Nicholas Braun on the Craziest Week of His Life

Nicholas Braun reflects on the impact of recent Emmy nominations for HBO's 'Succession' and how his quarantine living situation turned into a new song.

Nicholas Braun on HBO's 'Succession'

Image via HBO

Nicholas Braun on HBO's 'Succession'

In the Brightest Timeline, alternate-version of 2020, Nicholas Braun would likely be wrapping filming on Season 3 of Succession, while reveling in showing audiences a new side of him in A24's Zola. The reality of Hollywood's losing battle with COVID-19Succession wasn't even able to begin filming, Zola's theatrical release has been delayed indefinitely—hasn't stopped Braun from getting shit done. His IG videos with shelter-in-place roommate Christopher Mintz-Plasse were an early quarantine respite, and now after weeks of teasing and previewing on his page, he's released a song to encapsulate this bizarre moment we're all living in.

"Antibodies" is a tongue-in-cheek punk-rock record documenting the tension between virus-fearing best practices and the simmering horniness of all the bachelors out there forced to go it alone. The song—proceeds from which will go to Partners in Health and COPE Program—isn't a creative outlier borne out of boredom either. Music has been a passion of Braun's parallel to acting—he has a stacked SoundCloud with uploads going back five years, but tapering off in 2019. He couldn't have picked a better time to reactivate it: "Antibodies" was released last week, right around the time Braun scored his first ever Emmy nomination, a Supporting Actor nod for his performance as the earnestly affable schemer and frequent scene-stealer Cousin Greg on HBO's Succession. Braun is one of 17 nominations the acclaimed series netted, including two others in Best Supporting for Matthew MacFayden and Kieran Culkin. Complex hopped on the phone with Braun to talk about his craziest week to date, going up for his first Emmy against his co-stars, making music, and staying sane in quarantine.

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Congratulations on a big week. You got an Emmy nomination and a new song dropping.
Yeah, it's been the craziest week of my life, I think.

How are you taking it all in?
It's so fun. Tuesday was awesome, with all the nominations everybody got, and the show got. I did not expect to get one, so that was just wild. And it took me, I think, the whole day to even really understand that, that happened. But it was just amazing. When we won the Golden Globe in January—when those sorts of things happen, it's hard to comprehend. Tuesday was just the same.

Actors often talk about how when they're making something it's in a bubble. And they're never quite sure how it will be perceived, or how far it will go, once it's out.
Yeah. I think that there's an aspect of that. I just assume that people haven't seen the show. I just assume that, we're not going to win awards or be nominated for awards. I guess, it's not helpful to believe that you will, and it just feels so crazy, that you'll actually see your name or your show's name, up on these lists. So when we do, it's very surreal, and I've never been a part of something that has this kind of energy behind it, and so many fans. And people just really love what we've been making, so far. I feel super lucky.

Trust me, there are a lot of people who would have revolted if it didn't get this many nominations. Switching over to "Antibodies," where and how did you come up with the song?
Well, I was staying in Los Angeles. I was out there for a couple of weeks, at the end of February into early March, and I was planning on coming back. And it just felt like, New York had fully sort of ticked up by then. And so, I was stranded there. I stayed with my buddy, Chris Mintz-Plasse, for the first three weeks of quarantine. And then, I moved to another friend's place, and they had a guest house that they let me stay in.

And I was there, and I guess in both quarantine situations, I was a third wheel to a couple that had been together for a long time. And it was just like, "Man, that seems nice. To go through this, with another person." And there was a girl I was talking to and I was like, "Is that okay, if I go on a date?" Because I also, I don't want my friends who I'm staying with to get nervous that I might have caught the virus or something. So, the question in my head was like, "If she had the antibodies, would that make it safe? Would that make it okay?"

So I think the chorus came very easily, "Do you have the antibodies? Do you want to be with me? Do you have the antibodies? Because if you don't, you better stay away." Basically, those were the rules at the time. And even though we don't know what the antibodies even mean for us, it just felt like, maybe that would make it okay to, to go be with another person. As opposed to just sitting in the quarantine alone, all day.

