Fisher Stevens on Wrangling a Beast – and Season 2 of ‘Tiger King’

When it comes down to it, Logan Roy demands the same of his family as he does of the people who work for him at Waystar Royco: unwavering loyalty. As Kendall and everyone else have been reminded this season succession, anyone who is deficient on that front quickly ends up as the object of Logan’s wrath and recipient of his mighty wrath.

It has not been a problem (so far) for Hugo Baker, Waystar’s part-time crisis manager, part-time travel agent and full-time Logan toadie. Hugo first appeared on the show in season 2, and has recently been seen examining the forehead of a poor man who had Kendall Roy’s initials tattooed on his face. Fisher Stevens plays Hugo with all the exaggerated ass-kissing required of this kind of character, which sometimes does not involve much more than keeping his mouth and face neutral when the boss says the latest outrageous thing – which happens all the time. It’s no easy task for Stevens to keep it together, while Brian Cox triggers yet another ugly and funny shed on Kieran Culkin.

When I spoke to Stevens recently, we discussed his reactions to the overwhelming Logan lines – along with some pretty good ones Hugo delivers – and what it’s like to work on Succession. We also discussed his very different work as an executive producer on both seasons of Tiger King and his deep love for the NBA. The conversation was a mouthful.

What are you eating?

I made tuna salad. I just finished another Zoom – I wanted to go and stop the video and take a bite.

How were you with the tuna salad? Did you get nails?

My grandmother Shirley taught me. My daughter is 5 and she goes “making Shirley’s tuna.” You do it with your hands. You wash your hands and do it with your hands.

Is there a secret ingredient?

Red onion. Fortunately, we are at Zoom. You will not be near me right now.

This season of Succession opens with you playing it straight while Brian Cox yells “Will you suck my cock?” at Kieran Culkin. The actor – great work by you. I would have lost my shit and doubled up laughing.

Brian would scream at me if I did. It’s such a great job because I do not say much, but I’m going to see everything. I have this lucky job where I get to see and see these masters at work and I get to participate. Just seeing Brian and Kieran, they’re so funny. Sometimes we break up in rehearsals, but Brian is always there, so he just starts yelling at us.

I spoke with Matthew Macfadyen a few weeks ago about this very thing: just playing it straight in moments where the retorts are downright funny to the rest of us. Who gets the biggest laugh in some of those situations when you can not keep it together?

Matthew, I find. I used to do a lot of theater and there are certain actors who just make me laugh. He is definitely one of them.

The lines you’re going to deliver are pretty good: “Are we all ready for New York City and a fuck party?” And you had “Do you have a problem in there buddy? Can’t you find a vein?” who was with Matthew.When you read it on the page before you get to deliver it, what’s your general reaction?

Very, very excited that I get to say it. Me and Matthew, very little of it is on screen, but we’ve created this very antagonistic relationship where Hugo just thinks he’s such an ass-kissing sycophant who’s only there because he’s married to Shiv. Hugo just can not stand him. He is the most venal character for Hugo. So any moment where I can let him have it … And he just thinks I’m the same thing: ass climber, why am I around? I love that I get to give him a little plug and then he hits me back.

I think with the “fuck party” Hugo always tries to entertain Logan whenever he can. So when there’s a moment when he can dissipate some information and at the same time be a very kind Logan-like – I’m just trying to impress the guy. I want him to love me.

Sycophant is a good word. Logan demands that kind of fidelity from all his lackeys. You mentioned what Hugo thinks of Tom, but where do you think Hugo falls on the psychophantic spectrum?

It’s different with different people. With Shiv, he is clearly up in her ass because he thinks she can move up at any time. Listen, if he got the call from Kendall to go on Kendall’s side, it would be interesting. He has not received that call yet, but it would be interesting to see which side he would have landed on. He has no problem being straight with non-family members like Gerri. Gerri is important because she can fire him too. But it’s really important that he kisses ass. He does not love Roman so much, but he likes hanging out with Roman. Hugo loves Roman’s sense of humor and harshness and quirks, but I do not think he has faith that Roman is going to take over. And by the way: He can be very wrong.

