Day-Drinking with Nicholas Braun, the Scene-Stealing Cousin Greg from 'Succession'
Ray's bar on New York's Lower East Side seems a bit cool for Cousin Greg, the bumbling fan-favorite Nicholas Braun plays on HBO's Succession. But it's where Braun's representative suggested we meet for an interview on one recent sunny Thursday morning.
The bar is intentionally divey -- the floors are linoleum and posters of Jerry Garcia and Stevie Nicks adorn the walls -- but it opened recently. It's the kind of place you could imagine some of the more in-the-know Succession characters going to if they feel like slumming it over $7 High Lifes. (I can picture Jeremy Strong's Kendall desperately trying to rub elbows with Gigi Hadid, for example.) Most early stories about Ray's mention that Justin Theroux is an owner, but he's not the only celebrity investing: Braun is, too, fulfilling a long-held dream of his.
"It's just one of those things I've always had in the back of my head like: Oh, when I'm 40, I'll own a bar with a buddy," Braun, 31, explains, his 6'7" frame somewhat awkwardly nestled into a booth.
While Braun is entrepreneurial, Greg's ambitions are a little different. In the early episodes of HBO's sleeper hit of last summer, he stumbles into the inner circle of his great-uncle, media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox), looking for a job and some sustenance, wearing beat-up deck shoes and stealing cookies from one of Waystar Royco's offices. Now, with the second season underway, he's fully integrated into the Roy family's fucked-up high jinks, still good-natured and a little naïve, but far more willing to engage in their dirty games.
Braun's involvement in Ray's is a literal manifestation of how Succession changed his life. Before he was Greg the Egg, Braun was a successful kid actor-turned-supporting player who didn't know what his next thing would be. Now, he's meeting Bill Clinton (for the second time), hitting the late-night circuit, and throwing his weight behind nightlife ventures. But Braun still exudes the jovial, up-for-anything, slightly wide-eyed vibe that will be familiar to viewers of the show; part of the goofy, California Pizza Kitchen-loving Greg is still present. Wearing a t-shirt from his musician friend's recent tour, Braun gestures around the nearly empty bar during our photoshoot, joking, "Oh, my boy, I just saw my boy walk in."
As Braun nurses a quasi-Old Fashioned -- made from what was on hand during our visit -- we have a lengthy discussion about his lavish excursions with his Succession co-stars, his near lifelong career, and his SoundCloud.
Thrillist: You're an investor in this bar. How did you get involved?
Nicholas Braun: So, Jeremy [Strong]. Everything comes back to Jeremy. My whole life now boils down to Jeremy. Jeremy introduced me to a buddy of his, Jon Neidich, who owns a bunch of great restaurants and bars in the city: Acme, The Happiest Hour, the Wythe Hotel rooftop and restaurant. Jon's become a really good buddy. We were together a few weekends ago and we were having this great night. We were playing pool at his house at 3am. A bunch of buddies were around. We were all staying together at his house.
I don't know how it came up, but he was like, "Yeah, man, I've got this bar opening in two weeks and it's going to be pretty crazy." I'm like, "Dude, you've got to tell me when you're starting bars." Because that's one of the things I've always wanted to do in my life, really, is to be a part-owner of a bar, and have a place to come to, a place where I can tell people to meet me and it feels like I can have some ownership over it. And he goes, "Why don't you just get in on this?" I was like, "What kind of bar is it?" He started telling me about it: kind of a dive bar, kind of New Mexican-themed. Feels like it's been here for 30 years kind of vibe. I was like, "Sold." I was so excited I started running around the party telling everybody, "I'm an investor in a bar." I got him a couple other friends to join. After we got four people -- me, two others, and Jon -- I was like, "Let's have a board meeting. Let's talk business!" Running around 3:30am, 4am, fires roaring like, "Ray's Bar, baby!" It was a sick night. It was, like, such a fun time. And in the morning I was like, "I still want to do that. I really still want to do that." It's been really fun.
So it's been how you imagined it?
