Jeremy Strong: ‘My mother always felt like going to Yale ruined me’

Jeremy Strong covers the March issue of GQ, mostly to promote the new season of Succession. I came to Succession later than most and it’s honestly one of my favorite shows now. It’s crazy to me that it’s still classified as a comedy – while there are some funny parts, there are also some really dark, dramatic parts, and they mostly involve Jeremy’s character Kendall Roy. That’s what Strong brings to Kendall and Succession: depth, pathos, a full-fledged and deeply flawed man, a man-child struggling with addiction and his father’s neglect, and a man continuing that cycle of neglect with his own kids. Strong takes the role seriously, some would say too seriously. Strong addresses that with GQ, the New Yorker piece from 2021 which made him sound like a fart-sniffing artiste who can’t separate a character from real life. Some highlights (the whole piece is worth a read):

When Succession ends: “It will feel like a death, in a way,” he says. He looks at his peers, who have filmed five, six, seven projects while he was in the Succession trenches. He envies “that freedom to just shoot yourself out of some different cannons. Sometimes Kendall feels like the same cannon over and over again.”

He has no idea where he’ll go from here: “When I was younger, I saw the future in the crosshairs. I don’t feel that anymore. There is a feeling of ‘Now what?’ that I don’t have the answer to…. I mean, it’s kind of like…f–k Brooklyn.”

Kendall’s Season 3 manic high. “I thought about Kanye. I felt like my task [in that 40th-birthday episode] was to really try and retrieve a sense, for Kendall, of a lost childhood that he really never had. There were some talismanic things: my childhood blanket, a stuffed animal that I had when I was a kid. There was a Mark Strand poem called ‘Where Are the Waters of Childhood?’ that I read a lot. You get in touch with that emptiness. You get in touch with searing regrets. I have three young children right now, and I’m at work almost all the time. That’s something that Kendall, in a way, is experiencing.”

Is Season 4 the end of Succession? “I have a broad-strokes sense of things. But this season, I didn’t want to know more. What I can say is I’m on the rack…. I feel a sense of really wanting to, now that we’re at the one-yard line, finish this season and possibly the show, in a way that delivers a real payload of what this journey has been. I still hope that there are rungs on the ladder that are redemptive for Kendall.”

He quotes a lot of people, he went to Yale. “Maybe the quoting is just a part of an armor. I don’t come from a very highly cultured, highly educated…I come from a family that has a lot of emotional intelligence and presence and empathy. But when I went to Yale, I felt like I had a lot to compensate for, and part of it was probably a way to cope and a way to feel a sense of belonging in that environment. My mother always felt like going to Yale ruined me. In the sense that she saw me become very turned inward and more depressive, or less free…. People used to tell me that I smiled too much, which is maybe hard for people to believe when they know me now.”

His first movie role in ‘Humboldt County’: “And no one saw that movie,. I was very used to, for years and years and years, doing work and used to it not being seen or recognized. And while that was hard, I was at peace with that…. No, that’s a lie. I was dissatisfied. There’s something about peer recognition that has always been important to me. Although the older I get, I try to cultivate a place of trying to not give a f–k what anybody thinks.”

The 2021 New Yorker profile: “[It was] 15 minutes of shame, with a long tail.” The fact that the writer went to Yale, too, brought him right back to his college days. “I hadn’t felt judged like that in a very long time…. [The shameful part is] The shadow is the part of ourselves that we don’t want to share with the world and we want to disavow. The part of me that is striving. The part of me that wants what I want. I was less bothered by other actors having feelings or opinions about the way I work. Really, it was just feeling exposed.”

He was never mad at his costars: “Everyone’s entitled to have their feelings. I also think Brian Cox, for example, he’s earned the right to say whatever the f–k he wants. There was no need to address that or do damage control…. I feel a lot of love for my siblings and my father on the show. And it is like a family in the sense that, and I’m sure they would say this, too, you don’t always like the people that you love. I do always respect them.”

The future of his career, being a father of three daughters: “I don’t feel that same fire. I guess I’m waiting for things that will come along that will rekindle that because I know it’s in me, but it feels more dormant now than it used to… I don’t know if I formulated that consciously. I don’t know if I would’ve been ready to have a family if I felt in that place of famine that I had felt that I was in—and not fulfilled at all artistically. And now, of course, I would do anything for them. It’s the one thing I feel like I’ve done right in my life is have these beautiful children, these three girls that I have. Work was a center, but it’s not quite a real center. I don’t think I knew that until I had children. Work is a very exciting, fraught perimeter to go to now.”