You are obviously much more aware of that. I love teasing there.

He can be very wrong.

I’m also interested in what you think of Hugo as a crisis manager. Hugo gets Roman to do a softball interview about how much he loves his father, and he comes up with the “We Get It” campaign. Is he good at his job?

I think Hugo feels that if he had more responsibility, he would do better. He is a crisis manager and also a transport coordinator. And he also works with publicity. So he has to take care of the travels and the places and get the planes and all that. It is a big job. I think at this point in the Waystar world, the inner circle is getting smaller, so he has to do more, and his job is getting more and more different. He’s tried to get Logan’s ear more and get him to listen to him – there’s a good episode with Hugo on the way.

It sounds good. Hugo has been at the bottom of our power rankings all season, so I’m glad to hear he might move up in the future.

Maybe. Yes. For an episode that I do not give away when. But there is definitely one.

Listen, this is the kind of job as an actor where I do not care if I have a line or 50 lines. It’s just so cool to be in the room with these people. When I first started on this show, unlike most shows, it felt like a theater company. Everyone is supportive. Everyone is cool. Everyone likes each other. You practice in your spare time. It really reminds me of that kind of space. It’s a joy and it’s rare. I’ve just been working on another Wes Anderson movie, and it’s a similar mood. When you hang out, you feel like you’re part of something bigger than you.

You have your hands in all sorts of things – I saw that you’re an executive producer on an unnamed NBA Africa project.

It’s really amazing. I love basketball, and this year the NBA invested in a league in Africa. I think there are 60 players in the NBA who are either born in Africa or their parents were born in Africa. There are 55 countries in Africa – some would say 54 depending on what you recognize and what you do not – and of those 55 have 39 basketball leagues. These 39 leagues had a winner of their league and they competed, they reduced it to the 12 best teams and the 12 teams played in a bubble in Rwanda at the first annual Basketball Africa League. We have to make a series in four or five parts about it.

Who is your team? Do not tell me Celtics or Knicks, please.

Well, my team is the Bulls, but I’m the season ticket holder for the Nets because I live in Brooklyn.

What happens James Harden and your nets? Hard start.

I just think he must have broken out. It’s still early. I do not know what his offseason was like. The team has clearly been thrown off completely by Kyrie Irving and the fact that he is stealing attention and they bet on him. Honestly, I loved Kyrie Irving’s game. That’s one of the reasons I wanted tickets. And now we are all angry. Are you making me, man? What are you doing?

I’m wondering if he’s coming back if NYC eventually relaxes on the COVID protocols.

Yes, but still. You play professional basketball. You’re in public. You are constantly around people, breathing on people, sweating on people. Be a little polite to other people. So what. He may be back, but I think people are a little sad. The team is certainly not satisfied. It’s a skirt, man. If he plays, if he comes back, they will be amazing.

You were also an EP on both seasons of Tiger King. May I make a small confession here?

Yes.

I did not see it during the pandemic. I’m the only human being The caller– and maybe in America – who did not see it. It was a sensation and I was wondering if you could give me the hard sale of why I should join this.

Oh, so you still have not seen it? I would say give it 20 minutes. Watch the first 20 minutes and you know it. Most people, once you get in there, it’s hard to get out.

And now it’s back for another season.

I had very little to do, to be honest, with the second season. But I’ve seen it, and once you get in, it’s hard to get out. It is true. It’s all real. That’s what’s so wild. They do not act for the camera – yes, most of them do not act for the camera. That’s just the way some people are. Unfortunately, some of these animals have paid a terrible price. But the upside of Tiger King is that there is a bill in Congress to try to protect big cats and try to stop captivity in the homes. They are trying to make a national bill. In that sense, it has had a good effect.

It is cool. I’m sure Congress will take care of that.

It’s passed in the House, but now it’s going to the Senate. Looks like Joe Manchin is not going to give anything away, so I do not know where we’re going with that.

This interview was edited and compressed.

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