Alan Ruck will always be Cameron Frye to some fans. A talented character actor with a career spanning nearly four decades, he enjoys a legacy that is, on some level, inextricably tied to his turn as the title character’s best friend in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
That’s the kind of thing that could rankle a Hollywood type with a big ego, but not Ruck. In memorializing the film’s director, teen-comedy virtuoso John Hughes, he called it “the best part I ever had in a movie,” and credited the late director with any success that he’s enjoyed since the mid ’80s.
In 2016, Ruck was cast as the eccentric Connor Roy in HBO’s hit series, Succession, alongside an ensemble cast featuring Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Nicholas Braun, Jeremy Strong and Matthew Macfadyen. The show has enjoyed easy success, with Ruck’s “off-center” Connor adding an odd bit of humanity to the nest of vipers that is the Roy family.
Ruck is not opposed to building off his signature role, mind you. He’s recently appeared in an ad for LiftMaster that gives a wink to the film that put him on the map nearly 35 years ago.
Kevin Tall: How are you and your family doing in 2020?
Alan Ruck: We are fine, we don’t have any complaints. We are very very lucky people. How are you?
KT: Very glad to hear that. Well, my family is doing good, my team won the Stanley Cup last night, not a bad Tuesday I guess.
AR: OK, good for you.
KT: So, ‘Succession’ is a runaway hit with a legit ensemble cast. What’s your experience working on the show been like?
AR: Nothing but wonderful to tell you the truth. The whole thing has been a gift. I work with top-notch actors, I work with great directors and we have some of the best writers in the business. And a great network that hires talented people and lets them do their job with minimal interference. I mean, they have notes, but they’re always really smart and they don’t try to micromanage anything. They’re really wonderful people to work for.
KT: Is that in contrast to other experiences?
AR: Well, I’ve had other experiences where, you know, there are network chiefs that want to decide what everybody is going to wear on every show, you know? So that gets a little… you feel a little constrained.
KT: I read an interview in which you said you’ve waited 30 years for a show like ‘Succession,’ but in the same interview said you basically skipped the audition to go to a Mommy and Me music class.
AR: That’s all true.
KT: Then apparently you showed up at executive producer Adam McKay’s house totally unprepared. I feel like there’s a bigger story below the surface here.
AR: It’s just that I was working on a show in Chicago and flying home for the weekend and my wife was shooting a show in town while working very long hours. She had help, she had babysitters and she had nannies, but when she got home, she was on mommy duty. And she was exhausted.
So, I was going to fly back Monday evening and my manager, Mark Teitelbaum, called up and said, ‘I got an audition for you with an HBO show!’ This was when I was supposed to take our little boy to a Mommy and Me music class.
I said, ‘Honey, I got an audition for an HBO show,’ and she starts weeping. Tears popping out of her eyes. So I say to Mark, ‘I can’t go.’ So I go to the music class. I come out, you have to leave your phone outside, and there are about half a dozen messages on my phone. ‘Before you go to the airport, just stop at Adam McKay’s house.’
So I say, ‘I don’t really know the material,’ and he says ‘Just go.’ So I go to Adam’s house and much like we do on the show, when I said I don’t know this material well he said, ‘Make it up. You know the situation. Make it up. Let’s see what comes out of your mouth.’ And so I did that with about half of the scenes that I had to go through. It went very well and by the time I landed in Chicago, I got the call that I got the part. So it was just meant to be, just a stroke of good fortune.
KT: How do you conceptualize Connor Roy? What drives him?
AR: Well, you know what I have to do? I have to look at what they write. And they make a lot of crazy stuff come out of Connor’s mouth. So you have to start thinking about who would say that in this situation.
It became very clear that Connor is marching to the beat of a different drummer, who might be on another continent and nobody else can hear this drumbeat.
