HBO’s Succession is, at its core, about a very white, very patriarchal family-run conservative media conglomerate, but in its second season a small sorority emerges within the belly of the beast. Much of the show’s sophomore run focuses on Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) quest to purchase a rival liberal news empire, presumably based on CNN, that’s diametrically opposed to everything he stands for. The fictional PGN—and the family behind it—isn’t only left-wing but highly intellectual and women-run. Cherry Jones plays the matriarch of the Pierce family, Nan Pierce, with Holly Hunter starring as her right hand, Rhea Jarrell. The season also focuses on Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin) the head of the Roy’s Fox News-esque TV station, and trusty family fixer Gerri Killman (J. Smith-Cameron), rounding out an impressive squad of veteran actresses. Between them they’re Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe winners. And they all happen to be over the age of 60. Unlike other women of a certain age on television, they’re not mothers or grandmothers. They’re not retired. They’re general counsels, CEOs, and heads of global networks whose concerns appear to be less about being aging women in demanding jobs and more about making money, wielding influence, and not getting fucked with. Basically, they’re no different than the men on the show.
By Hollywood standards, this is pretty radical. During the 2018-2019 television season, 56% of female characters were in their 20s and 30s. Just 3% of women were 60 and above. But female representation is something that’s top of mind for Succession’s creator, Jesse Armstrong. “We’re aware that this world of media moguls and bankers is male-dominated, [but] when we have the opportunity to have more women on the show we gravitate towards it,” he tells Glamour. “Jeannie, Holly, Cherry, and J. are a delight to write for. They’re not straightforward ‘women’ [roles], there’s a lot you get to sink your teeth into.”
When Smith-Cameron, 62, first auditioned to play Waystar Royco’s general counsel, the role was written as a man. But after she read for it, Gerry became Gerri. What Smith-Cameron finds exceptional about her role, and the show’s other female powerhouses is that they’re like nothing you’ve ever seen before. “We’re not generic. You could say that we’re all middle aged ball-busters, but we’re quirkier than that,” she says. “[We’re] specifically drawn and that within itself is a very revolutionary thing on television.” Initially Gerri was only slated to appear in a few episodes. But when Succession came back this summer, Gerri and her pithy retorts had become a mainstay of the series. Smith-Cameron also found herself with a shocking new plot line: a quasi affair with the youngest Roy, 30-something Roman (Kieran Culkin). While there’d always been a steady kinship between family jester Roman and his frequent ally, things hit a fever pitch when it morphed into a full-on dominant and submissive relationship. A twist as stunning to the actors as it was to the audience. “Roman and Gerri having any glimmer of a sexual relationship is itself rather radical,” she says. “Sometimes it’s sort of amusing, others it’s disgusting, but what’s so fun is you can’t pigeonhole it. She’s so snarky and he’s so nasty—there’s a kind of sympatico to it.”
Along with a meaty plotline, the second season also reunited Smith-Cameron with old friends. The very first play she performed in New York, Crimes of the Heart on Broadway, was alongside Hunter, 61. Then years later she starred in two different shows with her now-pal, Jones. Plus, Jones and Hunter also have a special relationship all their own. Together they were the only “Southern girls” during their time Carnegie Mellon, and after college Hunter stayed with Jones on 71st Street while going on auditions in New York City. “[On Succession] we’d work and then all go to the bar, have a drink, dinner, and practically tuck each other in at the end of the night we were having so much fun,” says Jones, 62. “Now that Holly, J., and I had that wonderful reunion we’re back in each other’s lives for keeps. We’re already making dates for lunch when they get back to New York. [It’s been] a boom for our friendship.”