[From GQ]

Basically, everyone criticized him after the New Yorker profile because he was such a hardcore Method actor who took his craft seriously. And he was affected by that criticism because he’s also pretty sensitive and he wants his peers to respect him and like him. A working class guy from Boston goes to Yale, works super-hard and really only becomes a household-name actor in his late 30s/40s, kind of eccentric, kind of pretentious, but striving and trying. I don’t know – he seems interesting to me? I’d rather read about him than, say, any comic-book movie actor talking about his workouts.

Cover & IG courtesy of GQ.

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37 Responses to “Jeremy Strong: ‘My mother always felt like going to Yale ruined me’”

  1. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Method actors are a pain. Pretty much always. But they do bring consistent electricity to the screen. Still, I’m with the Brian Coxes, who believe you turn on your character when the director says action, and turn it off when she says cut. All in all, I didn’t think that New Yorker profile was as horrifying as people deliberately and perhaps maliciously made it out to be. People tend to blow everything out of proportion these days for clicks and likes. I’m sorry Strong felt exposed. I’ve liked him in absolutely everything I’ve ever seen him in, well before I “knew who he was,” if that’s any consolation.

    • likethedirection says:

      Completely agree about the New Yorker profile, he came off as eccentric and maybe a touch pretentious but nothing like the Method acting psycho the reaction to the profile suggested. I think all of the celebs rushing to his defense made it much, much worse!!

  2. Rami says:

    I like him…ok he is intense,like a lot of artists but not harmful(he is not pulling a Leto type of thing so 🤷‍♀️)

  3. Driver8 says:

    I will deeply miss this show. Kendall breaks my heart.

  4. RoyalBlue says:

    “I don’t know – he seems interesting to me? I’d rather read about him than, say, any comic-book movie actor talking about his workouts.”

    I feel the same. I have never watched Succession, but it’s now on my list.

  5. Jo says:

    I will never be convinced by method acting but I love Jeremy Strong. You can love people and not like everything they do or all the choices they make. And, to be honest, he brings a lot of depth to a character that would have just been played as a spoiled brat by any other actor. What he says about the episode around his birthday is so compelling. He is indeed an intelligent actor. I just wish he’d trust himself more (I think method is basically insecurity mascarading as affirmative action).

  6. Ihatepeople says:

    … I’d rather read about him than, say, any comic-book movie actor talking about his workouts.

    Omg yes yes yes to this sentence.

  7. manda says:

    I’m currently re-watching succession bc it’s coming back soon. Love the show!

    That thing he said about people saying he smiled too much, that makes me sad 🙁 I never read the new yorker thing because it was WAY too long for me, but he seems like a nice person who was kind of bullied into developing a more closed-off persona, and that’s a bummer. That being said, I saw a thing once about method acting, I think it was robert pattenson saying that people only do method to be like jerks or creeps. You never see someone doing method about just a nice or happy person. And that does seem to be how it is. Just seems like an excuse to not interact with anyone and behave badly

  8. Pix says:

    I love his honesty in this interview. The fact that he says that he felt “exposed” really resonated and I get that it burned extra because the profile writer also went to Yale. I’m a fan. He’s real people.

    • HelloDolly! says:

      As someone who went through public state schools all my life until I went to a doctoral program at an Ivy, I will say that the culture at Ivy league schools can ruin you. That is true. Many marginalized and/or first and second gen students feel intense impostor syndrome at these schools, and this is no surprise to me. Students more than once asked me what prep school I went to; students regularly wore designer clothing to class along with sweaters, pearls, and so on that marked their class; a speaker during the university’s grad studies welcome assembly stupidly asked for those who went through public school to raise their hands and I was one of 10 out of hundreds of students; and the hyper competitive culture in the classsrooms was more intense than at a UC in CA I attended for my MA. I graduated and appreciated some of my time at the Ivy, but these universities can change someone exceptional, unique, and perfect into someone who feels and acts less than and unexceptional.

      • MaryContrary says:

        I wonder if it’s different now? My daughter is in grad school at an Ivy and she’s not experiencing any of this. (She also has her undergrad from a highly ranked UC). It seems like such a diverse mix of people, and I’m pretty sure her friends went to mainly public schools for undergrad.

  9. AnneL says:

    He seems interesting to me too. I am sure method actors can be a pain on (and off) set; but if they turn in great performances (which he apparently does), I can’t fault them for doing it the way that works best for them. It sure seems like he got too much flak for that New Yorker article.

    Full disclosure, I went to Yale too. It is a place that can make you doubt and question yourself. A lot of academically intense colleges are probably like that. Of course self examination is a good thing, to a point. But too much navel-gazing can really harm your self esteem.

