“People on set have mistaken me for Sarah many times”: A Q&A with Succession’s stand-in Shiv Roy
Toronto actor Holly Cinnamon talks about being a professional Sarah Snook lookalike, sharing scenes with Jeremy Strong and keeping season four’s major plot development under wraps
In the fall of 2020, Canadian actor Holly Cinnamon landed an unlikely gig on HBO’s monster hit Succession: working as a stand-in and photo double for the Roy family’s red-headed femme de force, Shiv. “Normally, as a stand-in, a show will book you for one episode at a time, but because of the pandemic, they wanted to have a dedicated stand-in team,” says Cinnamon, who has spent the past two years getting paid to attend what is essentially a thespian’s master class. In last Sunday’s episode, Cinnamon made the move to principal cast member as Lana, a telecom exec who tries to manage Kendall before a high-stakes presentation. Here, she tells Toronto Life about this season’s (major) spoiler and why she’s #TeamShiv for life.
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I’m sure you get this a lot, but Holly Cinnamon sounds like a stage name.
It’s my real name, but I can see how it might sound like a seasonal candle scent. My parents chose Holly because I was born near Christmas, and Cinnamon is my family’s name. My aunt is Toronto painter Shelley Cinnamon. People do ask, though. My business card says, Yes, it’s my real name; yes, it’s my real hair.
I guess having red hair was pretty instrumental in becoming a stand-in for Sarah Snook’s Shiv?
That’s a big part of it—the hair as well as the height, the skin tone and the facial shape. This is my first time doing stand-in work. In the spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit, I moved home to Toronto from New York for a bit. I returned to New York the following fall, when the entertainment industry was still pretty dead. I was trying to figure out what to do when a friend who worked as a stand-in Logan Roy asked me if I’d be interested in doing stand-in work for Sarah. “You just look so much like her,” he said. The timing worked out because the show was casting for season three. My friend vouched for me, and I got the job. Usually, this kind of work is booked on a day-to-day basis, but because of the pandemic, production crews were booking people full-time so they weren’t going from one set to another. The shoot lasted six months, and we were like a big family on set. We had little celebrations whenever someone on the crew got vaccinated.
How does the body-double process work?
I mostly do stand-in work, but I also sometimes act as a photo double, which is when you stand in for a principal actor in a scene in which they’re not the focus. A body double is usually used when a character is naked. But every actor has a stand-in. We watch the principal actors run through the scene in rehearsal. They might discuss the arc or the flow of what’s happening with the writers or the director, and then they’ll step off set to get hair and makeup done or grab something to eat. We work with the camera and lighting teams to help them figure out angles and how to best shoot the scene. They might ask me, “How far was Shiv leaning forward in this scene? At what point did she get up and walk across the room? Which way was she facing when she delivered this important line?” Succession has a lot of rapid camera movement, so it’s an important part of the process.
Can you tell me about a particularly memorable scene to shoot?
I was Sarah’s stand-in for the third episode of season four, when a major death is revealed. The characters were all on a boat celebrating Connor’s wedding, and we spent like ten days at sea. Everyone was wearing those anti-nausea bracelets and taking Gravol to avoid getting seasick. There’s a scene where Kendall goes to find Shiv to tell her the news, and it’s one long shot: he walks to find her and bring her back to the room where he and Roman have camped out, and she’s getting the major news as she’s walking. The camera needs to be in exactly the right place to capture Shiv’s reaction.
The death you referenced was easily the biggest spoiler of the year. Did you have to sign a million NDAs?
We sign NDAs when we take the job, but there was definitely a lot of extra security this season—particularly around the death. A lot of the scripts I received were redacted, and we used a code word in place of the name of the character who died. There were often HBO executives on set telling crew members to put away their phones and cameras. That wasn’t happening in season three.
I heard that the actor whose character dies actually attended the funeral shoot to throw off the media.
