For the better part of three seasons, Succession has tricked us into believing it is a series about a wealthy, dysfunctional family and the complicated relationships and power struggles that occur both within it and the media conglomerate founded by its aging patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). But it’s not. No, Succession is really a battle between tall people and short people and directors’ attempts to hide the fact there is an enormous height difference happening in any given scene.
Let’s look at the alleged heights of the main cast members, which I found on Google:
J. Smith-Cameron (Gerri) – 5’4”
Kieran Culkin (Roman) – 5’6”
Sarah Snook (Shiv) – 5’6”
Brian Cox (Logan) – 5’9”
Jeremy Strong (Kendall) – 5’10”
Alan Ruck (Connor) – 6’0”
Matthew Macfadyen (Tom) – 6’3”
Nicholas Braun (Greg) – 6’7”
If these numbers are to be trusted—and I obviously trust them because the internet does not lie and has never been wrong—there is more than a foot difference between the shortest and tallest cast members. The creative minds behind the show have worked diligently to hide this gulf from viewers, and they succeeded initially by using tight shots, putting women in heels, and having Notable Tall People Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun appear opposite one another instead of shorter cast members like J. Smith-Cameron or Kieran Culkin. But the differences in height could no longer be ignored once other Notable Tall People Adrien Brody (6’1”) and Alexander “The Tall Dude from True Blood” Skarsgard (6’4”) joined the cast in Season 3.
Brody appears in the fourth episode of the season, titled “Lion in the Meadow.” He plays Josh Aaronson, a Waystar shareholder losing trust in the company’s leadership amid the feud between Logan and Kendall as well as the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into the company. Brody only appears opposite Cox and Strong—who are reportedly only a few inches shorter than he is—as their characters try to reassure Aaronson things are OK. But even though Aaronson attempts to stoop and come down to their level, it is clear by Brody’s height who holds the cards in this relationship, so we don’t even need anyone to play mind games.
But Brody is just a warm-up act for the seventh episode, “Too Much Birthday,” which really puts the height of various actors into perspective, for that is the episode Skarsgard’s character, Lukas Matsson, is finally introduced. The CEO of a tech company Waystar wants to acquire in order to become a major player in the streaming and sports betting industries, Matsson is seated next to an illuminated fake tree when we first meet him at Kendall’s 40th birthday party. It’s awkward, to say the least. But it’s not as awkward as when we see him slouching in a low-slung chair as Roman attempts to court him later on. Now, the most obvious way of interpreting this scene is that Matsson is disinterested in Kendall’s over-the-top party—at one point, he’s actually playing a game on his phone, so it checks out—but the other possibility is that director Lorene Scafaria is attempting to disguise the nearly 12-inch height difference between Skarsgard and Culkin.
That difference is even more pronounced in the eighth episode, “Chiantishire,” which is directed by Mark Mylod, an executive producer who has helmed several episodes and is likely experienced in hiding height disparity between cast members. In that episode, everyone has traveled to Italy for Caroline’s (Harriet Walter) impending nuptials to a man brave enough to wear bright-colored pants in public. While everyone is enjoying the festivities, Matsson posts a GIF on Twitter that hints he might be backing out of the acquisition Roman and the others thought was in the bag. This sends everyone spiraling, so Roman travels to Matson’s stunning lakeside home. When he arrives, he struggles to get off a boat while Matsson waits on the dock. The camera is above them, which exaggerates the difference in their height, making Roman look diminutive even without Matsson sarcastically offering to lend him a hand. It is an apt visual metaphor. But as the duo walk next to one another in the next shot, Skarsgard is obviously hunching his shoulders, likely to hide the fact he is the Swedish god of attractive tall people.
In the scene that immediately follows, Mylod attempts to downplay the ongoing battle between tall and short people by relying on an optical illusion once favored by Peter Jackson during the filming of The Lord of the Rings and Tom Holland while posing on the red carpet. It makes people appear either taller or shorter than they are in real life. Jackson famously played with depth of field and perception in this way by having Elijah Wood sit or stand further behind Ian McKellan, who was positioned closer to the camera, in order to make the former look much smaller than the latter. Mylod uses the same approach in tight close-ups to achieve the reverse effect: Culkin stands near the camera while Skarsgard is several feet behind him. In this setup, the two men look more similar in size than they actually are.
For many reasons, it’s preferable that one’s on-screen subjects appear equal in height (especially because it means everyone fits into frame). And as a representative of short people, I appreciate any and all attempts at equality. However, in this instance, highlighting the difference between Skarsgard and Culkin might have been worth it. Not only is it visually funny—I can say this because I don’t even crack 5’2”—but it would have further exaggerated the fact Skarsgard’s Matsson currently holds all the power in this relationship. At this point, he probably should tower over a man like Roman, who needs the acquisition of GoJo to go through.
Now, it is obviously revealed by the episode’s end that Matsson is interested in a merger rather than an outright acquisition, so portraying him as equal in size could explain the direction choices. But as Tom also points out, there’s always a top dog. So the battle between short people and tall people should live to see another day.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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