    I also haven’t watched the show. I tried one episode and just couldn’t stand any of the characters. Everyone is always raving about it, so I think I’ll give it another go.

    (Currently questioning and doubting my grammar and writing skills…..)

    • Lux says:

      Zooey Deschanel, undoubtedly a very different actor, also went to Yale and felt misunderstood, so there must be some stifling miasma on that New Haven campus.

      I enjoy Succession, love the score especially, and have watched it until mid-season 3, when our HBO subscription expired before I could finish it. Let’s just say…I haven’t been tempted to renew it just to continue? The themes are incredibly repetitive and the intrigue can only carry so far before you stop caring about horrible vs bumbling people. If this is the last season maybe I’ll get back into it because there will be an end in sight. I mean, I care very little about the Murdochs in real life…their fictional counterparts are more interesting, and yet all you want to do is whack them, burn down their cooperation, and tell them there are real problems in the world.

      Jeremy Strong though…even reading this interview was exhausting. His thoughts don’t appear to be fully formed; they’re impressions and streams of consciousness. It’s grinding, trudging through his thoughts with him in real time. What he says about having his daughters and the shadows of being judged is so circuitous and disjointed. If you weren’t in a famine, you wouldn’t have created three beautiful daughters? Going to school with a bunch of self-proclaimed artists—which can be fun but also exhausting—has made me appreciate those who take the time to form coherent thought and speak in complete sentences.

      • Blithe says:

        Full disclosure: Yalie here. No “stifling miasma” to report. Lots of pizza though. I made lifelong friends, experienced invaluable academic opportunities, and reveled in access to resources that were far beyond anything that I had ever dreamed was even possible. I say this as a Black woman who attended under-funded urban public schools in a city that, like many, maintained more than a few vestiges of legal segregation.

        I don’t doubt the details—and the genuine traumas — of other people’s experiences. And, yes, I had — and have — traumas and scars of my own. But I also found support for my growth as a student that was anything but stifling.

        It’s interesting to contrast the articles on Strong with double-Yalie Angela Bassett’s New Yorker profile. For multiple reasons, my personal experiences are much more closely aligned with hers.

    • Nick says:

      @AnneL- You need to get 3 or 4 episodes in. After that, you start having empathy for (some of) them, and at that point everyone I know, and I, was obsessed. I love it.

      • Another Anna says:

        I got a couple episodes in (at least 3-4) and I just hated everybody more with every episode. There’s a meanness at the core of it that I find off-putting. It’s one of those shows I watch through the memes because it’s culturally significant but I don’t want to watch it.

      • Lisa says:

        I hate them all but I still enjoy the show as it reinforces my eat the rich prejudices!

  10. Isabella says:

    Brian Cox could have talked to Strong in private instead of criticizing him in public. Maybe Strong thinks Brian’s method is odd. But he never criticizes him. Both are magic on the screen.

    Cox seems to want to the ensemble cast. to be treated equally in the press but that isn’t how fame works. Maybe the U.S. press focuses on Strong because his character has come of age in the US with all its craziness, money, glamour, violence and drama. Whereas Brian’s character grew up elsewhere and is shaped by that.

  11. A says:

    He comes across as very thoughtful, very well-read, and maybe like he’d be a little difficult to deal with over a long period of time. I don’t think it’s a big, mean-spirited thing to say that he comes across as a lot and that cannot be to everyone’s taste.

  12. Lucy says:

    He seems like a thoughtful, kind person. I think the media’s framing of and reaction to the NYEr piece was so much more damaging than the piece itself. If I recall correctly, the piece portrayed him as a complicated, but interesting person. The media reduced it to a “hit piece.” If I was Michael Schulman, I would have been really distressed.

  13. Nicki says:

    That New Yorker profile was a hit piece. It was deliberately and sadistically cruel. It was fine-tuned to humiliate the subject and wound up revealing more about the writer, who felt so comfortable publicly sneering at someone, than than about Jeremy.

  14. tealily says:

    My takeaway from that New Yorker piece was that he has really hustled to make opportunities for himself and take advantage of every chance he got. I think that’s admirable. I generally think method acting is a drag, but as long as he isn’t bothering anyone, who cares. He’s not sending rats to his colleagues or anything. If this is what it takes for him to deliver a good performance, then I’m glad he found something that works for him. He’s doing just fine.

  15. D says:

    I do think he’s of the generation of actors who felt they should do what all the guys in the 60s and 70s did, which for many of the American actors was Method. People who went to Julliard or Yale typically learned a different method but I think he was watching the Dustin Hoffmans and Brandos and doing what they did. It was a very accepted style for a long time so it isn’t “wrong” but I’m sure it can be exhausting for those on set who use a different style.