I can’t really comment on that, but I can say that the season was shot out of sequence. For example, the scene in which Logan and his bodyguard, Colin, are eating at a restaurant together is in episode one, but it was one of the last things that was shot. And there were other decoys: the props department printed funeral programs for other characters to throw people off. It’s crazy to think about how the death remained unspoiled even with the presence of so many extras in the funeral scene. It’s extremely impressive.
What’s your relationship with Sarah Snook like?
Sarah is so awesome. She’s such a cool, grounded person—the opposite of Shiv in a lot of ways. She’s talked about how she initially didn’t want to take the role because she didn’t connect with the character, especially in the early episodes when Shiv is one of the only fully developed female characters. It’s funny—and I say this with a great deal of humility—how similar we are in terms of how we carry ourselves. People from hair and makeup have mistaken me for her many times on set. The other thing I will say about Sarah is that, when I booked the role of Lana and made the transition from stand-in to principal cast, she was so supportive.
Even though Lana is #TeamKendall?
Right? I joked about how I had crossed over to the dark side. There’s a moment in the scene when Kendall has just finished his big Living+ presentation and Lana is sharing the good news about the stock price going up, and Shiv is giving them total side-eye, like, What is this bullshit? It was really cool getting to be in a scene with her, along with so many of the other amazing cast members. In that scene, I’m the only actor who hasn’t won an Emmy or a Screen Actors Guild Award. It was a real “pinch me” moment.
Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall, has gotten a lot of attention for his method style of acting. Was that challenging to work with?
Jeremy is lovely, and he’s always been wonderful on set. He takes the work extremely seriously, which I appreciate. While we were working on our scene together, we realized that Lana needed to be holding something when she was telling Kendall about the stock price going up—otherwise, where was her information coming from? I mentioned this to the props person, and Jeremy totally had my back. Unrelated but cute story: after I finished shooting my scenes as Lana, I went around the corner to an Italian restaurant, and Nick Braun (who plays Cousin Greg) happened to come in with his girlfriend. He sent over a tartufo with a candle in it to say congratulations, which was so sweet.
Do you have a favourite Succession character?
The Tom and Greg stuff always cracks me up. So many of their lines are improvised. Matthew Macfadyen and Nick Braun are both so funny, although Matthew is nothing like Tom in real life. He’s more like Mr. Darcy, his character in Pride and Prejudice.
Do people crack up on set?
It does happen. There’s a scene in season three when Greg gets the idea to blackmail Logan. Finally Logan asks, “Okay, what do you want?” Greg doesn’t know what to ask for, so he asks for a rum and Coke, and Logan screams at Kerry to get him one. The energy was so awkward and hilarious, and people couldn’t contain their laughter.
Was it a comedown to go back to stand-in work after making your main cast debut?
Not at all. I love what I do on this show, and it’s good to be back on #TeamShiv. She’s such an iconic character, and to play even a small part in that is a privilege.
What’s the most glamorous thing you’ve gotten to do as part of the cast?
I attended the season premiere party at the Lincoln Centre, which was so much fun. I’m sure you saw online that there was a big dance party. I also walked the red carpet, which was actually a blue carpet. I got to meet Cherry Jones, who plays Nan Pierce on the show and is such an icon. It was a great night.
With Succession wrapping up, do you have any plans for the future?
I’m on set right now, working as a stand-in for one of the main characters in American Horror Story—I don’t think I can say who. I’m also a musician, and I recently released a new single called “Small Town Queer” about my experience growing up in a rural community in Alberta and figuring out my identity. I find that a lot of music about the queer experience is either coming from a totally empowered “out and proud” perspective or it’s about trauma. My path was a bit different. In the song, I write about my high school experience: having crushes on teachers and listening to a lot of Barbra Streisand and Tori Amos.
For a show with no explicitly queer characters, Succession has a very devoted queer following.
I don’t think I realized that. I heard that fans on Twitter were describing the lighting in the karaoke scene as “bisexual,” which was funny. I always want television to be more queer and to have more explicitly queer characters. It’s funny—I’m on a dating app, and someone saw my picture and said, “You look like Shiv Roy storming Pride.” I told Sarah about that, and we laughed. I was like, “Well, actually…”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.