“Succession” Actor David Rasche on the Show’s Finale and Life After Karl

The actor weighs in on Tom and Shiv, where Waystar's CFO wound up post-merger and more

July 10, 2023 6:15 am
David Rasche as Karl on "Succession"
David Rasche as Karl on "Succession"

It’s been exactly 43 days since Succession ended — six Sundays since we watched Tom and Shiv in their psychosexual tango, playing bitey-bitey and flicking earlobes, since we watched Kendall scream (incorrectly, of course) about being the “eldest boy” and since we watched Roman install a fascist president. But who’s counting? 

And we’re all coping in our own ways — getting our fixes from different sources. Some of us are doing rewatches or creating fancams on TikTok. If the meme and fan accounts created in honor of the show are any indication, clips of Gerri and Roman set to ABBA’s “Does Your Mother Know” aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

Me? I called up David Rasche, or as you might know him, Karl Muller. 

I was lucky enough to cover Succession many times during its four season run, including a conversation with Rasche alongside Peter Friedman to discuss their roles as Karl and Frank — who I dubbed the show’s “power couple” (an assessment I stand by). In real life, Rasche is as whip-smart, dry and hilarious as Karl but without the moral ambiguity. The first time we spoke he was coming in from his garden, looking like a dapper LL Bean ad in a flannel and overalls. This time, he was visiting his grandchildren and gushing over them.

Succession is not Rasche’s first iconic project, nor even his first with Jesse Armstrong; I first came across his work in the political comedy In The Loop — which Armstrong worked on — and of course,Veep. The good news is, we don’t have to wait for him to grace our screens again, as Rasche appears in the new movie About My Father alongside Robert De Niro. 

In our conversation, Rasche gave me his thoughts on what he really thought that Tom-Shiv hand-hold meant, Jesse Armstrong’s ability to kill his darlings, the joy of working with De Niro, the uncertainty that the writer’s strike brings and more.

So obviously, we have to talk about Succession — and then your new movie, About My Father. But I have to mention that I was telling my parents to watch In the Loop the other night and, god, what a movie. 

Have you seen In the Loop before? I have been really lucky [in my career]. I started off being an actor because I just wanted to be Mike Nichols. And then I met him, and then I realized that’s not what I wanted. No, I’m kidding. He was sometimes a very tough guy, but he absolutely was the reason that I became an actor. So that’s why I went to Second City, started there.

I come from satire. [In the Loop] was so lucky. I mean, I didn’t really wanna be an actor. I wanted to be a satirist. I don’t know if I ever was a very good one, but that’s what I wanted. And, God, it was delicious. I basically played Rumsfeld. How much more fun is it to do him? What a horrible person he was, really. He was so mean, you know? So condescending, made people feel like crap. And then Veep came along and I got to be involved in that, and then suddenly [Succession], I mean, this is exactly what I would like to do. There’s nothing that I would rather do. There is no show — well, I mean, I guess everybody [laughter] every actor gives in that there’s no show they’d rather be on. 

I think a lot of them would probably say Succession even if they’re not in it.

Well, it’s totally dumb luck. Totally dumb luck that I got on. And it all started with In the Loop. ‘Cause I worked with Jesse Armstrong.

It’s such comedy gold — and Gandolfini is in that!

Do you have any vague recollection of the scene where he counts, where Gandolfini counts the war dead on a child?

Oh yeah.

Jesse wrote that scene. That’s Jesse Armstrong.

Oh my God.

So that’s how I got on the show because Jesse saw my audition. He said, “Oh, David, let’s get him on this show.” And so he hired me. I don’t think he quite knew what to do with me, and he didn’t do much with me the first season. But it just goes to show you — I always think of that documentary about Muhammad Ali, where Angelo Dundee said, “You have to realize that at the beginning of every fight, we didn’t know we were going to win.” And it’s the same thing with Succession. No one knew. No one knew. At the end of the first season, Jesse said, “Oh, David, sorry, you didn’t have much to do this season, but you never know. There might be another season.” 

It’s funny too because I’m not a big comedy lover — but I loved In the Loop and Veep, and obviously, Succession. And that balance of darkness and humor is rare, but damn, Jesse is good at it.

