 

Stevens: I think in the back of my mind, the minute I got that position I wanted to take her job but  I also had a crush on her. And there was a flirtation that I kind of wanted to make her think that I liked her but deep down, I [just] wanted her job. 

I was gonna ask that, if you think Hugo has a crush on Karolina because I’ve always kind of suspected…

Dominczyk: Karolina maybe doesn’t enjoy him as much as Dag enjoys Fisher… I don’t know, there’s definitely a chemistry between the two of them. But I don’t know if on her end she would ever want to wind up in bed with him. [laughter] Don’t take it personally, Fisher.

 Fisher: Well, that really hurts.

Dominczyk: I don’t even think Karolina plays on Hugo’s team.

 Oh really? You think Karolina might be gay?

Dominczyk: There were moments when I saw her flirting with other women .

 It’s funny you say that because of all the women on the show—Shiv, Kerry, Marica, Gerri, even Rhea, Karolina is really the only one we never see engaging in any sort of romantic behavior—perhaps with the exception of Nan but at least we know about her family. 

 Dominczyk: I went to Jesse once and I said, “Will we ever see her in her room or with whoever she lives with?” And he was like, “Nope, we won’t.”

One, I think, there’s so much happening already. Two, if I’m to be really honest, I don’t know if the writers would’ve known what to do if they unleashed a personal side to her.. It was explored in my mind but I also think that has to do with the fact that she is a real fucking pro. As a PR person, you leave the human aside and you are the public facing persona of who you’re representing and you always have to be professional and there’s no room for your drama. I think Karolina really takes pride in that. She doesn’t fuck around. 

You will never know who she really is. That’s how I explained it to myself at least, ’cause don’t you think I wanted to end up in bed with somebody?

Stevens: Should have been Hugo. Should have been Hugo, whatever.

 Dominczyk: I thought maybe it would’ve happened  like… On a trip somewhere. You walk down a hotel and there’s them making out in the corner and nothing is ever said.

 Maybe you can take a Karolina-Hugo spinoff in this.

 Dominczyk: We might be like a Cagney and Lacey reboot. [laughs ] I feel like there’s a part of Karolina that, maybe they go out for a drink, and I’ll say, “Give me all that down and dirty but pretend I never heard it.” 

Karolina strikes me as the kind of person who goes out to dinner with the group, has one or two drinks, stays sober, gets the dirt she needs and then leaves.

Dominczyk: Yeah. But she’s not like a robot.

On the other end of the spectrum though is Hugo; where Karolina is very steely and austere, Hugo is kind of slimy and seems a lot more comfortable navigating in an almost capo or consigliere-like way. 

 Dominczyk: He’s slithery. He sure is slithery.  

Stevens: I think Hugo is much more… I mean I think they’re both cutthroat but I think I would probably go that Hugo’s even more. He would go to a deeper level to succeed and to get further maybe. 

 Dominczyk: Maybe he’s not fulfilled in his personal life, so he needs that.

 Stevens: Oh, yeah. His personal life just doesn’t exist. It’s all about surviving. I always played it like this was Hugo’s big shot. Because now he’s finally made it to the epicenter. He’s made it all the way up to actually interact with Logan. 

Dominczyk: Did you ever ask who in our Succession fictional world brought you on, whose call was that? Was that Logan or was that me?

 Stevens: Well, I always assumed that Logan had kind of noticed me. You [Karolina] probably also were part of that because I would’ve assumed that I worked under you but I assumed that Logan noticed me and brought me in and went to you and said, “Who is this guy?” And you’re like, “Oh, he’s all right.”

Let’s talk about Logan’s death. How do you think it impacted each of your characters? 

Dominczyk: Well, there’s a line when I was in the limo with Kendall and he was like, “Come and join… Come aboard.” And I say something like, “I don’t have a dog in this fight” but I think Karolina is supremely loyal and for some reason Logan gave her her start or her career and I’m assuming she’s been with them for a long time. And I think there’s a deep affinity for him that she has, just as someone’s daughter, probably. 

Brian really reminded me of my dad who recently passed away. My dad suddenly died two months ago. And the whole season has been about death and then my whole year has been about keeping that quiet with my family and friends because they’re huge fans, including my husband. And then my dad died two days before we wrapped Succession for good, when I had to show up on set and I filmed with Fisher on that last day.

And Fisher was such a support to me. I have told him about my dad since I met him and even a couple of days before my dad died and he was struggling, Fisher said, “Your dad’s such a wild fucking character, we should make a documentary on him.” ‘Cause he really had an extraordinary life. And I said, “I know, like do it before it’s too late, man.” You know, my dad was only 69 and I said, “Don’t worry, we’ll do it.” And then the next time I saw Fisher, I had to tell him my dad had died.

 Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I cannot fathom going through that and working on this season. It was such a visceral and realistic depiction of grief. 

 Dominczyk: When I watched that episode, my husband was away that night on a work trip and I thought I would actually have a heart attack.

And for Karolina, there is a loss but she’s become one of those people who can truly compartmentalize. Something horrific can happen and she can still go to fucking work the next day. I am not like that. In fact, I called them and I said, “I can’t come in… You gotta give me a day. I cannot be on set.” But Karolina spent her lifetime doing that. So in that moment she leans into work, “This is gonna be a thing, a huge fucking thing and I can’t fall apart. And these people are all fucked in their heads and I have to be the one who’s just like in command of my emotions.” And maybe it would come off as insensitive but to her it’s not. 

