Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on Roman Roy from Succession.
Table of Contents
What is an Original Character?
It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation or a character that sums up a behavior or generation.
“Not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting…”
— The Cambridge English Dictionary
Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay.
For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive an original character is an element of a script that shines through everything else. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of the script need, the original characters stand out.
Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help elevate great to superlative.
Whether plucked from real life, an amalgamation of real people in real life or just simply a genius stroke of creativity, these are original characters…
The latest in our original characters series will look at Roman Roy from Succession.
*The following article contains spoilers for Succession*
Who is Roman Roy?
Roman Roy is the youngest son of Logan Roy, founder and CEO of media conglomerate Waystar Royco. Along with his siblings – Shiv, Kendall and Connor – he competes for his father’s attention as well as for control of the family business.
He doesn’t have quite the same naked ambition and thirst for power as Kendall and Shiv. That being said, in the world of the Roy children, every member is ultimately seeking to impress their father. And getting the nod of approval from his dad motivates Roman perhaps more than any of the other siblings.
He’s seemingly less rooted than his siblings, being that he has a few different romantic arcs throughout the series, for example. He seems unable to form healthy attachments. And this is particularly on show in his relationship with Gerri, with whom he has a kind of twisted romance.
Roman can seem the most vulnerable and raw child at many times throughout the series. He’s not as outwardly troubled or erratic as Kendall. He’s not as guarded and steely as Shiv. Instead, he sits somewhere in between them.
This guardedness is most likely to manifest as humor. Out of all the children, maybe all the characters, he is probably the funniest. He typically has some of the most devastatingly sardonic lines. And this makes him one of the most enjoyable characters to watch throughout the series.
Ultimately, like all the Roy children, Roman is desperately in thrall to his father. And it’s watching how this manifests that makes him – and the series – so compelling.
What Makes Roman Roy an Original Character?
What makes Roman Roy such an original character is – like all the Roy children – the way in which his relationship with his father reverberates through seemingly every aspect of his being.
He’s a fantastic case study of how behavior is shaped by the fundamental relationships in one’s life. Roman is visibly formed by the somewhat troublesome relationship with his father in a number of ways.
- He uses humor as a defense mechanism, often deploying it in the most uncomfortable, emotionally difficult situations. He can be very cruel, seen no more so than in the pilot episode, where he teases a gardener’s son with one million dollars if he hits a home run.
- He has issues with commitment and attachment and has an apparently unhealthy relationship with sex. This is visible in his relationship with Tabitha, whom he avoids sex with. It can also be seen in his relationship with Gerri and the way he seems to get thrills out of risqué situations (such as sending dick pics or masturbating against a skyscraper window).
- Physically, he often seems uncomfortable and skittish in his movements, embodying an awkwardness even if his actions and attitude don’t make this awkwardness apparent.
However, despite his often distinctly unlikeable behavior, Roman remains a character with whom we can have empathy. He’s more than the classic unlikeable character that has become so synonymous with contemporary (particularly on HBO) television. Instead, he’s a character who is nakedly vulnerable in many of his actions.
Because we come to understand the context of his character, we come to understand that his unique and quirky character is a reflection of his complicated and gilded upbringing. Roman seems, perhaps more than any of the other characters, like a child disguised as an adult.
Roman Roy and Logan Roy
Whilst Shiv and Kendall are more outwardly adversarial towards their father, Roman is more beholden to him. He rarely goes against his father and when he does, he’s very uncomfortable about it and the most likely to backtrack.
Roman not only wants to impress his father, he wants to have some kind of relationship with him. Of all the children, he seems the one most keen on maintaining that father-son relationship. He, for example, often pleads for calm when there is conflict between Logan and the other siblings or tries to play down wrong actions that his father might have done. Even when Logan lashes out at Roman and hits him, seeming to knock a tooth out, Roman plays the whole thing down with a characteristic quip…
It’s just a tooth. I’ll get another one.Roman Roy
Moreover, Roman seems most at peace when he’s working with and pleasing his father. This is apparent when in Season 3, he becomes essential in helping to negotiate the deal between Waystar Royco and Lukas Matsson. Roman becomes his father’s right-hand man at this time and nothing seems to make him happier or feel more powerful.
This, in turn, makes Roman a perfect vessel for his father’s power plays and manipulation. Logan knows Roman is weak in this respect and plays to this.
Could there be a genuine parental-child bond there? Perhaps. Does Roman genuinely love his dad or does he just pine for power and approval? Either answer is relatively convincing. But the show keeps us on our toes with respect to whether the family’s actions ever come from love or are solely in the interest of political maneuvering.
Roman and the Roy Siblings
Roman mainly relates to his siblings via jokes and put-downs. They have a playful but adversarial relationship – the kind where insults are common and sincerity seems near impossible.
