Succession’s Mr Nicholas Braun Has Got This
Please don’t expect Mr Nicholas Braun to talk about the Crocs. “I can’t… I can’t even go into that. Come on,” he sighs. “I don’t regret it. I just can’t have a single more headline be about the Crocs.”
Last year’s Emmy Awards took place virtually. There was no red carpet and the celebrities could wear whatever they wanted at home. Mr Dan Levy (Thom Browne skirt suit; matching face mask) and Mr Billy Porter (draped ivory jacket; Lorraine Schwartz jewellery) went big. But Braun, nominated for playing Cousin Greg in HBO’s Succession, opted for a more WFH approach. He wore a navy Paul Smith suit paired with matching Crocs (plus white socks), customised with Jibbitz charms spelling out “Antibodies”, the name of the quarantine-inspired pop song he’d recently released. The internet, obviously, flipped its lid.
“It’s not like I’m a Crocs – what do you call it? – ambassador,” he says. All the same, the divisive foam clog company must have been happy. “Yeah,” he says. “Probably.”
Braun is at home on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – New York blinking back to post-pandemic life as this interview is taking place. He has been navigating “the social paranoia” of readjusting. This morning, he forgot his mask at the bagel shop. On the other hand, being able to reunite with friends at Ray’s, the bar he co-owns with Mr Justin Theroux, has been a godsend.
“It’s awesome,” he says. “I love that place, and we’ve got a nice crew of regulars.” Ray’s is, in truth, the hottest celebrity hangout in Braun’s neighbourhood. Ms Gigi Hadid, Mr Mark Ronson and Mr Dave Chappelle have all ordered a beer on tap, chalked up at the pool table and stuck a dime in the jukebox, at least theoretically. Ray’s is an old-school dive bar by design. Forget mirrored walls, private banquettes and magnums of champagne: this A-list hotspot comes with shag pile-carpeted stairs, posters of Mr Dale Earnhardt on its walls and a selfie-proof vomit-yellow bathroom. Much like the undiscussable Emmys footwear, it speaks to a take-it-or-leave-it Lower East Side style that’s very on-brand for Braun.
“I think my sense of style is getting better, actually,” he says, today wearing a well-cut sweatshirt, silver necklace and impish grin. “I like stuff that’s kind of simple. I don’t dress crazily, though sometimes you want to try and pull off something a little bit extra. I’m still in the comfort phase of Covid where I just want things that feel good and are easy to put on. But also, I’ve gotten to appreciate when something’s well-made. Like, ‘Oh, this is the good shit.’”
Recent purchases include jeans and a dress shirt from Acne Studios (“I think I’m evolving into that kind of guy”). Another go-to is rag & bone, a label he suspects is a good fit, both literally and figuratively, by dint of the fact of its owner, Mr Marcus Wainwright, is tall.
Braun is 6ft 7in. I tell him that I’m 5ft 6in – something that comes with its own set of challenges. “I feel like clothes are more made for your body than my body, really,” he says. “Just the lengths of shirts… If you try a large shirt, the shirt’s too short. Then you try an XL and it’s for, like, a much thicker man.”
I mention Mr David Walliams’ rationale that he tends to wear tailoring because, as a man of stature (he’s 6ft 2in), anything else can look sloppy. “I mean, you do look better when it’s a slim fit,” Braun says. “But for me, wearing a suit jacket or blazers, it’s just… short sleeves. It’s always, like, ‘How much more material can we get out of that sleeve? Maybe a half-inch? OK, I’ll have to roll it, make it look casual…’”
Then again, it’s a good time to be the tall guy. Mr Jeff Goldblum has been enjoying a style renaissance with his bold Prada shirts and sleek SAINT LAURENT looks, while The Last Dance was one of the past year’s best-dressed, most-discussed TV series – and a slam dunk in power dressing. (Like Mr Michael Jordan, Braun favours earth tones: stone-greys, browns, pinks.)
“Basketball players always dress well,” Braun says. “They still do now. You see [Brooklyn Nets’] James Harden and [Los Angeles Lakers’] Russell Westbrook, right?”
Braun has always stood out. Then in 2018 he joined Succession, the carbon-black comedy-drama about the dysfunctional owners of Waystar RoyCo, a global media and hospitality empire and a family unambiguously based on the Murdochs, set to return for a third season next month. (Showrunner Mr Jesse “Peep Show” Armstrong originally conceived it as a biopic.) As Gregory “Greg” Hirsch, the grandnephew of patriarch Logan Roy (played by Mr Brian Cox), bumbling wide-eyed outsider Cousin Greg soon established himself as the best character on the best show on TV. Braun must have really stood out.
