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

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“It’s therefore crazy, because I’m such a dizzy dame,” Smith-Cameron said. “I wouldn’t be a great Gerri in genuine life.”Photograph by Michelle Watt because that The new Yorker
J. Smith-Cameron argued that we accomplish for martinis in ~ Bemelmans, the gilded piano bar at the Carlyle Hotel. Ns couldn’t have chosen better. The place, very old-school and very brand-new York, seemed perfectly suited to Smith-Cameron, who has actually long to be a fixture of the city’s theatre scene and also who radiates effortless elegance. (She also smells divine, a trail of Narciso Rodriguez for her eau de parfum.) Smith-Cameron has actually lately gained an avid adhering to for her duty as Gerri Kellman, the interim C.E.O. (and resides Mrs. Robinson) ~ above “Succession,” the HBO collection about a warring new York media family, i m sorry is midway with its third season. But few people in the cast are as committed to the city as Smith-Cameron, who relocated to the West town from the southern in the nineteen-eighties to pursue a life ~ above the stage. Through a gift for wacky comic timing and also the husky voice that a classic screwball heroine, Smith-Cameron became a stalwart player top top the Broadway and Off Broadway scenes—a “bread-and-butter actor,” together she placed it. In 1998, she winner an Obie compensation for her commanding performance together a shifty, melodramatic con artist in Douglas Carter Beane’s beat “As Bees in honey Drown.” 2 years later, she married the commemorated playwright rotate filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, and also together they ended up being a type of theatrical power couple, stop court at one of their favorite neighborhood haunts, the now defunct cafe Loup.

For countless years, Smith-Cameron, who is initially from Louisville, Kentucky, and also still has a hint of a southerly drawl, activate under the radar. She liked it that way. Her dream, she called me, was just to store the lamp on through stimulating phase work. She walk act occasionally in films, specific in Lonergan’s three-hour 2011 epic “Margaret,” in which she is magnetic together the preening actress mom of Anna Paquin’s protagonist. But it was not until “Succession,” a bona fide sensation, that Smith-Cameron uncovered herself famous past her Broadway bubble. Suddenly, thousands of strangers to be responding to she tweets—Smith-Cameron is really active on Twitter—with effusive commentary about her onscreen flirtations v the lot younger roman inn Roy, the horny scallywag played by Kieran Culkin. In ~ the period of sixty-four, Smith-Cameron finds herself swarmed through “shippers” who make gushing fan art around her character’s sex life. She is loving every minute the it.

Full disclosure: our rendezvous at Bemelmans didn’t feel prefer a standard professional journalistic encounter. The martinis to be ice-cold, and our waiter maintained bringing us toasted cheese crackers. A woman adjacent had lugged along her 2 Shih Tzus, which wore fussy hair ribbons and sat next to her together she ate a part of cake. I floated out of the restaurant tipsy from the drinks and the an excellent company. When I confirm Twitter top top my means home, I saw that Smith-Cameron had tweeted, “i just had the greatest very first date ever.” The feeling was mutual. Our conversation from the night—and top top a follow-up call—has to be condensed and edited. (Warning: mild episode 5 spoiler ahead.)

How walk you understand you wanted to carry out “Succession”?

I had seen “In the Loop,” so ns knew Jesse Armstrong’s name. Then, once I had actually the audition, they sent out me a connect for the pilot therefore I can get the tone of it, yet I couldn’t gain it to play! So i was, like, fuck it. Doug Aibel, that has actors my husband’s films, was the casting director at that point. He actors “Margaret.” Well, i mean, Kenny had actors me in “Margaret,” but, friend know. Ns guess it was probably Doug’s idea to watch some females for that part, because it was written for a man. It was Jerry, J-E-R-R-Y, in the script that ns read. The an initial scene that we shot was between Kieran and me, but it was supposed to it is in a guy, therefore the rudely language in that was just the way they constantly talk to every other. I tried to carry out this point where ns straddled gift unflappable however being grossed out. Friend know exactly how Gerri is always wincing and rolling her eyes and also pretending she didn't hear? however she’s no clutching she pearls. It’s for this reason crazy, since I’m such a dizzy dame. Like, ns wouldn’t it is in a great Gerri in actual life.

What’s a “dizzy dame”?

I’m kind of daffy. Friend know, favor Carole Lombard.

Have you constantly been blond?