- With Kendall, whilst they occasionally achieve moments of genuine connection, Roman is typically cruel when it comes to Kendall’s flaws. He jumps on these flaws, using them to project himself as ultimately more capable than Kendall, even if Kendall is clearly more intelligent and impressive than Roman.
- Connor is almost a joke to Roman. Even if Connor is much more his senior, Roman pokes fun at him openly and behind his back. The other siblings, particularly Kendall, are a little kinder to Connor about his ventures and interests. Roman, on the other hand, can be brutal…
Connor: I’m still applying for the job of President of the United States…
Roman: Do you think that that’s like a natural progression from never done nothing, never, to most important job in the world? Could you maybe get a little experience at like a CVS?
- Shiv, meanwhile, is perhaps who Roman is most akin to. They’re both incredibly afraid of their own emotions and vulnerability and frequently use brutal humor and put-downs as a defense mechanism.
Roman and Shiv
Shiv, in particular, brings out a side of Roman that significantly shapes his character identity. Visible in their dynamic is the kind of relationship it’s easy to imagine them having as kids.
- They frequently tease each other and can often resort to childish voices or imitations of one another.
- There seems to be a language that they speak that no one else understands, a rhythm that clearly comes from childhood.
Despite all the high stakes and professional situations these two find themselves in, they’re often just acting like kids who can think of little better retort than to imitate the other’s voice. Sometimes these moments penetrate very serious and important discussions.
- A great example of this is when Roman is advocating for far-right Jeryd Mencken as the candidate for his father to support in the upcoming primaries.
- Shiv thinks Menken is dangerous and says as much, citing her authority over Roman as a former political consultant.
Roman: Shiv wants her way, I want my way. Connor wants his way. So that’s even.
Shiv: It’s not even. My opinion counts for more. It does, it just fucking does.
- Roman’s retort, however, to Shiv’s assertion that Mencken broke a “kid’s jaw at a rally” is to imitate her voice in a childlike manner.
- Shiv, in turn, is stumped and Roman, henceforth has the upper hand, making Shiv scramble for a better defense to her father, who in the end goes with Roman’s choice.
So Roman’s relationship with Shiv demonstrates the duality of these characters’ existence. They hold an enormous amount of power, influence and wealth. But at the same time, in many ways, they’re still kids – kids who often can’t help themselves from the teasing and jostling that would have defined their early relationship with one another.
Roman Roy – Uncomfortable Positions
Another fascinating part of Roman as a character is that he often seems literally physically uncomfortable in his own skin. He typically cuts an angular presence throughout, with sharp edges and jittery movements. He’s not awkward and bumbling, like cousin Greg, for instance. Instead, he buzzes with energy, always on the move or at least ready to be so.
There never seems to be a chair that Roman comfortably fits in or a room in which he seems totally at ease. He often lurks at the edge of a room or at the back of a group. Why is this? Well in moments of family conflict, we get clues as to why he might be this way.
- When Logan shouts at others, for example, Roman shrinks away. He seems to collapse in on himself.
- He’s deeply conflict-avoidant, particularly when it comes to his father.
- And this behavior hints heavily at someone who has been traumatized by conflict in his childhood.
- He hasn’t found a way of coping, apart from humor, or avoidance.
Similarly, in difficult moments, Roman even finds it difficult to hug his family members. He lunges awkwardly or grabs them clumsily. He’ll half pass it off or make some kind of joke or awkward gesture to dilute it. Roman seems incapable of genuine fully fledged affection or warmth. Instead, it’s only ever partial, tampered by a joke, an awkwardness, or a kind of physical distance.
This is part of what makes Roman such a well-developed and fascinating character. His defining relationships and backstory are represented in his literal physicality. The series only ever gives us hints as to the characters’ backstories. But as Roman shows, these backstories are visible in the very figure they cut in almost every scene.
Despite Roman’s frequent depiction as something of an overgrown child, he’s also seemingly often the one pleading for normality and some maturity from his siblings. He may be the youngest but he sometimes seems like the one who understands that there’s more at stake here than just political games and conflict.
How am I the mature one here?Roman Roy
These contradictions are part of what makes him such a rich and original character. If Roman is battling with those around him for power, he’s also battling himself. For all his apparent arrogance and nonchalance, Roman seems desperately uncomfortable in his own skin.
Roman encapsulates the series’ themes brilliantly. In being one of the heirs to his father’s media empire, he holds an incredible amount of potential power. But most of all, throughout the series, we’re led to see him as someone largely incapable of ever living up to these standards. This is especially true in his father’s eyes and the fact that Roman senses this is what, in large part, makes him so dysfunctional.
In the end, as with all the Roy children, the show implores us often to see Roman as little more than a child, helplessly beholden to his father’s manipulations. Ultimately, that palpable sense of the inner turmoil that makes a character tick is at the heart of great characterisation. And it’s what makes Roman Roy such an endlessly watchable and original character.
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