“It’s crazy, and it’s not crazy,” he says of his fame. “[Being recognised] does happen a lot, but it’s not like I’m some big pop star or something where women scream and cry when they see you. People are nice. New York is different, though. There’s still a sense of anonymity in New York. You could sit on a park bench and have a coffee, you know? For the most part people in New York are worried about their own shit.”
Mr David Bowie once recalled that at the height of his fame he could walk around Manhattan with spiky orange hair and snow-white tan, totally unbothered. (He later moved there.) “Yeah, I think that’s right,” Braun says. “It doesn’t have to be a big, big thing like in LA. There’s a culture about celebrity that’s different.”
Another blessing: Succession isn’t big on catchphrases. There’s no obvious “say my name” or “bada bing!” for people to bellow at Braun across the sidewalk. “‘Cousin Greg!’ is the thing,” he says. “Or ‘Greg the Egg!’ which is funny, because it was just one line in season one, that Kendall’s mother had – ‘You’re Greg the Egg! When you were born, you looked like a little misshapen egg!’”
We recently got to see Braun become someone else entirely. Released earlier this year, the movie Zola concerned a Detroit waitress who is seduced into a weekend of stripping in Florida for some easy cash, a 48-hour odyssey involving her nefarious friend, her pimp and her idiot boyfriend. Braun played the idiot boyfriend. It was a brilliant and unusual piece of work, not least because it was based on a real 148-tweet Twitter thread documenting actual events. Produced by A24, the independent film studio du jour (Uncut Gems, Midsommar, The Lighthouse), it didn’t take long for some initial high jinks to descend into the cinematic equivalent of a 90-minute heart attack. The two leads are Aziah “Zola” King (Ms Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Ms Riley Keough), but the most loveable character is Derrek, a baggy-trousered doofus whom Braun somehow makes sympathetic.
“I wanted to explore this relationship where Derrek doesn’t have any power,” Braun says. “When you’re in a relationship where you really love the person, you want to believe in it, right? I thought it was worth exploring somebody who doesn’t know what’s good for him.”
“Derrek is so tender and earnest because of Nick,” says Ms Janicza Bravo, Zola’s director and co-writer. “Nick brings a generosity to the characters he plays and he plays them with a good deal of intention. He isn’t judging them. The best performers bring a little of their own juice to the people they’re embodying.”
Derrek’s dress sense wouldn’t have cut much mustard at Waystar RoyCo – chinstrap beard, rope chain and reverse adidas cap. Also, dinosaur underpants. It’s a look Braun had a forensic level of input into. “I think the dinosaur underwear felt right because I see him as stunted, he hasn’t bought new underwear since seventh grade. Also socks – socks are the last thing immature people remember, so his are filled with holes. Whereas he probably cleans his sneakers with a toothbrush. I wanted the clothes to be baggy so you could feel he’s malnourished.”
Then there was Derrek’s grooming regimen, or lack thereof. “I wanted him to be bad at the things that make you a healthy person. Like washing your hair, washing your hands, brushing your teeth. I got them to put a little red around my nose to look like a rash. I had little lesion-type cuts on my hands and arms. He’s an unhealthy guy, and this relationship is the main reason for it. If you don’t respect yourself, you don’t take care of yourself.”
Don’t think Braun owes his success to Succession. He has been working since he was five, got his first movie aged 11. At 13, he was asked to test for a network pilot and move out to LA – what every child actor dreams of. “I was in prime position,” he says. “But my dad and I spoke and felt like I could lose, five, six, seven years of my teenage life. Because they sign you up for six or seven seasons, with these contracts. I was, like, ‘Well, this doesn’t feel quite like the way that a child’s life should go.’ So, it wasn’t that hard of a decision for me.”
Braun’s father looms large in his career. At 54, Mr Craig Braun changed vocations to become an actor himself, though he’d already made a fairly significant contribution to the arts. As the owner and creative director of the Sound Packaging Corporation, Braun Snr was the go-to guy for elaborate album covers in the 1960s and 1970s. The peelable banana on The Velvet Underground & Nico was one of his. Likewise, the working zip on The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, once named the best album cover ever. He also came up with The Rolling Stones’ logo. The “lips and tongue” design has generated billions in merchandising. Braun was paid £50 for the original and later sold his copyright to the band for £26,000. “He sold it thinking, ‘Well, these bands don’t stick around for ever’,” Braun says. “And then they stuck around for ever.”
