Even if you’re not a Succession super fan, chances are you’ve seen the clips or GIFs that permeate the internet with each passing episode. While the show operates as a fast-paced look into the family struggles of these truly psychopathic elite whose problems could have been solved with a stint with Greenpeace and 14 years of family therapy, a breakout star has emerged in an unlikely place: the family’s distant, young, awkward, gangly and incredible Cousin Greg.
Greg Hirsch is a grandnephew of Daddy Roy, a distant term that I’m not even sure should exist, and clearly doesn’t count as a bond strong enough to warrant affection, or attention, from the Roy siblings. But Cousin Greg, a millennial determined to use what little name recognition he has left, not only finds an in with the family, but also manages to win the hearts of viewers everywhere. In a show that wants us to like its villains, Greg isn’t the hero, he’s the innocent bystander.
Unlike our tendency to root for absolutely despicable characters, Cousin Greg’s charm stems from his aggressive normalcy. He is an audience self insert, a character who skews both scared and absolutely bewildered in the midst of scored fights that include insults like, “What is that — date rape by Calvin Klein?” and, “He wished that mum gave birth to a can opener because at least then it would be useful.” When the family operates at its true worst, which varies from snatching money from children to burying corporate coverups to actual murder, Greg acts like a litmus test, a 6-foot-6 physical reminder that no, the real world isn’t this bloodthirsty group of white people.
Even in real life, Nicholas Braun exists in the Venn diagram of unproblematic and way too tall for his own good that just makes people crazy. I mean, come on, people are making fancams for the man:
The 2020 Emmy voters clearly agreed with my assessment, since they felt the need to give Braun an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. And they’re completely right: I mean, he made an Antibodies song for Christ’s sake. If that doesn’t propel him toward the E.G.O.T, I’m not sure what will.
This isn’t the first time Braun has played an apologetic geek who just wants to make the world a better place, though. Most of his roles pre-Succession involved a slightly successful Disney Channel career, in which success is defined as playing roles without the name recognition that could ruin your early 20s and make some Hollywood therapist extremely rich. In classic cinema such as Princess Protection Program, Prom, Minutemen and 10 Things I Hate About You the TV series, Braun continually starred as the geek who desperately wants a girlfriend, and his co-stars had to pretend that a bunch of desperate high schoolers wouldn’t jump a 6-foot-6 giant who just wanted to cherish them.
For those of you whose personalities weren’t entirely built on Disney’s 2000s live-action flicks, the basis of Sky High is extremely simple. There are a ton of superheroes in the world, but before they can be heroes, they have to manage high school. Luckily, there’s Sky High, a secret high school for superpowered teens that has to float above a future Chicago/L.A hybrid city for a later plot point. The teens’ powers create natural cliques, ranging from incredibly useful to absolutely worthless. Those with less than helpful powers are sorted into “sidekick” classes, and learn how to help a hero instead of becoming one for themselves.
The main character of the movie is Will Stronghold, son of two famous superheroes who doesn’t have the heart to tell his family the truth: That he’s not even a sidekick, he doesn’t have any powers at all.
But I don’t care about him! Who I do care about is Zachary Braun, Will’s childhood best friend whose power is a slight yellow glow. His problem? No one can see it, which causes him to also be sorted into the sidekicks. This titan of a character is played by, you guessed it — King Nicholas Braun.
While clearly not the main character, Zach Braun (genius name design) quickly sets himself up as the unintended comic relief of the group. His power unprovable and his superhero name, Zach Attack, clearly ridiculous, Zach must rely on his own wit and charm to get his bleached blonde head through high school. True, he and his best friend do spend most of the movie with their heads being swirled down various toilets, but he always stays true to himself, in an albeit aggressively loveable, I-want-to-hold-his-hand-through-life kind of way. The man wears Y2K Lite-Brite track fits for almost the entirety of the movie, only to be replaced by a highlighter tuxedo just in time to help the rest of the sidekicks save the freaking world.
My adamant simping for Nicholas Braun aside, when you go through Braun’s extensive list of roles, a certain pattern becomes clear. Braun does more than just act: He makes his characters who they are. It’s no wonder, then, that I fell head over heels for how ridiculous Zach Attack was, in a role that could have easily made him the annoying comic relief. And in a show like Succession that pits insecurity as weakness, it’s miraculous that the lovable character of Greg would gain such affection from viewers. It’s a credit to Braun’s skill as an actor that no one else could play his roles.
Let’s be real here: Where else are you going to find a literal giant of a man, who is both tall enough to be a zaddy and skilled enough as an actor to work his own height into his character? Braun uses his lanky arms as their own characters in his roles, shrugging and bumbling his way into more precarious positions and right into viewers’ hearts. His characters are earnest enough to stay grounded, jaded enough to take huge risks and still sweet enough to not be able to bluff to save their lives. They acknowledge the ironies and push back at them enough to toe the line and make their own way. They make living look like work and make Braun’s additions look effortless.
So whether we’re celebrating Cousin Greg’s Emmy-worthy performance or just fondly remembering how hard of a character Zach Attack really was, it’s clear that Braun’s best work is when his characters are just trying their best. And that’s always enough for me.