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

Did you constantly like old movies growing up?

I no watch much TV. I just read books. I lived mostly in southern Carolina. I was born in Kentucky however we moved approximately the Southeast. We worked out down in Greenville, south Carolina, for a long time. Over there weren’t VCRs and also stuff favor that yet. I have actually a large sister that I’m yes, really close with, and also she presented me to social things a lot. She would introduce me to Broadway musicals—like, we put on the album, the LP, the “Oliver!” and also would sing all the numbers. Us watched old movies on Saturday mornings. And then i’ve just constantly loved them as an adult. I found Preston Sturges in my early on adulthood.

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

I’m so jealousy of you the you just saw it! Veronica Lake to be pregnant as soon as she made it—did you know that? and also I’ve always been in love with Joel McCrea. You know exactly how he is therefore cranky? i married a cranky guy! ns mean, O.K., it is an understatement. He is very cranky. Once we met, we had a little snappy exchange.

Why were you snapping at every other?

It to be at this night of short, one-scene plays. Kenny gift the seeds that became the movie “You can Count top top Me.” It to be by far the ideal play. And he was additionally in a various play, being very adorable and an extremely cranky. So ns was, like, Who is the cranky guy? Is he gay or married or something? because I just felt favor I knew everyone in the theatre human being at that time. I discovered out the he’d composed the really great play of the evening. Then i passed that in a stairwell, and he was carrying his bike. Ns said, “Your play reminds me the a wilhelm Inge beat or something.” and also he was, like, “I nothing really recognize who the is.” and also I said, “Did you go to college?” and he went, “Yes!” and also I said, “Well, ns didn’t, and I understand who wilhelm Inge is!” and also that to be the whole an initial exchange. Right out the a call Sturges film.

What to be your very first big acting 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 north now. I gained hired to play every the ingénue roles when I was twenty. Ns did Ophelia, “Agnes the God,” “A Christmas Carol.” It was a real paycheck, and also I join Actors’ Equity.

Is that as soon as you began going through J.?

My birth surname is Jeannie Smith. As soon as I went far to college, that suddenly felt really little-girlish to me. Once I signed up for the auditions, I just put “J,” period, Smith. It ended up being kind that a mystique, because they would call me come read any part—like, also the grandpa part. The was choose being named John Doe or something! when I join Equity, though, i couldn’t be just “J. Smith,” due to the fact that there were too many people I could be failure for. So ns took a family members name, i beg your pardon is Cameron, and also I was “J. Cameron” for a while. Then ns made a Victor Nuñez movie, and also it saw the new York movie Festival. He put “J. Smith-Cameron” in the program. He sort of made it up. I retained thinking ns would kind it the end later, because it sounded a tiny pretentious. In ~ the time, i felt like a phony Brit in one Agatha Christie drama, like, “Oh, Lady Smith-Cameron.

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

I remained in a short-lived but fantastic theatre firm called Drama Department. It only existed because that a couple of years. I did this play with them called “As Bees in honey Drown,” through Douglas Carter Beane. This was his an initial big hit. Ns played a con artist who comprised her personality indigenous watching old movies. Her persona is comprised 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, so I gained stuck in it. Many plays don’t run on and on uneven they’re musicals. I remained in it because that a year, which because that a straight play is . . . Well, you lose your mind numerous times.

It walk feel favor doing eight shows a mainly is a quick method to lose your sanity. You have to have good backstage horror stories.

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My friend Patricia Elliott, one actress ns did “The Voice that the Turtle” with, told me a good story. She remained in “A tiny Night Music” as soon as that to be the warm ticket. And also she looked out, and there to be Richard Burton in the residence seats, looking at her choose a goddess. She was kind of flirting with Richard in the footlights. And then it concerned her verse, and she completely blanked. As soon as she gained offstage, fully weirded out, her dresser smacked her throughout the face!

Did you ever before have something walk wrong favor that, where you forgot your lines?

Oh, countless times. As soon as you’re in a long run that something, the a little bit like you on a tourism of duty. You have actually horrible shows. “As Bees in honey Drown” is this really frothy comedy, and was yes, really successful. However there to be one night once no one laugh at all. It was surreal, and we were every flipping out, but we trundled along. It’s sort of good, because then you’re no trying for the laugh and also you’re just trying come play the fact of the moment. But additionally you’re humiliated.