TV

Inside The Making Of The Cringe-Inducing ‘Boar On The Floor’ Scene From ‘Succession’

Director Andrij Parekh doesn’t quite go along with my theory that the “Boar On The Floor” scene in the third episode of Succession’s second season, “Hunting,” is the show’s version of Game Of Thrones’ “Red Wedding,” since both occurred in a grand hall and featured breathtaking maneuvers by patriarchs bent on cruelly asserting their power. One is, of course, a bit more brutal. A bit more brutal. While the other swaps naked brutality for humiliation, allowing us to watch as the three men (who are made to be examples) squirm away with their lives and diminished pride.

Or not.

For, you see, it’s just a game — one that’s revealing, entertaining, and upsetting, but with zero consequences, because those successful, merciless few who exist in the upper stratosphere of modern American society are almost always spared from anything beyond surface (and fleeting) humiliation.

Ahead, we spoke with Parekh (who got an Emmy nomination for his work on the episode), executive producer and episode writer Tony Roche, Brian Cox (nominated for his role as Logan Roy), Nicholas Braun (nominated for his role as Greg Hirsch), and David Rasche (who plays Karl, Logan’s CFO) about “Boar on the Floor.” In doing so, we explore the making of the scene and the impact Logan’s showcase of dominance had on the other characters involved. But before we get to that, though, here’s a chance to soak up the big swings from this debauched little game — a small refresher, as if you could have forgotten “Boar On The Floor.”

The Demon

While the game itself is the headline, copious thought went into the runup with Brian Cox leaning into the setting, sprinkled with a dash of Shakespeare, and the notion that he would free the demon that both lives inside and drives all of Logan’s successes.

Tony Roche (Writer/Producer): I think one of the big things we wanted to do with Season 2 was really explore how poisonous an influence Logan is on his friends and family, as well as on the world. An episode early on in the season which shows how he bullies people and bends them to his will, and the things they do to try to avoid incurring his wrath, and the things they do to earn his favor, helped set out that stall. I think it also elaborated on his tendency to pit people against each other and shows how that fosters an air of paranoia and self-preservation and back-stabbing.

Andrij Parekh (Director): The whole sequence is written as a sort of Hungarian hunting trip. We obviously weren’t going to go to Hungary to shoot this, although it would have been nice. We found a Hungarian castle in Long Island. I think it was built in the 1910s or 1920s as a kind of sort of faux castle. Loved the location. Wanted to set this dinner sequence in what felt like a sort of medieval castle. We hung all sorts of stuffed taxidermied boar heads on the walls. Production designer Stephen H. Carter did a fantastic job on this amazing table that felt very medieval and heavy and grounded. And we just sort of set the stage for them to go a little nuts.

Roche: Andrij Parekh realized the whole sequence brilliantly. It looks beautiful but in a chilly, scary, stuff of nightmares way. It’s not a room I’d ever want to find myself in, let alone be locked in.

Brian Cox (Logan): I think it’s because we are in that environment, and Logan maximizes the environment because that’s his gift. His gift is to see the physical space and go, “Ah, I’m going to pitch that, that way.” And he does it.

Parekh: I did very careful seating charts, a number of times just imagining what it would be like, who should be at the head, who’s at Brian’s right-hand, who’s at his left hand. What that gallery looks like down the aisle on both sides. Where the positions of power are in the room. So there was a lot of, sort of, prep going into that. Those choices were quite important, I think. Deciding who sits where in the room, who gets called out. There are moments where he sort of makes people stand up and call them out. That was not scripted. That for me was a sort of throwback to me being in the fourth or fifth grade and being called up in front of the class and that sort of feeling of humiliation.

Nicholas Braun (Cousin Greg): I just loved watching Brian and seeing him move around the table, picking targets.

Parekh: I love the fact that he’s sort of able to stand behind Tom and sort of menacingly be behind him over his shoulder. I love the moment where Brian sort of leans in over Kendall with both hands and you feel like he might just choke him, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. We set the stage for Brian to just let him loose.