Braun: Yeah. You tell people, "let's meet up there." I don't live that far away, so it's an easy destination to meet up and start a night here. We don't do food, so you can start here and then go get some food somewhere and come back. I've done that before.
Do you ever think this scenario would have happened if Succession hadn't happened?
Braun: Certainly not. It just wouldn't. If I hadn't met Jeremy, I wouldn't have met Jon, and I wouldn't have been invited to his house to hang that night. Succession is totally the door that's opened up for me to meet great people and do cool things. And it all leads back to Jeremy. He's become a great friend. I feel so lucky having this job. A lot of good has come from it.
Where did you see yourself when you first got the show?
Braun: I wasn't entirely sure where my career was in 2016. I had two movies come out: How to Be Single and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. They were, you know, successful. They were good. But it didn't lead me to, "oh, now this is the next thing." I was making music with my brother at the time. I moved to San Francisco, mostly. I was mainly just, "I have to do something creative, because the jobs that feel really inspiring aren't coming." So I'm going to make music and get out of both LA and New York. That's when Succession came up. It felt like the right time because I had basically been like, "I don't know what to do as an actor. I don't know where I am." I was 28 at the time and I was just trying to figure out what will make me happy creatively. Music really was. I love singing and writing songs.
I found your SoundCloud, but how would you describe the music that you were making?
Braun: I think it was R&B. It was R&B with a little bit of folk influence. Me and my brother both love Bon Iver. Bon Iver is great because it's folky but it's got a hip-hop rhythm to it. All the music to me had a hip-hop rhythm. And we would produce beats behind it but it would have great guitar, banjo, stuff like that going on. A lot of harmonies. I love hip hop. That's my favorite genre. That's kind of what my ear always goes toward when I'm still making something.
And you're still making things?
Braun: A little bit, on my own. Just to not let that muscle die. I haven't been putting anything out, really. I haven't been doing anything officially. But I have a hiatus now and I don't know what I'm doing next.
In the second season of Succession, there are moments you see Greg's conniving side come out. How are you developing that?
Braun: The writers are doing some of that for me. They are giving me opportunities to show a little bit of those colors that didn't come out as much in the first season. The first season ending on that scene with Kendall where I'm offering up my [information about the misconduct on Waystar cruises] and sort of playing a real card for the first time was sort of like, "Okay, cool, now we can maybe start to stretch that and see where it goes." You don't want to spoil Greg quickly, or ever maybe. You want to maintain that core thing, his moral center. But you can't help getting drunk on the power and on the stuff, the accessories, the nice new place to live. All that stuff. It's infecting. I think he's slowly catching the disease. I don't know what [creator] Jesse [Armstrong] has planned. It's up to him, but the leaks really started this year.
Would you want to see Greg go full Roy?
Braun: I'd like to see him try. It's like when I was in high school, I tried -- I don't know if I should say that -- you try to get into things or you try to hang with a tougher crowd or whatever, you try to be more dangerous. For me, I was like, "I don't really like smoking cigarettes that much," or I don't really like doing that. Maybe I can get that in me and that's part of me. But some things just aren't and you don't take to it. So I think maybe it's a similar thing where maybe Greg is trying some of that and some will stick. If you're around certain stuff long enough, some of it will stick and you're going to get jaded. And then other parts I just don't think will. He has a good heart. It will be fun to play with that forever, really, what that balance is.
How quickly did your relationship with Matthew Macfadyen -- who plays Greg's boss, bully, and friend -- start to develop?
Braun: Well, we have that first scene in the pilot where he says, "What if I asked you to kiss me?" We both had so much fun doing that scene. I don't know, we just trusted each other and we liked the way we approached every scene we had together. He's just such a nice guy. He's such a funny guy. He's such a good storyteller. It was pretty easy. I think everybody loves him, I'm just lucky because I get to do a lot with him. It was really organic. They wrote it really well, the build of that relationship.