Braun didn’t move to LA, but he did continue acting. “I started acting because of my dad and for a while he was my audition coach. I lived in Connecticut with my mom, but sometimes I’d come in [to NYC, where his dad lived] the night before an audition – or come right after school and we’d meet in the basement of Grand Central and work on the audition. Then I’d come out and tell him how it went. He knew me so well and he knew my potential. He’d encourage me to go for things.”
In 2005, Braun played Zach Attack in the hit teenage superhero film Sky High. A couple of years later, he became a contemporary of Mses Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus as part of the Disney crew. After that came the TV series 10 Things I Hate About You. “I was just obsessed with acting,” he says. Along with talent and training, the other skill every successful actor has to have is knowing how to market themselves, as a product.
“It’s not like other arts where, if you make music or you write songs, you can put it up on SoundCloud or whatever [although Braun also does this]. You have to be hired to do it. So, you’re kind of gambling on yourself. Like, ‘All right, I haven’t got the last 12 auditions, let’s give it another go’. You’re betting on yourself and your love of it. And on your style being something particular enough that eventually someone will get. There are so many things that are out of your control. A lot of the time I would walk into auditions and I knew I wasn’t going to get the role if they go, ‘Oh wow. You’re tall.”
Then, of course, there’s the fact that a megahit is both a blessing and a curse. Braun may very well appear again in something that comes to define the era, that goes down as art for the ages, like Succession. But those gigs don’t tend to come along too often.
“It’s great doing something small, but also acting’s an art that needs to be seen,” he says. “If you’re like, ‘Man, I did some great work on this, but nobody saw it,’ then it’s, like, ‘Well, fuck’. It feels good to have your work seen.”
The week after we speak, it is announced to blanket approval that Braun will star in Cat Person, an adaptation of the 2017 New Yorker short story that became a viral sensation. “I don’t think Nick’s got to worry about his future,” says Bravo. “Of course he’s got leading man potential. He’s a hunk. Is your director allowed to call you a hunk? I’m not sure.”
Anyway, it’s not like Braun knew that Succession would be a bona fide hit. “I didn’t know what the tone was, reading it. Even in the table read, I don’t remember us laughing that much. But it got really funny on set, and really uncomfortable. Before the show had been seen by anybody in the world, I was, like, ‘I don’t know how Greg fits into this, because all my stuff feels funny and kind of light compared to all these intense family dynamics with Roman and Kendall’. I was, like, ‘I think I’m going to get cut out of this show a lot, because I don’t think I’m going to fit into what this is.’”
It’s now obvious that was part of a longer game for his character, who we’ve watched emerge from the shadow of Tom Wambsgans, Greg’s sometime mentor and Roy family punchbag, played by Mr Matthew Macfadyen. “I look forward to every Tom and Greg moment together on set,” Macfadyen says. “I try to think of terrible, tragic, sombre things to stop myself cracking up. It rarely works. Nick’s generous and detailed, bold brilliant and funny. He’s totally alive to any situation he’s in. There’s an innocence to Greg. But he’s not without ambition, vanity, pettiness. And unscrupulousness.”
Please don’t expect Nicholas Braun to talk Succession spoilers. “We’ll see,” he says, of his character’s development in the upcoming season. “We’ll see where he goes.” He’s about to go full Dark Greg, surely? “He’s really getting put through a lot in this season,” Braun says carefully. “I think if you’re ambitious and you want to do well, you get to learn from those guys. You get to see what Logan’s doing, yet get to see how Roman is moving. He’s picking it up. It doesn’t come naturally but he wants to be more of a shark than he is.”
The internet says Succession has been filming in New York, Virginia and Italy. Would Braun like to confirm or deny those locations? “I err on the side of not confirming anything.”
Covid shut down production for months. Did that change anything? Did it give the writers a chance to revisit and repolish? “Um, I think I will also leave that one alone.”
How about this: does anyone die in season three? “Everyone,” Braun blinks. “And in the first episode. So, there are a lot of episodes after that where nothing happens. It’s just emergency workers cleaning up all the debris and stuff. It’s quite dark.”
Mr Nicholas Braun: he does an excellent job of playing clowns. But he’s no one’s fool.
Succession season three is out on 17 October on HBO in the US, and 18 October on Sky Atlantic in the UK