W TV PORTFOLIO

Nicholas Braun Is Ready to Play Ball

The Emmy-nominated Succession star discusses the series’ fourth season and being in awe of Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights.

Photographs by Lea Winkler

Nicholas Braun as Tim Riggins from 'Friday Night Lights.'

For W’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

“Sometimes it’s nice to get kind of bashed up,” Nicholas Braun says brightly on a recent afternoon in New York City. As the bumbling but lovable Roy family underdog Cousin Greg on HBO’s Succession, the actor has gotten used to taking a psychological beating on-screen—and has earned two Emmy nominations in the process. This year, the series made Emmys history, receiving a record-breaking 14 nominations in the acting categories and 25 nods overall. Since the show’s premiere, in 2018, Braun has become a favorite with fans, who track Cousin Greg’s power ranking among the ruthless Roys after each new episode. Braun knows there are a lot of people rooting for his character as he navigates the messy Waystar Royco empire—and he is too. Here, fresh off his first day of filming the series’ fourth season, the actor discusses his hopes for Greg’s future and his fascination with another underdog you can’t help but root for—Tim Riggins, the brooding fullback/running back from Friday Night Lights.

What is a typical day like for you when you’re filming Succession?

Most of the time, it’s very early: getting picked up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. You really gotta wake your brain up, chug some coffee. I’m not an early riser, so it’s never been that easy for me. But Succession is a well-oiled machine. It’s been a year since we last filmed it, and it was like jumping right back in. Everybody’s so good in front of the camera, behind the camera—I was like, hell yeah, we’re doing this for nine more months. This is the crew. We’re back. It’s the best job.

Are you more of a night owl?

Yeah, I am. I usually go to sleep around 2 or 3 a.m. I don’t know why, other than my dad is the same way. I always got very little sleep in high school. I would live on four hours of sleep at night and kind of loved how hard it was. I think it was also a FOMO thing. I went to a boarding school, so kids were up in the dorms playing video games, and I never wanted to miss any of it.

Going into season 4, how have you seen Greg evolve?

He comes into this family as a puppy dog. He doesn’t really know how to be this type of person. He’s just floppy. Over the course of the three seasons, he’s soaked up a lot. The way that I’ve thought about him is, he stores a lot of things, he observes things, collects Roy behavior. He’s like, Okay, that’s how Kendall played that. That’s how Logan did that. Oh, that really hurt me—maybe I can do that to someone else later. By the end of season 3, he’s been put through a lot, and he’s ready to show off the skills he’s acquired and be a little more fearless.

Season 3 feels like his hazing period, for sure.

Totally. It’s been hard for him. He thought Kendall was a safe place; he wasn’t. Thought, Oh, Grandpa Ewan will take me back in; he doesn’t. Logan brings him on his side, but it doesn’t feel that safe. At the end of the season, when Tom is like, ‘I’ve got a path for us, follow me,’ he’s like, Okay, I found my safe place. There’s just a lot of relief. He’s been torn between a lot of potential sides and tried to play it right. A big part of his struggle is, Where do I land here? Where do I fit in here? And I’ll be a loyal soldier to whoever accepts me.

What is your biggest hope or dream for Greg?

It's hard to talk about that because I kind of know where [season 4] goes, so I don’t have a good answer without lying and saying something like, “I hope he becomes president of the world.”

That would be a real twist.

He could do it.

Nicholas Braun as Tim Riggins from 'Friday Night Lights.'

Let’s talk about Friday Night Lights, the series you’ve chosen for this year’s TV Portfolio. Do you remember when you first started watching the show?

I believe it was 2007. I was at college, and this was one of the first things on NBC when it started streaming stuff. I would sit through loading commercials, which were way longer than on TV—it was, like, eight minutes of buffering commercials. I got really, really obsessed. I watched it very quickly. Everyone was so good in it: Jesse Plemons is so great; he’s amazing in that part. And then Kyle Chandler, Coach Taylor—I just thought, Man, I wish I had a Coach Taylor in my life. But Riggins is perfect.

Back then, did you want to be cast as a Riggins kind of character?

I would never get cast as that guy. A lot of it is the look—you gotta have a strong jawline and great, long hair and a big, muscular bod. He’s got all that. He drinks beers, and he’s in high school, gets the hottest girls, like, wow—what a stud. And he’s good at football, too. He really hurts people on the field. He’s got some family or childhood issues that come up, and I feel for him. I want him to figure those out. But more than anything, I was just attracted to the hunkiness. In college I was like, I wish I was the Tim Riggins of my dorm.

What were you instead?

I was probably more of a Matt Saracen. I can throw a football, though. I know how to play, because I played for three days in high school. It was the beginning of my freshman year. I thought, I’m gonna start playing football and I’m gonna bulk up, because I was really skinny, really lanky, all bones. I got to practice, and these kids had been there for two weeks already, doing preseason. They were huge, nearly fully pubescent young men. They did a hitting drill [whereby] they give you the ball, and then some guy tackles you [so you can] feel what a hit is like. You’re gonna get hurt, and I did: His helmet went right into my thumb, and I kind of jammed it. I was like, Oh, fuck this. This is not what I want to do. I hated it. Putting pads on took me, like, 30 minutes. The whole thing sucked.

What about the narrative of Friday Night Lights attracted you and kept you coming back for more?

They capture the small-town Texas community really well. I grew up far from that kind of life—I’m from Connecticut and New York. It dropped you right into this little part of Texas, and you got how much football mattered to them. It was shot beautifully, and the music was great. It was kind of soapy, but it was just well done. Something about the show felt comforting. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so it actually was one of those things that grabbed me, and I stayed with it.

Do you prefer watching movies?

Yeah, I do. But I watch a lot of docuseries or nonfiction series, and documentaries. I’m watching that Mormon one right now on Netflix, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey. Wild Wild Country…maybe I should have dressed up as Osho. Next year!

Grooming by Angel DeAngelis.