I remember the second scene where we're in the hospital. There's a scene where he's reading a magazine. I walk in after I give the slippers back to Marcia [Roy, Logan's current wife]. That was the first scene we had together in the season, once we started filming the season. And neither of us got through, I think, a single take of it without laughing. It was sort of like, well, they might bury this relationship because we can't do it. It's too funny to us. And maybe it's not funny to anybody but the two of us or something. But they didn't penalize us. They kept it going.
Have you gotten better at not breaking together?
Braun: I think we have, but we still had moments even a couple of weeks ago where we couldn't get through. Basically every scene we do, one of us has a problem with for a part of filming.
He pelts you with water bottles this season. What was that like?
Braun: He was really whipping those bottles at me. They weren't full. They were rigged somehow.
So you weren't totally getting smacked?
Braun: But I did keep running into a corner of a desk that was in the room. And the adrenaline was pumping. We did, like, four or five takes. I started to feel my leg, and I was like, oh, my leg really hurts. And I realized I was running into this sharp edge. I looked at my leg and it was bruised for like a foot. I was like, oh, wow that's a lot. I broke bunch of blood vessels in the leg. None of the bottles hurt, but that part did. That was a really fun day. You were in that room all day and doing all those scenes. It was just a blast. You don't want to enjoy it too much because you want to do it justice. That day, actually, we really held down our laughter. There's one moment that got me fully and I wonder if it's in the episode.
Do people ever confuse you for Cousin Greg in an annoying way?
Braun: Like Colbert? No, I mean parts of Greg are me for sure. I love that. I love that he allows me to be awkward. But we are different. People call me Cousin Greg in the streets. They definitely see it. I cut my sideburns since we wrapped so maybe it will be less.
Braun: Probably not.
Greg is now working at ATN, which is comparable to Fox News. How do you feel about that real world analogy?
Braun: He's trying to stick up for his morality there. It says a lot that he's willing to bring it up. He's trying to do this the right way. I have my own thoughts on Fox News and all that. It was interesting to go into a place that felt like that and that Greg is not the right fit for it. And that Greg is there and has to do the job, and maybe that's true of people that work at those places that know better and know what's happening in a bigger way, and yet they're working at a place perpetuating the message that kind of place puts forward. As soon as he's in there, he's kind of looking for a way out, but he doesn't know how and he doesn't have any inroads.
I asked this question of Jesse Armstrong last season, and I want to pose it to you too: Was there a detail about the lives of the extremely wealthy that surprised you?
Braun: Apparently they have clothes on their private planes on their jets. A big priority for Jesse this year was for us to change clothes for the new environment that we would be going to on the plane. We'd walk on the plane in New York -- or whatever environment clothes -- and we'd walk off the plane in excursion clothes. That was something I had to get my mind around. That was something he clearly consulted on and found that it makes things easier. I guess even Greg: Once you're on the list, the manifest or whatever, you get the privileges. If you're not on the plane, you're nothing. But if you're on the plane, you get whatever you need.
The Roys travel a lot and you shoot all over. You went to England last year for Shiv's wedding.
Braun: We went to Scotland for some stuff later in the season. We went to Croatia for some stuff later in the season. We went to Lake Placid, which was really nice. There was a lot of good locations. And we were in Long Island a bunch. They find these places that are very dark, haunting. That castle that they found was perfect [for a Hungary corporate retreat in episode three]. That's in Long Island, in some part of Long Island where the Rockefellers used to have mansions. It's like this little cluster of massive compounds. It was really a perfect vibe for that.
What's it like when you go on these trips?
Braun: Jeremy usually finds the best restaurants. He's usually vetted it, like, weeks before. He's all about that. He finds us some great place. We get together after work every night, hang in the hotel. It's very social. Everyone wants to take advantage of the places we are. When we were up in Lake Placid we were going out every night. It's a very fun job. You're staying in usually nice hotels in nice towns. You feel really lucky when we get to travel. Going to Croatia was the same. Eating meals of fish every night and taking boat rides together.
What are some memorable group outings?
