Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin Defend Jeremy Strong Against "Distorted" Viral Article

It paints “what I believe is a distorted picture,” Sorkin said.

jeremy strong, jessica chastain, aaron sorkin
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As recovering addict and sometimes-failed businessman Kendall Roy on HBO’s Succession, actor Jeremy Strong has made a name for himself both for his performance and for the unusual lengths he goes to to achieve that performance. Those lengths have been making headlines this week, both for a Dec. 5 profile of Strong in The New Yorker that details his methods, and for the reactions the story has been eliciting from people quoted in the profile. Now, fellow actors like Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin, who directed Strong in The Trial of the Chicago 7, are speaking out against what they’re calling unfair characterizations of Jeremy Strong.

In the New Yorker story, writer Michael Schulman portrays Strong as having “a relentless, sometimes preening intensity” who speaks about acting “with a monk-like solemnity” and who, Schulman suggests, has requested to be sprayed with real tear gas while performing in a scene with hundreds of other people present.

“Anyone who has worked with Strong will tell you that he goes to unusual lengths,” Schulman wrote.

Chastain and Sorkin, who worked with Strong on Molly’s Game, have both released statements since the profile published. “Ive [sic] known Jeremy Strong for 20yrs & worked with him on 2 films. Hes [sic] a lovely person. Very inspiring & passionate about his work,” Chastain tweeted on Dec. 7. “The profile that came out on him was incredibly one sided. Don’t believe everything you read folks. Snark sells but maybe its [sic] time we move beyond it.”

Chastain was only briefly mentioned in the profile, but Aaron Sorkin was quoted and has taken exception to what was included (and what wasn’t) from his responses. On Dec. 10, Chastain tweeted out a statement on behalf of Sorkin. “Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have social media so asked me to post this letter on his behalf,” she said. 

“I think I helped Mr. Schulman create what I believe is a distorted picture of Jeremy that asks us to roll our eyes at his acting process,” Sorkin wrote in the statement. He also included the full answers to Schulman’s questions, which the writer and director answered via email. Excluded from the story is Sorkin’s take on Strong’s process. “Jeremy’s not a nut,” Sorkin wrote. “He doesn’t make people call him by his character’s name on the set. But he builds himself an on-ramp so that he’s already started to give the performance by the time the director calls ‘action.’”

In contract, the profile includes not-so-flattering anecdotes from Strong’s performance on the set of The Judge, in which Strong co-starred with Robert Downey, Jr. 

“Strong’s dedication strikes some collaborators as impressive, others as self-indulgent,” Schulman wrote. “‘All I know is, he crosses the Rubicon,’ Robert Downey, Jr., told me.”

“When Downey shot a funeral scene, Strong paced around the set weeping loudly, even though he wasn’t called that day,” Schulman wrote. “He asked for personalized props that weren’t in the script, including a family photo album. ‘It was almost swatting him away like he was an annoying gnat—I had bigger things to deal with,’ a member of the design team recalled.”

Schulman also included the fact that Downey’s and Strong’s families vacionted together at Sting’s villa in Italy this summer, so the experience couldn't have been all bad.

Brian Cox, who plays family patriarch Logan Roy on Succession, went on Late Night with Seth Myers on Dec. 8 to clarify his statements in the profile, too. "The thing about Jeremy's approach is it works in terms of what comes out the other end," he told Myers, per E!. "My problem—and, it's not a problem, I don't have a problem with Jeremy because he's delightful. He's an extraordinary dad. He's a pretty unique individual. But he does get obsessed with the work. And I worry about what it does to him, because if you can't separate yourself—because you're dealing with all of this material every day, you can't live in it—eventually, you get worn out."

The New Yorker has also responded to the controversy surrounding the viral article. “This is a nuanced, multi-sided portrait of an extremely dedicated actor,” a representative for the magazine told Deadline on Dec. 10. “It has inspired a range of reactions from people, including many who say that they are even more impressed by Jeremy Strong’s artistry after having read the article.”

Julie Tremaine is an award-winning food and travel writer who’s road tripping — and tasting — her way across the country. Her work appears in outlets like Vulture, Travel + Leisure, CNN Travel and Glamour, and she’s the Disneyland editor for SFGate. Read her work at Travel-Sip-Repeat.com.