‘Succession’: Ashley Zukerman Breaks Down Kendall’s Election Offer and Why Nate Is So Polarizing

SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 7 of “Succession,” now streaming on HBO Max.

The election looms over “Succession,” which means not only will there be a new president of the United States but, more importantly? Nate is back.

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The charming — or sleazy, depending on how you view him — political strategist, portrayed by Ashley Zukerman, has reentered the world of the Roys in order to mingle with Waystar’s top brass and the political elite, and make Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) jealous in his own home.

In Episode 7, titled “Tailgate Party,” Tom and Shiv (Sarah Snook) host a gathering on election eve, at which Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) makes a surprise (well, to the Roy boys) visit. A double agent, Shiv plays informant to the GoJo chief in exchange for a key role in the company should the deal close. But the prospect of a Waystar-GoJo merger, which Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have been trying to tank since visiting Norway, seems less likely at the end of the episode, as Shiv worries she picked the wrong team. The Waystar co-CEOs believe they’ve exposed cracks in Matsson’s bid to buy their father’s company, so much so that, by episode’s end, Kendall is floating the idea of Waystar acquiring GoJo.

Nate, who had an affair with Shiv in Season 1, when the pair worked on Gil Eavis’ (Eric Bogosian) presidential campaign, shows up to the party with a fair amount of leverage. His new candidate, the Democrat Daniel Jimenez, is ahead in the polls, and Kendall has made him a covert offer: If Nate helps prevent the GoJo deal based on regulatory concerns, Kendall will “make primetime safe” for Jimenez, meaning Waystar’s right-wing news network ATN will treat the potential president nicely. Nate says he isn’t comfortable with the proposal and leaves the party early.

Zukerman chatted with Variety about Nate’s moral compass, how he found out about Logan’s (Brian Cox) death and why the “Succession” fan base has split feelings over his character.

When did you find out you’d be returning for Season 4, and did “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong give you an idea ahead of time about how Nate would factor in?

I found out only a few weeks before shooting the episode. From what I gathered, there were a few permutations of the episode, and that’s the version they landed on. It’s pretty remarkable that after such a long development process they have a lot of options in their head, and they wait for the right one to congeal at the right time. But it’s funny — I’ve gotten similar calls over the last few years about potentially returning in other episodes, so I think they were constantly looking for ways to pull Nate in.

The scenes with you and Matthew Macfadyen are so delightfully awkward. What was it like developing that chemistry with him?

What a joy, and what an incredible performance. I’m very fortunate to be in the show obviously, but I’m also a fan. I’m more audience than participant, and to see the work that Matt does is incredible. It’s such a lovely dynamic, and whenever I do my preparation I forget how scary Tom is. All the scales are weighted against him. Nate comes in with the election numbers behind me, with the wind in my sails. I’m gonna be their guy for the next administration. It’s the best way you could show up at an ex’s party. And yet, as soon as I see Tom, there’s some fear in me. That’s something that isn’t necessarily on the page.

Is Nate jealous of Tom, or is Tom jealous of Nate?

One of the beautiful things about the show is that we’re all not really in the family. Even the family sometimes feels like they’re not in the family, that they’re not connected to Logan. I think Nate and Tom vie for place. It’s all about who’s closer to the center of this black hole.

There’s this moment between Nate and Kendall after he proposes a deal to you, and Nate says, “I’m not Gil, you’re not Logan. That’s a good thing.” How do you interpret that?

There’s this backstory between Nate and Kendall. Early in Season 1, Shiv referred to Nate as having “run around in Shanghai” with Kendall, which gave us this pretty incredible backstory knowing Kendall’s history of drugs. I always assumed that we had a lot of big experiences together, and we were there for each other, and I was there for him and heard about his struggle with his family. So there’s knowledge and familiarity there. Although we’re in different worlds now, we do know each other and see each other for what we want to be, rather than what our situation makes us. So that’s actually a very honest moment outside of the games of the situation.

In a show full of awful people, do you think Nate has moral standards that separate him from the Roy family? Is he uncomfortable with Kendall’s offer because he is ethical, or is he still just looking out for his own interests?

Like many things on “Succession,” it’s both those things. Nate tries to hold himself to moral standards, and he’s found himself in a world that works for those moral standards, being on that side of politics. But he’s also shown up at this party on election eve, he’s probably playing hooky with other responsibilities he has because there is this gravitational pull toward this family. The way he indexes his success is to see what connections he can pull from, and that’s a draw for him in terms of being at the party. Having a genuine personal connection to Matsson — he knows that would be helpful for him in the future.

Nate can be thrown off his center by the Roys, and he has a certain blindspot because of the power they wield. Over the course of the episode, he shocks himself in how far he can slip in a few hours, until he gets schooled off camera by the Jimenez campaign, to pull his head in and get back to the roost. Those dualities play out in every character in different forms.

It might become clear to Nate as he moves around the party that there is a schism between the Roy siblings, even if Kendall and Roman aren’t yet aware of it. Does Nate still have feelings for Shiv, and could that sway his loyalties?

He’s certainly very susceptible to the push and pull of Shiv’s whims. I have no doubt that she wouldn’t need too many breadcrumbs to lead him in her direction.

“Succession” fans are very split on Nate, with some arguing that he is a charming, good guy, and others who strongly dislike him — a debate that I think is a testament to your wonderful performance. What is your take on Nate?

I find it fascinating. There does seem to be a lot of hate targeted at Nate, and he appears high on lists of the most unlikable “Succession” characters. He says he stands for something else, while the other characters at least don’t say that. That doesn’t really measure up to his actions versus theirs, so it’s funny what audiences react to. Someone who is seemingly honest about how terrible they are is somehow more acceptable to someone who is in conflict. Tom refers to Nate as one of “our libs” or one of the “good libs,” and that raises an interesting question: Who are the amenable libs to these people?

It’s definitely made clear that for Waystar, it doesn’t even matter who wins the election as long as they have a plug. As long as they pick the right horse, they couldn’t care less.

Yes, it’s incredibly scary.

If Nate were managing the presidential campaign of Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), what strategy would he take to win the election?

I don’t think Nate would ever run Connor’s campaign. I don’t think. He’s not an operative at any cost. It’s important to him that he believes he’s on the right side of things. He can then maybe play hard, and he can work in the gray because of it.

Do you know how the show ends?

Not entirely.

Who would you like to see win the game of succession?

I don’t think I should answer that. I guess the show is called “Succession,” and the question of who will take the reins is such a funny — actually, I should stop talking.

Was it hard keeping Logan’s death a secret? Obviously, there is a reference in this episode to him having passed away, but I’m assuming you might not have known that beforehand.

When I first read the script for Episode 7, I didn’t even understand it. I had to text Sarah Snook and say, “What does this mean?” She didn’t want to put anything in writing, so she gave me a very cryptic response. And eventually, I found out what it was that we were talking about. I was just as shocked as everyone else when they watched Episode 3.

But as far as keeping it a secret, it was nice to be in the inner circle for a little while.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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