There are a lot of similarities too, because Armando Iannucci [who directed In the Loop and created Veep] has a moral center. And so does Jesse, and that’s unusual. I mean, the reason he made In the Loop was because he was pissed off at Blair. He said, “This is bullshit. This war in Iraq, it’s bullshit.” And he went to town and that’s what he turned up with. And, I don’t know where the rage factor is in Jesse, but he saw what was going on with Murdoch and all these guys and with politics, and he said, “Let’s talk about this.”

Anyway, so I’m grateful and lucky to be involved with that kind of material.

Having seen the entirety of Succession now, I can still say your panic attack during the hostage situation is my favorite moment.

I do always say — it’s the writers and stuff, but even that doesn’t cover it. I was thinking the other night, people always remark on the “Chuckles the Clown” line. That was so funny. And my answer is “I didn’t write it. Thank you, but I didn’t write it.” I get the reflected glory of a great line. But I also didn’t shoot it. I also wasn’t the cameraman, and I didn’t do the makeup. I mean, the collaboration, the number of people who are involved to make all those moments work, you don’t see them.

I’ve talked to a few other people on the cast, and it seems like everyone has that attitude about each other — each one of you always gives credit to the team. I’m sure Jesse would say the same about you guys. 

He did exactly that. After the finale I texted him something like “That was unforgivably masterful.” And he wrote back, he said, “Yes, I think you and your mates did a fine job here.” 

Speaking of the finale, that moment where you and Karl are pressed up against each other — have you seen any of the TikToks or memes people are making from that?

I didn’t know that. I don’t know. I don’t follow any of this. 

Was that a director’s choice, or were you and Peter like, “Let’s smush together.” 

Fell into it. Just fell into it.

I think about that moment before Kendall announces LivingPlus, when you really give it to him. 

I mean, from Karl, his whole life is riding on this, right? If this guy screws up, I am just totally fucked, right? There’s nothing left for me. And there have been so many great articles about the show, and there was one about how it shows the impossibility of ethical capitalism. Another article someone sent me had to do with the unspeakable sadness of the very, very rich — but on the other hand, you see the naked power, right? That I’m the same as Logan, right? When it comes down to it, the knives come out for all of us. It was, “Okay, do not fuck with me or I will fucking kill you.” It’s a dangerous business because people get hurt and that’s the way those guys are.

Each of these characters are just so deep. I think about someone like Tom, who’s been the butt of so many jokes. But in the end, he won — and I guess Shiv did too, despite her brothers constantly pushing her out. Or at least that’s how I see it. What about you? 

I think one of the iconic moments of the show is her hand on his hand. I mean, that just is unbelievable. It just said everything. Now everybody has their own thing. When I saw — I saw a dead woman, really, I saw dead inside. I saw a future, maybe children, but basically dead. But there’s sort of a blankness about it that lets you make your decision too. Brilliant. Just what a, what a, what a moment.

It reminds me a lot of the final scene of The Graduate, that shot of their faces at the back of the bus.

Yes, exactly. 

What do you think comes next for Karl and Frank? Tom was pretty clear that he wanted them gone.

If he needs Karl and Frank, they’ll be back. It’s a very cynical business. That’s all bullshit. He can say that all he wants to — but if he needs us, we’ll be there. The way I see it is, all the characters — except for Tom and Shiv and Roman and Connor, the five, and I guess Greg — we, you know, Gerri and me and Karolina and Hugo, we were there really to illuminate. And Jesse was clear all the way through from every script; his interest was in the family. It was in the name — Succession.

There was that one place where I really dressed down Tom when he threw his hat in the ring — that was one example of how Gerri and Frank and Karl are not there for themselves but to elucidate the others. I mean, in another series it could have been, Karl gets caught sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriend and Logan has to get him out of it. Okay. In another series, yeah, that could have happened. But that’s not this series. This series is Succession, and it’s about them.

There’s that one line that Logan delivers: ” If your hands are clean, it’s only because your whorehouse does manicures.

Karl has a very interesting, secret life that he is not telling anybody about.

What do you make of Shiv at the end and her reaction to Tom taking it? I feel like it’s very fitting — if anything, he’s the most like Logan. Not born into money, doing anything to make his way to the top; he’s pretty ruthless.

