What exactly is the deal with Roman Roy’s sexuality?

Kieran Culkin in Succession
Kieran Culkin in Succession Photo: Graeme Hunter/Courtesy of HBO

One of the enduring questions concerning HBO’s Succession over the show’s four-season run has been: “What exactly is Roman Roy’s deal, sexually?”

While the character, played by Kieran Culkin, spouts a never-ending litany of profane (and usually sexual) invective, it’s been well-established that his own sexuality is…complicated. In a new interview with Variety, the actor shed a little light on the subject — but really, only a little.

“They had mentioned to me, even before we shot the pilot, about questioning what Roman’s sexuality is — and we don’t know what it is,” Culkin explained.

Asked about scenes in the series’ pilot episode that seemed to indicate that Roman had a wife and child, Culkin explained that after Succession was picked up by HBO for a full season, the show’s writers decided that the actress who appeared in those scenes would, in fact, be Roman’s girlfriend and that the child was her kid.

“They were toying with the idea that she’s aware that [Roman has] sort of hangups sexually when it comes to monogamy, and might be more fluid, but we don’t know what that is yet.”

To date, Roman has really only had one significant sexual relationship on the show: with Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), the general council of Roman’s father’s company. But their affair never became physical. Their dynamic was more about power and humiliation, with the much older woman verbally degrading Roman while he pleasured himself, usually over the phone and, as far as we, the audience, know, never even in the same room.

Another earlier relationship with a character played by Caitlin Fitzgerald in Seasons 1 and 2 was apparently asexual, despite one abortive attempt at intimacy that verged on necrophilia.

But while Culkin’s comment about fluidity seems to be in reference to his character’s relationship to monogamy, the show has featured several undeniably homoerotic scenes between Roman and other men.

An early scene with him and his trainer in Season 1 was incredibly suggestive. Two seasons later, his sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) even mentions “rumors” about Roman paying his trainer for sexual favors in an effort to discredit him to their media mogul father, Logan (Brian Cox).

And then there’s Jaryd Menken, the far-right candidate played by Justin Kirk who the Roy family is backing in the current final season’s looming presidential election. In a third-season episode entitled, “What It Takes,” Roman was instrumental in selling Menken to Logan. That episode featured a conversation between Menken and Roman in a hotel suite bathroom that didn’t just border on flirtatious, it was downright erotically charged, the two characters seemed so turned on by each other’s amoral loathsomeness.

What’s notable about that scene is that it’s one of the few in the series in which Roman seems pleased — to be experiencing something approaching pleasure. Roman’s whole thing is discomfort — he’s perpetually amped up, tightly wound, fidgety, uncertain, irritated — and making others uncomfortable as well. That’s why he’s always saying the shocking, inappropriate things he says: to put people off, to make them as uncomfortable as he is in his own skin. He never seems to enjoy himself, and the scene in the bathroom with Menken, like his scenes of erotic humiliation with Gerri, is a rare exception.

Succession is not a show that seems particularly interested in neatly defining Roman’s sexuality. It’s a show about broken, corrupt people, and Roman’s discomfort with sex — whether it’s run-of-the-mill coitus or safe, sane, and consensual sadomasochism — is an extension of his brokenness. This is not a show on which a character is going to come out and own his queerness or his interest in kink. So, we’re unlikely to get a more satisfying answer to the question of Roman’s deal than, “He’s pretty screwed up.”

Still, with several more episodes to go before the series finale and Kirk confirmed to return as Menken — not to mention FitzGerald returning and certain Gerri threads dangling — it will be interesting to see how Roman’s complicated erotic dynamics play out.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Here’s why people are convinced that two BTS members just came out

Previous article

Florida GOP is now attacking Disney’s iconic monorail after getting humiliated by the mouse

Next article