NICHOLAS BRAUN THINKS HE WOULD MAKE AN EXCELLENT reality TV contestant. During the downtime since he finished shooting the highly anticipated third season of Succession — the hit HBO series which returns on October 17, about the dysfunctional, uber-wealthy Roy family, in which he plays the lovable, bumbling Cousin Greg — the 33-year-old actor’s been bingeing Bachelor in Paradise and Alone, the latter of which follows 10 contestants trying to survive alone in the barren wilderness with only minimal supplies.
Braun, however, has another long-running reality franchise in mind — and he knows exactly who he’d bring along to be his partner. “I really want to do The Amazing Race with my friend Chris Mintz-Plasse,” he says over Zoom from his apartment in New York City. “We both love escape rooms — that’s the main reason I think we could do it. I think he would probably solve riddles and puzzles a bit quicker than me. I have a bigger gait so maybe I’d carry him on my back if he was going too slow. I think we’d win.”
Although the prospect of watching the 6’7″ Braun and the Superbad star navigate crowded airports and traffic jams sounds like a recipe for TV ratings gold, it’s immediately clear that Braun has an earnestness not entirely dissimilar to the lanky, naive Greg. When we first meet Gregory Hirsch, the great-nephew of Logan Roy (fearsome patriarch of media conglomerate Waystar Royco, played by Brian Cox), he is an outsider to the world of private jets, superyachts, and backroom wheeling and dealing. He stumbles into a job at the company, where he’s frequently subjected to abuse both physical (pelted by water bottles) and verbal (“Greg the Egg,” among other cruel nicknames) — courtesy of Logan’s spoiled, power-hungry children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Connor (Alan Ruck), as well as Shiv’s husband and Greg’s boss, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen). Greg’s a fly on the wall to the Shakespearean-level family backstabbing, but as the series progresses, he begins making Machiavellian moves of his own.
“I’ve played a lot of nice guys,” Braun says, reflecting on his two decades in the industry. “I follow the scripts, like ‘Oh, this character requires this’ or ‘Greg requires a certain earnestness opposite his ambition.’ He can get easily manipulated. I like playing both sides.” Take, for example, Braun’s role in Zola, the Janicza Bravo−directed A24 dark comedy based on a wild but true 2015 viral Twitter thread about a waitress named Zola (Taylour Paige) and an exotic dancer named Stefani (Riley Keough) whose Florida road trip quickly goes off the rails. Braun plays Stefani’s chinstrap-rocking, backwards baseball cap−wearing, Migos-rapping boyfriend Derrek, who doesn’t realize he’s in a “totally uneven romance.” “He’s ignoring all the red flags of a dysfunctional relationship,” says Braun. “I think he has an addictive personality and this relationship is the thing he’s most addicted to.”
Although Derrek was based on an actual person (Jarrett Scott), Braun didn’t feel compelled to seek him out prior to appearing in the film. Instead, he lost weight and gave himself lesions by subsisting on a diet of candy and coffee. “How do you show that someone’s not taking care of themself because they’re taking care of another person more than themselves? They’re not prioritizing their own health,” he says. For the baggy outfits, Braun — who was born in Long Island but grew up spending weekdays in Connecticut with his mother and weekends in New York City with his father after his parents divorced — took cues from his own early twenties wardrobe. “I sagged my pants a lot,” he admits, laughing. “There were parts of me that were Derrek-y for sure.” Even with the quick shoot time, Braun found an easy chemistry with Keough, Paige, and Colman Domingo — who plays the menacing pimp, X — and says he’d jump at the chance to return to Derrek in the future. “I would play him tomorrow. I wish Zola was a TV show so that I could play him for years and work with those guys for years,” he says. “I asked Janicza, ‘Can we do a prequel? Can we do a sequel?’”
Despite his success onscreen, Braun’s first love is the theatre. When he was eight or nine, his father Craig — a creative director (and later actor) best known for designing iconic record covers for the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground in the ’70s— took him to see Pulitzer Prize−winning playwright August Wilson’s Jitney at New York City’s Second Stage. “My dad tells this story and he’s like, ‘Everybody started leaving the theatre and Nicky just sat in his seat and couldn’t move, because he was so moved, and he couldn’t believe that just happened in front of him,’” recalls Braun. “And it’s pretty true.” A few years later, he started studying with an acting coach in Los Angeles and eventually landed roles on Disney TV shows and films including Sky High (playing a high school superhero with glowing yellow skin called Zach Attack), Minutemen, and Princess Protection Program (with Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato). Wary of being pigeonholed, Braun decided to step back and attend boarding school before transitioning into more adult roles after graduating. Although he scored a few minor parts, Braun admits that his towering height sometimes dissuaded casting agents.
“When there’s a scene with 10 actors in a room, part of me is in Greg. But in the moments I’m not a big participant, it’s really so fun to watch those other actors.”