In the audition with Adam McKay, there was a line where I’m talking to the old man and I say, ‘Dad there’s this job I want and it’s called the president of the United States.’ And I said, ‘Well clearly he’s putting his father on, right?’ Then Adam says, ‘Oh no, he’s deadly serious.’ That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, I know who this guy is.’ He is not like, you know, he may not have the full deck. He’s just a little bit off-center. Then build from there and you see what they give you — how that informs you and what that tells you — and you go from there.
KT: To what degree do you think Connor is an expression of the Dunning-Kruger effect?
AR: You know what? I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. The Dunning-Kruger effect, I can’t really sum that up right now, pardon my ignorance.
KT: I’m sorry, that’s kind of an esoteric question to ask.
AR: Sounds really cool.
KT: Basically, it’s a cognitive bias in which somebody of fairly low ability thinks they are exceptionally great.
AR: Oh yeah, when stupid people are too stupid to realize they are stupid. Yeah, John Cleese talked about that a lot. I actually don’t think Connor is stupid. I think he’s damaged. I think he probably had some ADHD going on as a kid, I don’t think he’s suited to do any sort of job in a business world, he’s just… I don’t think he can concentrate on anything for too long, anything like that. But he reads a lot, you know? He reads a lot more than Roman does. He knows a lot about 19th century history, he knows a lot about Napoleon. So what do you do for 50-something years when you’ve never worked a day in your life? You’ve got to have some hobbies. So I think he’s got some collections going, he reads a lot, he has a very cute girlfriend so that keeps him busy, but you know, not 24-7.
KT: You’ve said the line about his presidential aspirations really let you get inside Connor’s head. He’s an out-of-touch rich guy who owes his wealth to his father and wants to be president but doesn’t want to pay taxes. Considering your political leanings, dare I ask if you’ve found any real-life inspiration for how you portray this character?
AR: No, I just take what they give me and I just kind of imagine my way into it. I haven’t met anybody in my life personally who is this rich and this damaged. I know they’re out there, but I’ve never met them.
KT: Who would Connor Roy pick as his running mate?
AR: Somebody asked me earlier which one of the siblings he would choose and I said Siobhan, in order to court the women’s vote.
KT: So, I see you’re sitting in a garage, which is an interesting setting for any interview. But this garage looks somewhat familiar. Is there anything special about this garage?
AR: About six months ago LiftMaster came to me with some ideas about a commercial that would have a Ferris Bueller throwback concept. They were funny spots and I decided I would do them. So they have this product called secure view, it’s a smart garage door opener that has an integrated video camera and two-way communication. You can control the thing with your smartphone and an app called myq. So wherever you are, you can open your garage to let somebody in, or you can make sure your garage door is shut in case you left to go to a job in the middle of the night, something like that. So it’s a really innovative product and I think it would be a really handy thing to have. I have one.
KT: Since you have one, which character that you have portrayed, if any, do you think would have benefitted from a product like this and in which situation if you could conceptualize that?
AR: Well maybe Connor, Connor’s got one of these secure view garage door openers at the ranch in New Mexico so that when he’s in New York he can just make sure no one is getting into the house.
KT: Making sure no one is pilfering his Napoleon collection?
AR: That’s right, and Native American artifacts.
KT: What can you tell me about ‘Freaky’? It looks like a dark take on the classic role-switch storyline, combining ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ if I’m interpreting the title cues correctly.
AR: You’re right on the money with that. Vince Vaughn plays this horrible serial killer and Kathryn Newton plays an adorable high school girl. There’s a bit of magic, mysterious body swapping stuff that goes on. He’s stuck in her body and she’s stuck in his. She especially has to figure out how to get into her proper frame in a limited period of time.
KT: It looks interesting. I do like the horror-comedy genre mashup from time to time, but it’s got to be done right.
Where can I get more information if I want to look into that LiftMaster situation?
AR: You can go to liftmaster.com/ohyeah
KT: Oh yeah, of course.
AR: Of course.
KT: All right, Alan, thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with me today.
AR: My pleasure, you take care.