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It feels like an alt-rock song, almost. Was there a point where you were going to bar up and go Lonely Island with the concept?
I think when I first sang it—I sang it in an Instagram video, to all my followers. The word antibodies, it's not like the sexiest word. It doesn't lend itself to an R&B song, really. It doesn't lend itself to a softer tone. So it was like, "Antibodies. That's got to be punk." And so when I first sang it, it felt like it had to be super aggressive, and I think that's why the rest of the whole song took shape around a punk vibe.

Speaking of Instagram, just an aside—you mentioned staying with Christopher Mintz-Plasse. There was a point in early quarantine where the videos you guys were putting up were among the funniest stuff on Instagram.
He's one of my best buddies, and to go through it together, with him, was super fun. That was a wild time. So, to experience it with one of my best buddies, it was just great. Yeah, we did make some weird videos. I think we were feeling pretty weird.

How did you come around to writing the rest of the song? Did you always have an interest in songwriting? Was this hard to put together structurally or this something that you have a history of?
I've been writing songs for maybe the last six or seven years. And honestly, I just have kept it pretty low-key, and I've written a bunch of stuff and never released it. I don't know, it's tough to introduce other aspects of yourself when you're becoming known for one thing.

So, as an actor—that's my career, for a long time. I started when I was six years old. And it's tough to be like, "Hey, I also do this thing." And so, I've just never really put myself out there, in the musical way. And, I've guested on a few tracks, and I put out some songs on SoundCloud, but it just never felt like a full moment. But this feels like such a fun song, and we're raising money for two organizations through it. And it just feels like, "Yeah, let's put out some music. It's the quarantine, it's the pandemic." And hopefully, the song brings some joy to people and helps get out some aggression, too.

Stylistically, would you say that this is a piece with some of the other music that you've recorded, and put up?
This is definitely like nothing else I've ever written.

What's that older music sound like?
That music is more R&B, electronic drums. A lot of it, I made with my brother, so he plays guitar. So it's got this half-electronic, half-real instruments. Guitar and bass guitar, and then, some synth and stuff. It's definitely in the world of, I don't know, maybe Blood Orange or Daniel Caesar, or James Blake or Bon Iver. Those are my influences, and artists I really love. But I also grew up on some of this, kind of punk music. So, making this somehow did feel like, "Oh yeah, I know how this should sound." Because I loved Papa Roach, and Sum 41 and Blink-182, and Green Day and Third Eye Blind. All that stuff.

So, it felt like, "Okay, I kind of know how to sing, and what are the melodies that came from that era? And, what's the instrumentation?" It felt like it should start off more ballad-y, and have this kind of slow, just a single guitar kind of thing, that you sing to. And you can kind of hear, "What's the intention, here," in the beginning. And then it just ramps up, and gets kind of crazy from there. So that felt like, straight out of that era, too.

You said it can be difficult to present yourself as being interested in another thing, once people know you for one thing. So were you worried, especially given that Greg is often the comedic relief on Succession, that people would take this song in a different way than you expected them to?
Hmm. I think I tried to just make a song that's really listenable and good, as well as being funny. And a lot of these lyrics are funny, but I just wanted to make an actual good song that hopefully, people liked. So, I didn't worry too much about it. I just trusted that, if I think the song is fun and good to listen to, then other people will, too.

What are the next steps, now that we're here? The Nicholas Braun album coming out soon?
Oh, man, I don't know. I don't know what's next. I don't know whether I want to make music in this genre or to put out something for real, in the other style that I like to make music in. So, we'll see. You know, I'm focused on making "Antibodies" come to life. We want to get some other versions together, and put out maybe an EP of a few other bands covering it, if we can do that. Because the more covers we can get going, the more money we can raise for these charities, or whatever charities that those bands want to choose. And so, it feels like really just fun way to bring some awareness to these organizations and these communities, that need some money. And then also, just put out a song that feels really fun, in this time. And hopefully, it doesn't feel too heavy. It's a quarantine romance song.

You've got to link up with Nicholas Britell and get him to produce a version.
Oh man, that would be the dream. I think that man is a genius, and God, I would love it. So yeah, let's keep that in the universe.