And that’s what Logan would do. 

 Dominczyk: Absolutely. He was not precious about his feelings. He had them, but he didn’t indulge in them—to his detriment. And I don’t think Karolina indulges in hers either. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them. 

 I love that you mentioned that Karolina felt a softness towards Logan like a father figure, because there is all this awful stuff we see from him, but there’s nuance there too—I always go back to the whipping marks when he gets out of the pool in the family therapy episode. 

Dominczyk: The show is also not precious. It’s sensitive to people as they were at this moment in time. And it’s very stark and very unforgiving. But that doesn’t mean these people don’t cry sometimes in their fucking lives.

What about you, Fisher? What does Logan’s death mean for Hugo? There was, of course, that moment between him and Kendall about his daughter committing insider trading.

Stevens: Well, I think for Hugo, Logan was starting to really confide in him and I thought that that was my shot. So I think Logan dying really affected me. I mean, he treated me like shit but I also thought that I could go many places with him. So when he died, I immediately tried to align myself with whoever I think is going to take over the company, because I need a job badly. And also, I hadn’t worked my way up to a position like this powerful in any of the other companies that I worked for. I mean, I had bigger positions in shitty little communications companies but nothing like Waystar Royco. So Logan’s death really fucked Hugo.

He’s also really a comedic character Hugo—sort of equal parts darkness and levity. 

Dominczyk: I think it was cut from the episode but in [the fifth episode, set in] Norway, they filmed all this stuff and it was like comedy gold. They had Fisher, myself, Tom, Greg… out in the woods and we had to do all the retreat activities with the Swedes. So we filmed shots of us crossing rivers and foraging for mushrooms. And Hugo was so desperate to win at all these events and he tanked and was the worst. But we filmed all that and when I watched the episode last Sunday, I was like, “Where’s our Norwegian wood stuff?” It was all gone. But Hugo really shined in desperation.  I ended up jumping on Jóhannes’ back.

Watching the dynamic between Karolina and Hugo and their Swedish professional doppelgangers was one of my favorite moments so far this season. That moment when Karolina met Ebba and just said *__you look well. __*Ouch. 

Dominczyk: Well, that’s a throwback to a scene that was cut on the plane—I read that Ebba had to take. like, six months at a mental health clinic because she went through a nervous breakdown and that’s… probably because of the blood stuff. 

And Karolina was like, “Oh, she took six months off. Oh, is she fragile? What happened?” She was kind of bitchy about it. So then when I say “You look well,” it was like, “You’re outta the mental health clinic now. You can do your job now.” Kind of bitchy.  

And then there’s Hugo loading up his plate like it’s his last meal. 

Dominczyk: That was Fisher’s idea. So much of it is all Fisher’s idea—he has all these amazing ideas for Hugo, and he is the first one to say, “Hey, can I try this or can I do this?” And it’s usually brilliant. Every take of food on his plate would be rising and rising. [laughs]

 Stevens: I had to be careful not to overdo it. One of the things that’s so great about Succession is it’s a comedy but you can go too far and it doesn’t fit in with the tone. So I think that’s something they have to balance, not just with me but with all of us. 

I think it was kind of a bummer when they cut that scene in Norway where we were foraging in the forest and we were competing. Everything was about me and Dag trying to hold onto our jobs for  when this merger happens. But I think Karolina’s a little bit more confident and also has been around and has been in the echelons of power, more than Hugo.

Ok so I have to ask—do you think Kendall’s name was underlined, or crossed out? 

 Dominczyk: I don’t know, all I know is it’s gonna cause trouble because it’s not apparent. And so all those kids are gonna read their history with their father into that one little pencil marking. 

Stevens: I mean, I think for Hugo, he’s putting his eggs in Kendall’s basket 100%.

He has to, because Kendall is blackmailing him.

 Stevens: But even before that, I think he was up Kendall’s ass the minute Logan died because he felt that that was where it was gonna fall. And I really think Hugo really can’t stand Tom—can’t stand him.  And Matthew and I had many conversations about it, that [our characters] really can’t stand each other. 

That decision Kendall  made to throw Logan under the bus is him becoming the killer Logan said he wasn’t before. And so that’s an interesting alliance, Hugo and Kendall, because neither one of them are… tightly wound by a strong moral compass, let’s say. 

Stevens: Oh one hundred percent we relate to each other and he sees my slithery-ness, I think, in him. And I can see it in him. Karolina is in much better graces with everybody, especially Shiv, and probably Tom and me. 

Shiv does like Karolina, which is so interesting.  

Stevens: Yeah, she loves Karolina and when it comes to Hugo, she couldn’t give a shit. She just wants me to get her aspirin and water and she looks at me like a gofer. 

Dominczyk: A lackey, a gofer.

Stevens: The one thing I have to say is, this was such a beautiful company of actors and it really did feel that we were a theater troupe. It didn’t matter if you had four lines or no lines. It was a miracle. And something that I think we’re all going to miss and we’re all blessed to have that experience together. And we’ll probably never have anything like it again. Hopefully we will, but it’s rare. 

It’s like you’re saying, “We’ll never be this happy again.” Which is a very Hugo thing to say actually. 

Stevens: And it’s a bummer [Karolina and Hugo] never had an affair, but, whatever.

Dominczyk: That is life.

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