‘Succession’ Star Arian Moayed on Stewy: ‘The Son Logan Always Wanted’8 min read
When Arian Moayed greets theater-goers at the stage door after “A Doll’s House” on Broadway, some fans have just one thing on their minds: “‘You wanna go do some coke?’ ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ ‘Sniff Sniff!’” Moayed says with a laugh. “I think I’m averaging one coke joke a week.”
Moayed himself isn’t known for a coke habit, of course — but Stewy Hosseini, his wise-cracking equity investor on HBO’s “Succession,” doesn’t shy away from doing a little blow.
“It’s been really exciting to be in something everyone really loves,” Moayed says. “I’m a fan of ‘Succession.’ I know I’m on the show, but all of us are fans!”
With “Succession” set to take its final bow on May 28, the Tony-nominated actor, whose film “You Hurt My Feelings” hits theaters this weekend, spoke with Variety over Zoom to reflect on Stewy’s best moments and how his career trajectory has changed since joining the cast in 2018.
What do you remember about your audition process for the show?
I actually tested for the pilot. I didn’t get the pilot, and a year goes by and they’re like, “There’s this other character named Stewy.” And I said, “The truth is, whatever I did, for the last time, I’m just going to do that same idea with these words, because I don’t have two douchebag hedge fund ideas.”
I think HBO didn’t really know exactly what they wanted, and so there were some questions of what the character should be. We tried something else, then I tried my version of it. As I was doing that version, I could feel that there was more energy. The audition ended, and I got a call at midnight: “You’ve been cast. They need you tomorrow morning at 5am.”
When I read that pilot, I thought it was really special for numerous reasons. But I also didn’t know what the hell I was reading. I wasn’t sure what this was. It wasn’t until we were in England shooting the wedding episodes in which we get to see everyone else be a complete asshole, that I’m like, “Is anyone gonna get what we’re doing?”
The show tows the line between comedy and drama so much, I imagine it was hard to picture the final product when you were just reading it on the page.
I googled “Peep Show,” Jesse Armstrong’s first big series, just to get a sense of what kind of characters these are. They were such real people that it led me to be like, “I don’t know if this is a comedy. I don’t know if this is a drama, but I can be real and say the words and see how that goes.” And that’s kind of what ended up happening with all of us, really.
When did you realize Stewy would be a mainstay on the series?
We were shooting the donut scene. First thing, I forgot that Jeremy’s in character as Kendall. I forgot that he’s like that. And then I was looking at the cameras and I’m like, “Are those film canisters?” They’re like, “Oh, yeah, we shoot on film.” The moment that you hear that, you can’t all of a sudden be like, “Hey, let me redo that!” Now it’s like a theater game.
I felt comfortable. I felt very easy. I felt I knew the words. I felt I knew Jeremy; I felt I knew it all. And I felt I knew this is an old friend. After the first take, I mean this, I kind of got a sense that it was a little bit of a home run.
There were takes where I was trying to shoot a donut into the trash like Michael Jordan. I remember that evening, both Jeremy and Jesse reached out, and they said, “There’s a lot more stuff for us. You should do a lot more stuff.” Part of my job as someone that’s a guest, or someone that’s recurring on these things, is to elevate my partner. I’m supposed to make his shit look good.
I asked Jesse later in Season 2, “In the writers’ room, did you imagine that Stewy was still gonna be around?” He’s like, “Not at all.”
Let’s dive into that Kendall and Stewy relationship. Does Stewy actually like Kendall? We’ve seen him support Kendall in his lowest moments, but we’ve also seen him in direct opposition.
100%, Stewy is a friend to Kendall. I think that he will back him when he needs to back him. He will listen to him when he needs listen to him. He will even stop him from doing more drugs. Stewy, on that night of the car accident, obviously he had drugs. But he’s like, “I don’t think you need more drugs, bro. We have a big day tomorrow.” I got so much hate after that. They’re like, “It’s Stewy’s fault!” I was like, “Stewy’s fault? Jesus!”
But the thing is that Stewy will always take money first. Truthfully, he wishes that Kendall would do the same. He’s always bogged down with these bullshit backstories. He’s like, “I don’t care about any of that. I’m here to make money, and you’re here to make money, and we should try to make money together. That’s the point of this.” I think people think of that as backstabbing. I think of that as the world that they live in.