Roche: On big scenes like this there’s often room for the actors to bring a ton of great little touches of their own that can add so much depth. Logan putting his hands on Kendall’s shoulders and Kendall’s incredibly self-conscious reaction to that unexpected show of affection wasn’t scripted. That was just Brian and Jeremy [Strong] coming up with it in the moment. And it’s an exquisite, or exquisitely horrible, moment.
Cox: We’d set it up. We’d seen him through the first season. We’d seen him through the first two episodes, where he’s very amazingly sweet and concerned and genuine about Shiv being the successor.

Parekh: There’s copious amounts of food, and meat, and wine, and Brian’s kind of getting everyone drunk secretly to sort of find them all.

HBO/Peter Kramer

Cox: He’s playing the game of observation. He’s showing them what he does, and they’ve forgotten about that. He feels everybody’s a fucking traitor. “Everybody’s against me. I’ve got to really sort it out.” And the game is the thing that does it. So he gets people to play the game and just remember their position. Because it’s a family. It’s not just the four kids. It’s everybody. It’s Karl, it’s Frank, it’s Gerri, it’s Marcia. It’s all of that. They are all part of that family. And he does see it as his family. And it kind of congeals in that episode when he finally says, “Hang on, we just got to clear the air here. We really got to get down to who’s who, and who’s ambitious and who’s treacherous.”David Rasche (Karl): It’s a rather buttoned-up group. Sure, they’re trying to knife each other, but everybody wears nice clothes, drinks from glasses, and things like that. But this was an aberration, this just, I think shows the breadth of Logan’s ferocity and his willingness to exercise his power in the most ruthless way.

Cox: The thing that’s kept him going his entire life is his demonic self. I mean, it’s older, wiser, smarter, more in reserve, but it’s still there. That demon is still there.

Braun: For Greg, there hasn’t been a lot of exposure to this side of Logan. I think he had heard about it or seen it from a distance, this kind of intensity, but never was it addressed towards him.

Cox: Logan sees the sort of awkward ambition of Greg. And it’s some weird kind of dichotomy that Greg has, because he’s always fighting with himself in some kind of way. Tom is really quite vulnerable in terms of… the real Tom is on the make. And therefore, being on the make as he is, makes him vulnerable. Anybody on the make is vulnerable. They’re weak because they’re desirous of something. And I think that’s what’s so brilliant about using the two of them. They’re fair game in a game like this. They’re the obvious people to pick on. Some people would say, “Well, why didn’t you pick on Kendall? Why didn’t you pick on Roman?” Well, there’s no distance in that, because they’re family, they’re close.

Rasche: Karl is, if nothing else, loyal. I think Karl has faith in Logan. And I think it was also a test of loyalty, at least it seemed like that to me when I was in the middle of it. I don’t think Karl was willing to have his loyalty pressed, he was going to remain loyal no matter what. It didn’t matter what he had to go through.

The Game

HBO

With his targets selected, the stage is set for a further demonstration of strength, dominance, and fealty for the benefit of all the little piggies in the Roy family.

Cox: So that scene, that “Boar On The Floor” scene, suddenly it was kind of like crazy time. You saw the demon come out.

Rasche: When someone says, “Get on the floor,” you have a choice of either getting on the floor or walking out. That’s kind of what you’re confronted with. And I guess what went through my mind as my character was, “This is going to go away.” And you take it one step further and you think,”well it can’t go any further than this,” and then it does. And I guess the choices are, lose everything or suffer humiliation. And I guess we’re all weak enough that our choice was to suffer the humiliation rather than lose everything.

Braun: I think you try to not make it feel vulnerable. Whenever you are in a humiliating moment in real life, you believe it will end very soon. Or you hope it does. It can’t last forever. So I think I just hoped it wasn’t as bad as it looks or as soon as I grab a sausage it will be over and Logan will laugh and it’ll all just be a big joke.