    Then there are people like Christian Bale who outright says he does it because he never took classes and doesn’t know how to switch back and forth from “on” to just being himself. I don’t think that’s even the true Method as much as it is a crutch for those who aren’t trained.

  16. Another Anna says:

    I don’t mean this to be pejorative, but it seems like Strong is working out some things through his method acting that he really should be working through with a therapist. I’m actually not interested in hearing more from him about his big feelings because I feel like he’s processing stuff in real time when he’s asked these questions. He seems like a sensitive guy (which is fair, because I am a sensitive woman) which is why I can’t help but feeling like he keeps setting himself up to be hurt more.

  17. Sasha says:

    He’s absolutely phenomenal as Kendall. He really does break your heart in some scenes whilst also being a phenomenal douche. He plays him SO well. Every actor is chef’s kiss on that show but Kendall really does the emotional heavy lifting and he should be so proud of what he’s achieved.

  18. Lucía says:

    It’s not that I feel sorry for him or anything, but…this interview makes me cut him some slack. Sure, the method acting thing is still weird, but it’s nowhere near a Jared Leto level of craziness /creepiness. He doesn’t sound ungrateful nor bitter, and I believe him when he says he loves and respects his costars. I really do appreciate his honesty about being a sensitive man.

  19. MRowe says:

    I used to work with his dad in Boston. His dad is an absolutely delightful, kind social worker. Kind of a gentle hippie. We were a nonprofit human service agency. He always struck me as a well-educated (has his masters) somewhat cultured guy so this narrative about them being “working class” always surprises me. They had a summer home and he was raised in a very wealthy town. I’m sure they had very little actual money, having gone into social work!

    Also, I didn’t connect “Kendall Roy” with “Dave Strong’s struggling actor son Jeremy” until the New Yorker story came out and it blew my mind.

    • Dara says:

      Thank you for sharing,@MRowe. I’ve watched and read a few interviews of Jeremy and it felt like I was missing something essential about him, but knowing he was raised by gentle hippies kind of has things falling into place. A hippie filtered through an Ivy League education coated by Method actor training is exactly Jeremy Strong.

  20. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I started the first episode, with Cox peeing in a corner, and I confess, I turned it off lol. As a person married to a recovering alcoholic, I guess I don’t have to explain why the first five minutes or so triggered me. ¯⁠\⁠_⁠༼⁠ ⁠ಥ⁠ ⁠‿⁠ ⁠ಥ⁠ ⁠༽⁠_⁠/⁠¯

    • Another Anna says:

      I totally get it. Not your exact same situation, but I found that the longer I watched the show, the meaner I became to the people around me because it was activating a traumatized part of me.

    • Nichole says:

      @Mabs, if it helps, the closet urination was to illustrate a decline in his mental faculties – he never exhibited signs of alcohol abuse. I haven’t caught up but there are similar scenes here and there meant to remind you that time is short and he must choose a successor to the company. Hence, Succession!

      That said, there are scenes and storylines involving heavy drug use and so addiction is a theme. I don’t want to get spoiler-y because I’m hoping you’ll give it another episode or two sometime (!), but recovery is also a thread in that theme – I don’t get the sense that we’re shown the events leading up to recovery in a trauma-porn sort of way. 💛

  21. Div says:

    That New Yorker article really made me side eye a lot of entertainment journalists who were saying incredibly nasty sh*t on twitter over what was at worst some pretentious BS..the same people who give Pitt a pass.

    It made him sound like he was a leech on Michelle Williams, when Michelle turned around and said she loved him and he basically really helped her and her daughter after Heath died. Then it turned out that director got annoyed because they took one of his quotes way out of context, and he put out a statement correcting the quote, and all those entertainment journalists got in a huff & starting acting like the director and actors coming to Strong’s defense were bullying them. It was messy….

    Like journalism-not just political journalism-has really decreased in value. I sort of understand why stars seem to do way, way less press nowadays too after seeing how that turned out to be a hit piece and how unprofessional some were on twitter.

  22. phaedra14 says:

    I’m a fan. That’s all. Wishing him success in all his endeavors.

  23. HeyKay says:

    He is so very good as Kendall. He is talented.
    Brian Cox was a rude jackass for speaking publicly about his opinions on Jeremy Strong.
    It seems to me he simply could have made a remark along the lines of We have such a talented, gifted cast. Brian Cox has been around forever, he knew what he was doing.

  24. Brenda says:

    I’m an adult and child psychiatrist, and that ruined me quote made me sad.

  25. Annalise/Typical Virgo says:

    I hate it when people humble-brag

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