Braun: Last season, Matthew and I did a Range Rover experience during the England castle episode. On the same property was this Land Rover-Ranger Rover thing. So we took a Ranger Rover into rivers and rode it up staircases. He treated the two of us and we did that. We did a hike this year in Lake Placid, me and Jeremy. I did another hike with [Sarah] Snook. We had these nice, really long days walking up waterfalls and went up this ski mountain that was done for the season. We had this whole ski mountain to ourselves: me, Jeremy, one of our [production assistants], and this actress Juliana Canfield, who is in the show. We had this great day with a dog and were wandering around up there. We went into this abandoned Lake Placid Olympics scoring room.
Is there a cast group text?
Braun: We have a lot of them. I feel like a new group chat starts every day because certain people wrap or didn't wrap. The new group chat would start with the people that are available to hang out that night.
Do any of the older cast members join in? Do you ever get Brian Cox out?
Braun: We do. We threw a surprise [birthday] party for Brian. That was a good cast gathering in Scotland. Snook organized it. She convinced him that we were all going to just have dinner at this place. We got the whole Scottish crew. He's from Scotland. This was in Glasgow. We got in a cab and he just thought we were going to dinner. Six of us in a cab. He was just glad to celebrate his birthday with a few people. We got there and he was just in shock. He was like, "You sons of bitches, you got me really good."
You started acting at a really young age. What got you into it?
Braun: I started when I was 5 or 6. My dad was leaving a career as a record album designer. He always wanted to act. He changed his career at 54 years old. We were reading his lines together for his auditions or for a scene study class. I just really wanted to do it. I was talking to him the other day, and I was like, "I don't know if you ever knew this, but I bought books for myself, monologue books. At night I would be under the covers with a flashlight memorizing monologues and practicing them to myself." He never knew that and I'd forgotten about it too.
I was just obsessed with it. At 11, I got my first movie, this Showtime TV movie. A couple years later, I got another indie movie. A couple years later, I got Sky High. A couple years later, I got the Disney Channel movie. A couple years later, I had the ABC Family TV series, 10 Things I Hate About You. It was a gradual build. It never felt like that crazy child star, like, "whoa." I wasn't totally overtaken by it. I got to keep a regular life and be in Connecticut and I went to boarding school for high school in Massachusetts and was a regular kid at that school. The way that it went was all pretty good. It never got to be that brainwashing thing where the career can take over a kid's life.
You're in A24's Zola, which is based on that viral Twitter thread about a stripper road trip. How did you get involved in that?
Braun: I never read the tweets. I didn't know anything about it. I got the script and they sent me the Twitter thread and I read the Twitter thread and I was like, "holy, this is nuts." It was really funny and crazy and pretty dark. I read the script and it was all that, but also had these explosive sort of devices. I won't tell you too much about that, I probably shouldn't. It felt like if you're going to make a movie based on a Twitter thread, it should have these ADD-esque, bang bang bang, moments. I don't know what will be in the movie or not.
I made a tape with a buddy and I felt [my character] Derrek was a really dark thing to go into because he's a really troubled guy and he's letting this relationship destroy him sort of. So [director] Janizca [Bravo] and I talked. My only hesitation was that it would just be hard to go into that. He's a very depressed and highly emotional guy. He has borderline personality disorder, which he thinks is bipolar but he doesn't even know what his own disorder is. He's really emotional volatile and gets really sad and upset by his girlfriend. I was like, "Do I want to go into that?" But I did actually. I think it's good stuff to look at in ourselves. I also got to grow this sick chinstrap beard out. And wear pretty amazing clothing and sagging True Religion jeans and stuff.
Were you eager to shake Greg a bit in doing it?
Braun: I don't want to just do things that are in line with Greg's energy. I'm going to hopefully get to do more of this show, and hopefully Greg continues to be a thing I get to work on. I definitely want to keep bouncing new ideas around and stuff. At this point now I'm like, we made 10 episodes of a thing, now I have seven or eight months off -- what can I do to change it up?
This interview has been edited for clarity.