Is it really backstabbing when he’s completely upfront about his intentions?
He says it over and over: after Stewy doesn’t vote for Kendall, they meet at the basketball court and he’s like, “I love you, man, but I had to follow the money.” You know, he’s the son that Logan always wanted. He’s just more interested in winning than anything else. I think it’s actually pretty healthy that Stewy can still do both those things: “I could still be your friend, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna go for whatever is the bottom line.”
I read a comment on YouTube that said, “Stewy is just Kendall with 100% more self awareness.” Do you see it that way?
Yes, totally. That’s such a great point! For the 40th birthday party, Jesse asked me earlier in the season, “Do you think Stewy would be there?” I was like, “Is the party going to be lame? Or is it going to be cool?” He says, “It might be pretty lame.” Stewy can tell when he gets the invite! If he gets an invite that says Kendall is going to be singing a tune, he’d be like, “No, I’m not doing that.”
Have you kept up with the rabid fandom the series has built, especially on platforms like TikTok? People there seem to love the idea of Kendall and Stewy together.
Oh my God. Oh my God! Kendall and Stewy. Can I say something that might get a little high-falutin here? I think the cool thing about art and artists is that if you can go and tell the fucking truth as best you can, people are going to fill in the rest with their narrative. God bless, do it, man! Who’s to say it isn’t? I’ve never once thought of it that way, but there are so many fans that are so about it — who am I to say? That’s what fandom is, isn’t it?
Do you have any favorite Stewy one-liners?
I do love, “Everyone fucking hates you.” The way that it comes out is kind of — respectful? One of my favorites is one I can’t even fucking say: “You’re gonna cut my dick off and shove it up your cunt like poo poo comes out of your nose holes?” I remember saying to Jesse, “I won’t be able to deliver these lines.” That’s a real fun one. I also love the scene with Kendall and Stewy this season when he says, “I kind of got my pubes singed last time I went with you.”
I know you can’t reveal what happens in the finale, but what was it like the day you filmed your last scenes as Stewy?
The last week of shooting “Succession” was tech week for “A Doll’s House” on Broadway. I did three days of 4 am to 1 pm on “Succession,” and then 2 pm to midnight on “A Doll’s House.” So that week was emotional just in itself.
The saddest part was just the people. We were all super sad. The crew, the cast, the hangs, the long days of being an extra in the back and still loving it — that’s the stuff you’re gonna miss. I was pretty sad, and the only thing I could think to myself was, “Don’t cry when they say it’s a wrap.”
I definitely did cry. But I was holding it in. I didn’t even know what to say. I had that shower talk with myself like, “I’ve got to tell Jesse this, I’ve gotta tell Mark [Mylod] this.” And all I said was just, “Thank you.” It really changed my life, and it gave me the personal confidence to move forward in that kind of realm. So much of that is Jesse.
Do you think audiences will be pleased with the ending?
As we were reading all the scripts, it became very clear that we are in the midst of — and I hate to say this, because the word is overused — but we are in the midst of a genius who knows exactly how to make this satisfying. The ending of this series is very satisfying. It’s kind of stunning, really.
How have you seen your career change since being cast as Stewy?
Prior to “Succession,” I only played Middle Easterners. Middle Easterners in turmoil. I was in Iraq, I was in Palestine, I was an Israeli, I was Irani. And then all of a sudden, with Stewy, now I play assholes. Different versions of assholes or mean guys! It’s given me so many more opportunities to be seen. It gives me an opportunity to be seen as an actor that can do comedy. When you’re a Middle Eastern actor, they mostly throw you in drama. By doing something like this and being in such a hit show, it gives you an opportunity to spread your wings, and try all these other things.
In 2005, I got signed by a big agency, and I said to them that I wasn’t going to play terrorists. You know what happened? I just didn’t work. It was hard to convince people — and Stewy is a perfect example of this — it’s hard to convince people that Iranians run Silicon Valley.
The task is just to see us as regular and not being defined by Islam or the Middle East or some sort of war. We’re defined by a bunch of other things. I moved to the city in 2002, and I thought I would do regional theater for the rest of my life. Why? Because where would I be in film and TV? Now, hopefully the door can be open to a bunch of other people trying some shit.
This interview has been edited and condensed.