The “Succession” star discusses she chemistry with Kieran Culkin, her life in the theatre, and also why bantering v the Roy family really is a bit like act Shakespeare.

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“It’s so crazy, because I’m such a dizzy dame,” Smith-Cameron said. “I wouldn’t be a good Gerri in genuine life.”Photograph by Michelle Watt for The new Yorker
J. Smith-Cameron said that we accomplish for martinis at Bemelmans, the gilded piano bar at the Carlyle Hotel. I couldn’t have actually chosen better. The place, really old-school and also very new York, appeared perfectly suitable to Smith-Cameron, who has actually long been a fixture that the city’s theatre scene and also who radiates effortless elegance. (She also smells divine, a follow of Narciso Rodriguez for her eau de parfum.) Smith-Cameron has lately got an avid complying with for her role as Gerri Kellman, the interim C.E.O. (and resides Mrs. Robinson) on “Succession,” the HBO series about a warring new York media family, i m sorry is midway with its 3rd season. But few people in the actors are as dedicated to the city as Smith-Cameron, who moved to the West village from the southern in the nineteen-eighties to go after a life on the stage. V a gift because that wacky comic timing and also the husky voice of a classic screwball heroine, Smith-Cameron ended up being a stalwart player on the Broadway and Off Broadway scenes—a “bread-and-butter actor,” as she put it. In 1998, she won an Obie compensation for her commanding performance together a shifty, melodramatic con artist in Douglas Carter Beane’s pat “As Bees in love husband Drown.” two years later, she married the celebrated playwright turn filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, and also together they became a type of theatrical strength couple, holding court at among their favorite regional haunts, the now defunct cafe Loup.

For many years, Smith-Cameron, that is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and also still has actually a hints of a southern drawl, activate under the radar. She chosen it the way. She dream, she told me, was simply to save the lights on v stimulating phase work. She did act periodically in films, namely in Lonergan’s three-hour 2011 epic “Margaret,” in which she is magnetic as the preening actress mommy of Anna Paquin’s protagonist. However it to be not till “Succession,” a bona fide sensation, that Smith-Cameron uncovered herself famous beyond her Broadway bubble. Suddenly, thousands of strangers were responding to her tweets—Smith-Cameron is really active ~ above Twitter—with effusive commentary around her onscreen flirtations through the lot younger roman inn Roy, the horny scallywag play by Kieran Culkin. In ~ the age of sixty-four, Smith-Cameron finds herself swarmed through “shippers” who make gushing pan art around her character’s sex life. She is loving every minute that it.

Full disclosure: our rendezvous at Bemelmans no feel choose a standard experienced journalistic encounter. The martinis were ice-cold, and our waiter retained bringing us toasted cheese crackers. A woman adjacent had carried along her two Shih Tzus, which wore fussy hair ribbons and sat beside her as she ate a slice of cake. I floated out of the restaurant tipsy from the drinks and also the an excellent company. As soon as I checked Twitter on my means home, I observed that Smith-Cameron had actually tweeted, “i just had the greatest an initial date ever.” The emotion was mutual. Our conversation from the night—and top top a follow-up call—has been condensed and edited. (Warning: mild episode 5 spoiler ahead.)

How walk you recognize you want to perform “Succession”?

I had seen “In the Loop,” so i knew Jesse Armstrong’s name. Then, when I had actually the audition, they sent me a link for the pilot for this reason I could get the tone of it, yet I couldn’t obtain it come play! So i was, like, crap it. Doug Aibel, who has cast my husband’s films, to be the casting director at the point. He actors “Margaret.” Well, i mean, Kenny had cast me in “Margaret,” but, friend know. I guess the was maybe Doug’s idea to see some ladies for that part, because it was composed for a man. It was Jerry, J-E-R-R-Y, in the scripts that ns read. The an initial scene that we shot was in between Kieran and also me, however it was claimed to it is in a guy, so the crude oil language in it was simply the way they constantly talk to every other. I tried to do this thing where ns straddled being unflappable yet being grossed out. Girlfriend know just how Gerri is always wincing and also rolling she eyes and also pretending she didn't hear? however she’s not clutching she pearls. It’s so crazy, due to the fact that I’m such a light dame. Like, ns wouldn’t be a great Gerri in actual life.

What’s a “dizzy dame”?

I’m type of daffy. Girlfriend know, choose Carole Lombard.

Have you constantly been blond?

Oh, no, I’m really a dark brunette. I have actually a brunette personality.

Did you always like old movies cultivation up?