But on Succession, which premiered in 2018, both Braun’s physicality and willingness to improvise made him a natural choice to play Greg. Watching the show, it’s easy to draw parallels between the deeply unlikable Roys and real-life magnate families like the Trumps and the Murdochs. But Braun insists that Jesse Armstrong, the show’s writer and creator, doesn’t have the cast reading news headlines 24/7 to find inspiration. “My feeling is that he wants the writing to speak for itself,” Braun explains. Poll any random Succession fan and they’re likely to have a different favourite “Gregism” (for my money, it’s a line delivered by a nervous, bumbling Greg while testifying before the Senate in the second season finale: “If it is to be said, so it be, so it is”).
Braun says that being surrounded by veteran actors and actresses — and being encouraged to veer off-script after the first or second take — has only strengthened his craft. “When there’s a dinner table scene or a scene with 10 actors in a room talking over each other, part of me is in Greg and doing all the stuff that’s in Greg,” he enthuses. “But in the moments when I’m not a big participant in a scene, it’s really so fun to watch those other actors.” One of his most frequent scene partners is Macfadyen, whose character Tom takes Greg under his wing, a bromance for the ages which eventually leads to a dramatic blackmail. “We’ve meshed well from the start, because we have the same sense of humour,” says Braun. “I pick up so much from Matthew. He interprets the writing in such a clear and meaningful way and balances comedy and drama really well.”
It’s not just the show’s legions of fans who have taken notice of Braun’s scene-stealing performances, either. Last year, he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, going up against co-stars Culkin and Macfadyen (they ended up losing to Billy Crudup, with whom Braun appeared in the 2015 docudrama The Stanford Prison Experiment). “It was pretty surreal,” says Braun, who attended the virtual ceremony couchside with his family, wearing a navy Paul Smith suit and matching bedazzled Crocs. “It’s this feeling of ‘People know who I am and they voted and checked my name off?’”
The same week the actor received his nomination, he also made headlines for a completely different reason. While quarantining with friends in Los Angeles in May 2020, Braun put out a call on his Instagram for musicians to help him out with a song idea. His 200,000 followers responded, and the result was “Antibodies (Do You Have The),” a tongue-in-cheek pop-punk anthem about — you guessed it — the COVID-19 pandemic (sample lyric: “Before you spend the night, can you find a testing site?”). In the accompanying music video released by Atlantic Records, Braun does his best rock star impression, wielding a mic and guitar outside in a tank top, Lenny Kravitz−esque scarf, fingerless gloves, and a face mask. A portion of the proceeds from the single and merch went to the health charities Partners in Health and the COPE program. “It would be really fun to make an album like that, but I’m not Machine Gun Kelly with tattoos all over my body and piercings in my nose,” he says with a laugh.
Braun has a piano in his apartment, though, and in his spare time writes and produces songs, often with his younger brother Christopher, who makes music professionally as DEYO. “A lot of the time I’m like, ‘Should I release this into the world?’ It’ll come at a certain point,” admits Braun, adding that “Atlantic Records has been really welcoming and inviting me to write more music.” (When asked if Succession fans could ever see his character pick up the acoustic guitar à la Kendall’s cringeworthy “L to the OG” rap in season two, Braun good-naturedly deflects, saying “I don’t think Greg’s musical. I won’t speak on any serenading or seducing.”) Lately, he’s been listening to a “lot of hip hop,” indie rock acts like Soccer Mommy, Andy Shauf, and Peach Pit, as well as ’90s radio mainstay Third Eye Blind (“I did a revisit through their big album and was like ‘Goddamn, these songs are classics’”).
Whether he’s addressing rumours of him becoming the next James Bond in an atrocious fake British accent (“I haven’t been working out all year but they were cool with that”) or straight-faced- ly shooting his shot with Kim Kardashian, Braun has embraced Instagram as a place to showcase his comedic chops. “It’s such a fine line,” he says. “You don’t want to put up stuff that’s like, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me! I’m still here!’ But then John Mayer puts up pictures of himself looking cool in a cool outfit, and I’m like, ‘What’s the problem with it?’ He’s just embracing [the fact] that he looks cool today.” Completely aware of his newfound celebrity, Braun says he’ll sometimes run these video ideas by a handful of friends (including Keough) for approval before posting.
As for what’s next, Braun is preparing to star in the film adaptation of “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian’s viral short story that was published in the New Yorker in 2017. “The script is a nice evolution and goes further with that grey area of dating and the power struggle,” he says. He’s also been in the thick of several writing projects, though he admits he’s been content “chilling” after wrapping filming Succession in Italy under strict COVD-19 protocols. Braun’s tight-lipped as to what fans can expect from Greg (though if the trailers and pictures are any indication, his professional glow-up will continue), but nobody’s more enthusiastic than him for people to see the new season.
“It was just awesome to see their work again and be like ‘Oh my god, they’re so locked in!’” he says of his castmates. “It’s very thrilling — and I feel super lucky to get to be with these guys.”
Lead image: Suit and shirt (both price upon request) by Alexander McQueen.
Photography: Lea Winkler
Styling: Chloe Hartstein (The Wall Group)
Photo Assistants: Matt Baffa & Alonso Ayala
Styling Assistant: Katya Staretski
Grooming: Rheanne White (Tracey Mattingly)