It's crazy to think about, but at this point, is there even going to be an Emmys for you guys to go to?
Yeah. They sent us something that said it would definitely be virtual. I'm not sure what that looks like. I feel like they're going to get creative.We don't have any details, but I'm excited. It'd be great to be in that room, obviously, and be with all those people and be with the Succession family, together, but it's going to be great regardless. I think we're going to have a good night, and I'm going to wear a tux and... screw it, even if I'm only seen from the waist up, on a Zoom camera, I'm still wearing a full tux.

You being nominated against Matthew Macfayden feels like a peak Greg and Tom subplot.
It's classic Tom and Greg. Really. To be together with him, in the category, is just so fun. We were texting about it. It just feels very right, for those two guys, for Tom and Greg to be at this thing together. And then, to have Kieran, too, it's just so cool. I love being with those guys.


What's the group chat looking like? It's you, Matthew and Kieran. So it's like Sophie's Choice, three ways.
I know. I know. I love those guys, I love what they do on the show. Matthew is, he is just, an acting role model for me. I love everything he does. And then Kieran is such a wild card. Sometimes when we do scenes, we just... I go where he goes. And I think, vice versa. Because sometimes, they give us permission to veer off the script. When Kieran and I do that together, it turns into some whole other thing. So, everybody on the show has this certain energy, where you're sort of like, "Oh, hell yeah, I've got a day with Kieran tomorrow. He's going to give me some shit." So, it's great.

Are you guys all in kind of a, "As long as one of us win, it's a win for the team?" Or is there a bet going?
I just think we should have a three-way tie, all have to do a speech over Zoom together.

You guys didn't even get around to filming any the new season, right?
We haven't started. No, but I think, as soon as it's safe to do it and they figure out a good protocol, I think we'll be back. So, we don't have a date, but everybody's feeling optimistic about it.

So is now the time that you're just blowing up Jesse Armstrong's phone with all your Greg ideas?
We talked earlier in the year, and he had some great ideas and I had some thoughts. But I haven't seen a script, so I don't know what's come together. But, I love the mystery of that. We always just, or I should say, I always just, love seeing what the script is when it comes in. It's like the same experience as people watching the show. I like being in the dark.

What was your favorite memory from filming Season 2?
Scotland was pretty amazing. There was one day when [Sarah] Snook and I, and this actress, Sydney, who played Kendall's love interest in that Scotland episode. We all went on this walk and went on the golf course of this beautiful hotel we were shooting at. And, just being in the middle of Scotland with these guys. Those were pretty surreal moments that this job, and this career, has taken you all of a sudden to some incredible landscape. And we were just lying on the grass, and I think, feeling really grateful. We were close to the end of our Scotland trip, and that was just, one of those good moments you just won't forget.

Keeping with things that are delayed, that I can't wait to see: There's also Zola, which I'm now kicking myself that I didn't make it out to Sundance, to see that.
Oh, yeah. That movie is so cool. It turned out really well. Janicza Bravo, the director, just did an amazing job. It's such a crazy story. And, that's one of my favorite characters I've ever played. It was a very manic-really manic, obsessive, super emotional boyfriend of Riley Keough's character. And it just was, I lost some weight for it, he was... To me, that character felt like he needed to be sort of starving himself, in a way. He's just unhealthily obsessed with his girlfriend, and so, it was just fun to get into that headspace. Fun is not maybe the right word, it was also kind of dark, but. He has some dark moments in the movie, for sure. But, being in Tampa, and getting to meet all those guys through it, was really, really good. That was a fun one.

Sounds like you're still going forward with having a pretty productive year, which is great to see.
It feels good to be creative. There's no right way to do this pandemic. Right now it just feels good to be creative, and put stuff out there. And, we'll see. Every week is different, so. Just going to keep going with it.

How's Ray's Bar holding up? The New York institution.
Oh, hell yeah. Ray's Bar. We're open. We've been open for six weeks. We obviously don't have indoor, anything indoor, but, but we've got a little parklette thing, and we have people coming in and cooking burgers and barbecue, and all sorts of stuff, every weekend. So I've been hitting Ray's Bar, a lot. It just feels good to go. Spend a day there.

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