Sarah Snook is so adept at embodying the wily Siobhan “Shiv” Roy, on HBO’s breakout hit Succession, that she feels compelled to make clear that she is nothing like the character in real life. “I get a lot of ‘Shiv’s pretty badass,’ which I like, [but] I worry that people will think that I’m like Shiv … and I’m very different,” she explained in early August, shortly after finishing filming on Season Two. “She’s all buttoned up and straight lines, and I’m not that. I’m, hopefully, a lot friendlier than her.”
Shiv—who has been compared to the likes of Ivanka Trump, Elisabeth Murdoch, and Shari Redstone—is one of four children of media-conglomerate founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox); the crux of the delicious series is the competition between the quartet, who strive, with varying degrees of effectiveness and ingenuity, to position themselves as the successor for the aging, imposing patriarch. But while Shiv’s three brothers, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck), represent variations on the theme of “doofus” (tortured doofus, puckish doofus, and doofus doofus, respectively), Shiv, for the most part, has appeared to be the relative voice of reason and equanimity.
“I worry that people will think that I’m like Shiv … and I’m very different.”
Shiv was somewhat sidelined from the Roy-family corporate jockeying in the first season, as she was working as a political consultant for a Bernie Sanders–esque politician. But in the Season Two premiere, she moves to the forefront when Logan tells his daughter he has selected her to take his place. (It becomes less clear, as the season goes on, whether he will keep to his word.) For Snook, this shift in Shiv’s arc came as something of a shock. When she first got the part, she’d asked creator Jesse Armstrong if Shiv “wanted to take over” the company. “He was like, ‘Mmm, no … ’ So I was like, ‘Oh, O.K., I guess I’m not playing that angle, then.’ And I completely shut that down.”
But Snook does not hesitate when asked about Shiv’s motives now: she wants that spot at the head of the table. “I think she thinks that she can do it better than other people or the brothers. And also there’s the sense of the constant needing to prove themselves in the family.... It reveals a very sensitive spot within her that goes, Yes, she’s wanted this all along.”
Snook said that, while people enjoy drawing lines from the deranged, layered dynamics of the Roy family to that of the Murdochs or other media dynasties, she does not base Shiv on any particular person or real-life analogue. “I think basing these characters on real people becomes too finite and too limiting. So, for me, it was much more exciting to create my own version of who this woman could be, having grown up in the petri dish of wealth and power in America, particularly.” And she appreciates that her character—one of the only female leads on the show—is written with complexity and nuance. Snook said she has been very gratified that her character is not “the meat [or] positioned as ‘Well, she’s the hot thing.’” She continued, “That can be very degrading and a lot of women find themselves in those positions in shows, and I think that just is so damaging and it shouldn’t be that way.”
In person, Snook—born in Australia, the youngest of three sisters—has a quiet, pensive presence, characterized by little of the trademark Roy-family outrageousness. She shared that she recently has taken up the ukulele—which she described as a “completely anti-Shiv” hobby: “Something as whimsical as that? No.” Rather than spend her “off-season” in New York or Los Angeles, she will be hiking in Switzerland with one of her sisters, before traveling in Europe. And though she maintains an Instagram account, promoting herself on social media does not come naturally to her. “It’s like you’re being demanded to be an extrovert,” she said. “I really admire and I have a lot of respect for the people who can do it. I overthink things … ”
In addition to her work on Succession—which was recently renewed for a third season—Snook will appear in The American Pickle, the 2020 comedy starring Seth Rogen, in which she plays “a woman with a distinctive sneeze, [who] has a fight scene, a limp, and only speaks Yiddish.” (Just like Shiv!) She said she also hopes to direct soon, and she shadowed one of the Succession directors for a portion of the second season.
At one point, as Snook recounted the ways in which she felt grateful to be part of Succession, she paused, and it occurred to me that one thing Shiv and Snook do have in common is that they both hold your attention completely, with a sort of direct, rapturous gaze. She then continued, “I feel very lucky to be in a position where I’m playing an interesting, complex, strong female character in a show that has good dialogue, great scenes, interesting characters, and story arcs—and shoots in fucking New York. What a gift.”
Josh Duboff is a writer and screenwriter living in New York