I didn’t watch lot TV. I simply read books. I lived mostly in south Carolina. Ns was born in Kentucky yet we moved roughly the Southeast. We settled down in Greenville, southern Carolina, because that a long time. There weren’t VCRs and also stuff like that yet. I have actually a huge sister that I’m really close with, and also she presented me to cultural things a lot. She would introduce me to Broadway musicals—like, we put on the album, the LP, the “Oliver!” and would sing all the numbers. Us watched old movies on Saturday mornings. And then i have just constantly loved them together an adult. I discovered Preston Sturges in my at an early stage adulthood.

Oh! I just saw “Sullivan’s Travels” because that the an initial time this summer.

I’m so jealousy of you the you simply saw it! Veronica Lake was pregnant when she make it—did you understand that? and I’ve constantly been in love v Joel McCrea. Girlfriend know how he is so cranky? ns married a cranky guy! ns mean, O.K., it is an understatement. He’s very cranky. As soon as we met, we had a tiny snappy exchange.

Why were you snapping at each other?

It to be at this night of short, one-scene plays. Kenny gift the particle that became the movie “You have the right to Count ~ above Me.” It was by far the finest play. And also he was likewise in a various play, being an extremely adorable and an extremely cranky. So i was, like, Who is that cranky guy? Is he happy or married or something? due to the fact that I simply felt favor I knew anyone in the theatre human being at that time. I found out the he’d created the really great play the the evening. Then i passed that in a stairwell, and he was moving his bike. I said, “Your beat reminds me the a william Inge beat or something.” and also he was, like, “I nothing really recognize who the is.” and I said, “Did you walk to college?” and he went, “Yes!” and I said, “Well, i didn’t, and I know who william Inge is!” and that to be the whole first exchange. Appropriate out of a call Sturges film.

What to be your very first big exhilaration gig?

I got cast to carry out a entirety season of local theatre in Miami, in Coconut Grove. There’s a beautiful old theatre there that ns think is empty now. I obtained hired to play all the ingénue roles once I was twenty. Ns did Ophelia, “Agnes that God,” “A Christmas Carol.” It was a genuine paycheck, and I join Actors’ Equity.

Is that once you started going through J.?

My birth name is Jeannie Smith. As soon as I went away to college, that suddenly felt very little-girlish to me. When I signed up because that the auditions, I simply put “J,” period, Smith. It became kind of a mystique, due to the fact that they would call me to read any kind of part—like, also the grandpa part. It was like being named John Doe or something! once I join Equity, though, ns couldn’t be just “J. Smith,” since there were also many human being I could be mistake for. So ns took a family name, i beg your pardon is Cameron, and also I was “J. Cameron” for a while. Then i made a Victor Nuñez movie, and also it went to the new York film Festival. He placed “J. Smith-Cameron” in the program. He kind of made the up. I maintained thinking ns would kind it the end later, due to the fact that it sound a tiny pretentious. At the time, i felt choose a phony Brit in one Agatha Christie drama, like, “Oh, Lady Smith-Cameron.

Did you ever before join a theatre company in brand-new York City?

I remained in a short-lived but fantastic theatre firm called Drama Department. It only existed because that a few years. I did this play v them referred to as “As Bees in love husband Drown,” by Douglas Carter Beane. This to be his an initial big hit. I played a con artist who comprised her personality native watching old movies. Her persona is made up of Rosalind Russell, Liza Minnelli, Audrey Hepburn, and Tallulah Bankhead. That was a developmental experience. Climate I was in “Lend Me a Tenor,” which was a hit, therefore I gained stuck in it. Most plays don’t run on and also on unless they’re musicals. I was in it because that a year, which for a right play is . . . Well, you lose your mind several times.

It go feel favor doing eight shows a main is a quick method to lose your sanity. You should have an excellent backstage horror stories.

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My friend Patricia Elliott, an actress ns did “The Voice that the Turtle” with, called me a great story. She remained in “A small Night Music” as soon as that to be the warm ticket. And also she looked out, and also there was Richard Burton in the residence seats, looking in ~ her prefer a goddess. She was type of flirting through Richard in the footlights. And then it pertained to her verse, and also she totally blanked. Once she got offstage, completely weirded out, she dresser smacked her throughout the face!

Did you ever before have something walk wrong choose that, wherein you forgot her lines?

Oh, plenty of times. When you’re in a long run the something, that a little like she on a tour of duty. You have horrible shows. “As Bees in love husband Drown” is this really frothy comedy, and also was yes, really successful. However there to be one night once no one laughed at all. It to be surreal, and also we were every flipping out, however we trundled along. It’s kind of good, since then you’re not trying because that the laugh and you’re simply trying come play the fact of the moment. But additionally you’re humiliated.