I don’t know what to make of her at the end. It really is open to individual feelings. And in some ways I think Shiv died. That they just killed her. There’s just nothing left inside except this hollow shell… On the other hand, I’ve seen people say she’s triumphant. But, that’s the great thing — I’ve done a lot of David Mamet in my life, and one thing that you don’t do after coming off the stage after doing a David Mamet play is to say, “Oh, I really nailed it.” ‘Cause you never nail it. There’s too much depth, and it’s so wide and broad that you never get to the bottom of it; there’s always another area where you think, “Oh, I could go there.” And it’s the same thing with working with this material. It’s not pedestrian. That’s another similarity I think with Mamet — one thing that Mamet is known for is his delight in language. He just loves it. He just loves it. I mean, his famous line in American Buffalo… “Fuckin’ Ruthie… Fuckin’ Ruthie… Fuckin’ Ruthie… Fuckin’ Ruthie… Fuckin’ Ruthie,” right? One of his great lines. And he’s the same as Jesse, right? Nobody talks like this, right? Like Succession, except you don’t listen to it and go, “Oh, people don’t say that.” It sounds like they almost do. Right?

I feel like maybe I should start talking more like them if anything.

It’s his delight in language, in twisting things around, making up words like Shakespeare did.

The show really does feel like one big epic play in some ways. It’s elevated, but it’s not out of place; it’s believable. 

It never sounds too writerly. You see some shows and you can say the writers are showing off, but I never get that feeling. And part of the reason goes back to Jesse Armstrong. One word you’ll hear a lot about him is ruthless in the sense that he’s not afraid to kill his darlings. No matter what has changed, it’s his favorite scene. Cut it. Cut it. Favorite moment. Cut it, doesn’t work. Doesn’t help. Doesn’t help the forward progression of things. Cut it. Cut it, cut it. A character. I love her. Cut her. Cut it. I mean, he just is ruthless in pursuit of excellence. I don’t know how else to put it. 

Waystar or not, what do you think comes next for Karl?

Well, I think Karl’s gonna have a great life. I think that there’s quite a good chance that he’ll go back and work with Tom again. ‘Cause he said one last rodeo, why not? What the hell? He’s got a couple years, he enjoys the game, enjoys doing it, you know, fancy airplanes, fancy food. And I think that’s what’s gonna happen to him. He’ll end up on his Greek island. And there are a lot of cocktail parties and fancy intelligent people, the 0.00001%. That’s the life that he’ll lead, you know? And he’ll be familiar with every archeological nook and cranny of the Greek island. 

But you’re not off to a Greek Island. You already have a new movie, About My Father.

Well, I will tell you everybody who read it loved it. It was so damn funny just to read. And it was touching and heartfelt, I thought, and it had a very touching ending without being sort of manipulative. I didn’t feel that way about it. And then they also said that Robert De Niro would be doing it. That was sort of enough. So I had the dream of a lifetime — to be that close and watching someone that brilliant, it was really beautiful, I’ll never forget it. It’s a sacred memory. He’s so complete as an actor and he’s so internal and kind and he’s 1000% there. There’s no part of him that’s watching himself or anybody else. He is in the moment all the time, and it’s beautiful to watch. And the cast, Brett Dier and Anders Holm and Leslie Bibb, and of course Sebastian Maniscalco wrote it. And Kim Cattrall was just terrific. And our wonderful director Lauren Terruso. She’s Italian — Sicilian — and she and DeNiro were friends. 

There was an understanding of the Italian-American experience that only Italian-Americans could do. And for Sebastian — I would say it was very impressive for him, coming just out of stand-up, not even sketch comedy, and then he writes this. And it was so, so good. And Laura shot, the way, in a lot of the ways that Armando and Jesse do — you’ll shoot the whole scene out and you’ll do it word for word. And then they’ll say, “Well, why don’t you play around a little bit?” And so they turn the cameras on and you can do whatever you want to. And they got a bunch of stuff. The thing is, Brett’s from comedy and Anders is from the Comedy Channel, and I’m from Second City. We’re sitting around a table being goofy. And who’s the funniest person? Robert De Niro. He’s a goofball. He’s goofy and delightful.

Any plans for what comes next? 

Well, yeah, sure. What happened was we got all the visibility from Succession. And then this wonderful, funny movie with Robert De Niro. And then there’s a writer’s strike.

So that’s what’s going on. So we’ll see. So everything is shut down. It’s time to plant the onions and plant the radishes and whatever happens, happens. Whatever I say is, but whatever my next job is, I haven’t heard of it. Everybody’s shaking in their boots ’cause nobody knows what’s going to happen. So let’s just hope it ends soon.

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