Warning: This article contains some major spoilers from the final season of HBO’s “Succession.”
Ryan Polk has never seen an episode of “Succession.” But as an extra, he had a front-row seat to the biggest moment in the season — and he didn’t even know it.
As fictional patriarch Logan Roy’s dead body was wheeled off the private jet, Polk played a member of the paparazzi, shooting images from the sidelines.
“It was just a body bag, I didn’t know who was under it,” Polk, 23, said. Later, he realized what he was witnessing — and the significance of knowing such a spoiler hit him.
Before boarding a bus from New York City to the filming location upstate, Polk said a member of the crew pulled out a megaphone and addressed the extras, saying: “Hey everyone, don’t tell anyone what you’re going to see today.”
Polk and other extras kept their promise — until the episodes they saw were in aired. That’s when he and other background actors began to share their stories about being on set in TikTok videos.
Their videos unsurprisingly garnered thousands of views, thanks in large part to the buzz around the hit show created by Jesse Armstrong. Throughout its four-season run, the show has picked up numerous awards, with millions glued to following the fictional Roy family’s vicious fight for control of media conglomerate Waystar Royco.
Extras, unlike actors with credited roles, are typically nonunion and do not go through a rigorous audition process. They do not get film credits or lines. But they are essential in helping to complete a show or a movie’s atmosphere. Typically, extras can get gigs by finding them on casting websites. In the case of “Succession,” one listing for the extras, posted by Backstage, asked for “people to portray High End Assistant types. Wardrobe: Business attire.”
When asked about how the show could keep Logan’s death a secret, “Succession” director Mark Mylod told The Hollywood Reporter a lot of it had to do with the background actors.
“When you have literally many hundreds of background people for several days, their ability to stick an anonymous Reddit post up … there are ways, I’m sure,” he said. “But nobody did. We didn’t just ask them to sign an NDA. I spoke to them, the HBO team did, and we all spoke to them, asking them to keep the secret: ‘Let’s not spoil the enjoyment for fans of the show. Let’s have this as our little secret. Let’s not tell anybody. Keep it quiet. Obviously, tell your partners at home, but please keep it under your hats.’”
Mylod said he was “tremendously grateful” that “everybody obliged.”
“It was out of good will, really … and [I'm] actually quite moved by that,” he said. “It can be such a cynical world sometimes. That everybody kept the secret was really fantastic.”
Gregory Allen, 54, called being on the show a “bucket list” moment in his TikTok video, which featured a clip of a scene he was a background actor in.
Inside the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in New York City, Allen was among hundreds of extras seated for Logan’s funeral for the show’s penultimate episode, titled “Church and State.”
They “weren’t told whose funeral it was,” Allen said, and two different versions of the prop programs were distributed to the background actors at the church.
Some of the programs had the face of actor Brian Cox, who plays Logan Roy. Others had been printed with the face of actor James Cromwell, who plays Logan’s brother, Ewan Roy. The programs were “carefully counted” to make sure each one was returned at the end of the day.
Cox even showed up to the set of his character’s funeral in an effort to prevent his character’s death from leaking to the paparazzi assembled outside the church.
It was a hard secret to keep.
— Gregory Allen, 54, an extra on "Succession" on logan roy's death
Allen said the shows’ actors “talk very softly in the show,” so the extras could not hear much of the dialogue across the cavernous church, “unless they were standing right behind them.” Once the eulogies began, the actors delivered their lines into a microphone, confirming that the funeral was for Logan Roy.
“You cannot go home and put a picture of you on your social media,” the extras were warned. “We are watching for these things.”
“It was a hard secret to keep,” Allen said. But ultimately, he said “didn’t want to ruin it” for someone who was a fan of the show and said he was determined to tell no one until the episode dropped.
Gabriela Amerth, 28, had kept Logan’s death a secret since last summer. When “Connor’s Wedding,” the episode she appeared in as an extra, finally aired in April, she posted a TikTok video highlighting her appearance.
The episode was filmed on a boat, she said, which left the dock and swiftly turned around when the Roy siblings learned of their father’s death.
“The only thing they told us was that something happened,” Amerth said. She and the other extras were told to look “disappointed” but were not explicitly informed of the character’s death.
She said she suspected someone had died because every time one of the lead actors left a private room on top of the boat, “they left the room sobbing.” She realized it was likely Logan when almost all the other core Roy family were present at the boat scene.
Amerth said she was “actually really surprised” the news didn’t leak but did not struggle to keep the spoiler to herself.
When her friends asked for inside information from set, Amerth told them, “I’m not gonna ruin it for you, and I don’t want to ruin it for you because I wish I hadn’t ruined it for myself. It’s going to be so much better for you if I don’t tell you.”
Still, Amerth said it was “100%” worth ruining the surprise for herself and was “honored to be on the show.”
Polk had a similar strategy when his sister and her husband kept “grilling” him about the experience.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no, nothing important,’ he said, when they asked him what happened in the episode. “And I’d seen the man’s body get wheeled off the plane.”