Rasche: You learn a lot about everybody in that scene. You learn who is sniveling and who is defiant and who is ruthless, and did anybody step in and say don’t do that? Did anybody step forward and say, “Logan, what are you doing?” No. Not his children, not his wife, not anybody. So that shows you who they are. So it’s very non-human.

Parekh: The “Boar On The Floor” moment where the guys are on the floor, we were just trying to push the sort of sadism of it and see how denigrating it could be. I had to speak to all the actors ahead of time and ask them like, “How comfortable are you doing this?” Humiliation on-camera is still being humiliated. And so one needs to be very careful with the actor’s sense of trust that they place in you. One has to be very sort of cogent to that. And getting everyone’s permission, basically, to do it even. And to know when you have it and know when to not push it any further before it becomes ugly. Because I feel like it’s quite ugly. It could have gone further, but I think it was enough.

Rasche: I have to say that the rest of the cast just stood with their mouths agape. [Laughs] No one had ever seen humans act like that before, and so there was something sort of disgusting about it. Something sort of revolting about humans being forced to act like swine and doing it. [Laughs]

Braun: Brian brought such charm and fun to the way he plays the game. If it was all heavy and dark, I think it would have felt much different.

Roche: Brian just came roaring in and scared the absolute crap out of everyone. It was mesmerizing. And that scene was a long scene so it was a big number. But he was absolutely pitch-perfect all the way through. Which, of course, helped everyone else to be as well.

Rasche: He [Brian] loved every minute of it. That’s just the truth there. He was in heaven.

Cox: The actors are consummate on the show, and they’re great actors, and they’ll go whatever way the scene is going. They’ll give themselves over to it.

Parekh: I’ve spent a lot of time as a DP and I know I have a good sense, I think, of camera placement and what is going to be used, and what’s not going to be used. And that enables me to be quite precise in that manner to not make the actors do it over and over and over needlessly.

Rasche: I think we got lucky that through the combination of movements of the various men trying in various ways [to fight for the sausage], we ended up with something that worked. Sloppy, uncoordinated, and desperate — it was all those things.

Braun: We just knew Karl had to end up beating Tom for the second sausage.

Cox: I always think it’s not the first time he’s played “Boar On The Floor.” He’s played it before. Probably many, many years ago, he’s played it. And Karl and some of the older people remember the game. They do have a knowledge of it from the past, and they’re kind of trepidatious about it.

Rasche: [Karl’s loud and proud oink] was defiance. “You want me to oink, okay watch this. Okay, you want me to oink louder? Okay, watch this. How much louder? Watch this, I’ll do it.” But it was completely defiant. But again, the thing is you can be defiant but only within certain bounds, because if your defiance goes beyond those bounds, then you’re out. [But] part of the purpose of it was to show him that it could be done victoriously. There could be victory in humiliation.

Braun: I think Greg understands Logan differently from this point on. He realizes the stories are real. He has this side to him. And for everyone else, I think it reaffirms who is at the top of the food chain. And you have to make a decision whether you’re with or against him.

Cox: I don’t want to be him being the sort of obvious version of Logan, because all the time you’re trying to avoid the obvious, but when you’ve got something that’s so stark as this… But then it’s stark within the context of a play, a game and that’s what I didn’t realize. The brilliance of Tony Roche’s writing is that he made it a game. It was a game, so that therefore he could take these liberties with Logan… for the audience, in a way. And it just meant that Logan and everybody went, “Oh, hang on, what’s this?” And then it’s gone. Then we moved on.

Rasche: My guess is that Logan walked out five minutes later and he said, “What’s for dinner?” It’s just something that happened, it’s not like his whole life led up to it and led away from it. It’s just another part of his MO.

Parekh: It’s amazing that it’s such an emotionally brutal scene and that it’s such a sadistic perverse scene that people somehow respond to and understand.

Rasche: My son got texts from all his friends and they play “Boar On The Floor.” It’s like, first of all, it doesn’t exist, okay. He made it up. I’m telling you Tony Roche made it up totally, there’s no such game. And now it’s become common.

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