Sarah Snook speaks out on industry demand for perfect bodies

‘I won’t diet for Hollywood’: Succession’s Sarah Snook has her say on the film world’s demand for ‘perfect’ bodies

  • Snook plays Shiv in the popular HBO drama Succession, now on its fourth season
  • She spoke frankly about the ‘unrealistic beauty standards’ imposed on actors

As billionaire media mogul Logan Roy’s only daughter in TV show Succession, Shiv’s tailored power suits and ice-cold ambition have made her one of the most captivating female characters on screen.

In the cut-throat, male-dominated world of the HBO drama – loosely based on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp dynasty – it is flame-haired Shiv who is favourite to win the bitter battle to succeed her ageing father, played by veteran British actor Brian Cox, as head of the Waystar Royco global empire.

But as the fourth and final season of the hotly anticipated drama launches tomorrow, it is not just Shiv who stands to see her fortunes transform. For the show has turned the actress who plays her, Sarah Snook, into one of Hollywood’s hottest talents.

Industry insiders point out that her success is all the more refreshing because the 35-year-old Australian, who revealed her pregnancy at the series premiere in New York last week, is not the average stick-thin Los Angeles starlet.

Sarah Snook (R) as Shiv Roy, opposite Brian Cox as her father, Logan Roy (L), in Succession

Indeed, Snook is credited with being a major figure in the movement to bring realistic female body depictions to the industry.

A Snook preview of her other roles 

One of Sarah Snook’s first screen roles was in Sisters Of War, a 2010 film based on the true story of a nurse and nun held as prisoners of war in Papua New Guinea. 

Her later credits include comedy-drama The Dressmaker, opposite Kate Winslet, and sci-fi thriller Predestination, with Ethan Hawke.

She has also won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for Succession.

She is bolstered in her aims by her close friend and mentor Kate Winslet, who has spoken openly about being a champion of ‘real’ women’s bodies.

With characteristic frankness, Snook told Vogue Australia: ‘I mean, every time you get a role, you’re like, “Oh, this one’s the one. I’m going to really work out and get fit and look like the movie star I would hope to become.” 

‘And every time, I’m like, can I really be f***** subscribing to an unrealistic beauty standard that makes more women unhappy, because they feel like they can’t attain something that’s not actually realistic anyway?’

Snook was a relative unknown before her role as Siobhan ‘Shiv’ Roy in Succession, which first aired in 2018. Together with her three older brothers Connor, Kendall and Roman, Shiv must fight for ultimate control of the company forged from scratch by their father, Logan, amid concerns for his ailing health.

One Hollywood executive told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Sarah has undoubtedly been the break-out star of Succession. All the characters are brilliant but Sarah is first among equals.

‘She’s taken a complex character like Shiv –someone who is emotionally damaged yet has this ice-cool exterior – and makes you want to root for her. When she’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her.’

Succession star Sarah Snook attends HBO / HBO Max Emmy Nominees Reception at San Vicente Bungalows on September 12, 2022 in West Hollywood, California

Yet Snook has admitted she nearly didn’t take the part – because she feared becoming the show’s lone female lead would involve her playing a “bimbo”. She needn’t have worried.

But that attitude is rooted firmly in her level-headed Australian upbringing. Snook, the youngest of three sisters, was born in Adelaide to Ian, a pool salesman and volunteer fireman, and Debbie, a carer.

The couple, who divorced when the children were young, met while travelling in Papua New Guinea. Snook later joked they ‘bred three adventurous women’.

‘They are a tight-knit family,’ a friend told the MoS, despite being spread around the world. Sister Laura lives in Dubai, while the other, Rebecca, is based in London.

There is a history of acting in the family. Snook’s maternal grandmother had performed in London’s West End before getting ‘stuck’ in South Africa at the outbreak of the Second World War. She eventually emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand, where her mother was born. An English great-aunt was also an actress.

But it was as a child in 1993, while watching sister Rebecca ‘fly’ on stage in a production of Peter Pan, that Snook fell in love with the ‘magic of theatre’ and decided to become an actress herself.

She recalled in an interview: ‘I was like, “Oh my God, I did not know my sister could fly!”‘

Snook took acting lessons, appeared in school productions and briefly worked as a children’s entertainer called Fairy Lavender. ‘When you’ve been a kids’ entertainer, nothing phases you,’ she admitted later. She earned a place at Australia’s equivalent of RADA, Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art, but a friend said the bright lights of LA had never been her attraction.

‘Before her career took off, Sarah was a typical Aussie, backpacking around Europe, staying with friends,’ a friend said. ‘She came to LA at one point but didn’t like the whole scene.’

Still, her talent was undeniable and she embarked on a series of small but prestigious film roles which earned her a mentor in Oscar-winner Kate Winslet.

The pair starred in back-to-back films in 2015: Australian comedy The Dressmaker and Steve Jobs, about the late Apple co-founder.

It perhaps isn’t surprising they hit it off – both are known as straight talkers and for their body-positive approach to the film industry.

Like her grandmother, Snook eventually took a role in London’s West End, performing alongside Ralph Fiennes in a production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder in 2016.

It was after being offered the role of Shiv in 2017 – the first season aired the following year – that she moved to New York.

‘I’m much more at home camping or in the bush, and I thought the world of billionaires and high- flying is not something I feel naturally inclined to,’ she said. ‘So I wasn’t sure [the role] was the right fit for me.

‘But during the pilot, I was like, ‘I really hope they keep me on. This is the script and it’s so much fun.’ ‘

A friend said: ‘Sarah has always been about the work. It was never about becoming a star.’

But today, Sarah has little choice in the matter. As soon as Succession began, the actress attracted a fervent online following.

One section of social media site Reddit is devoted to her bottom, featuring close-ups of what one fan called ‘the most perfect bottom since Pippa Middleton’s’. Fashion bible Vogue has also dissected her character’s ‘enviable’ style.

But Snook has candidly admitted to wearing Spanx – compression underwear – to achieve Shiv’s groomed look.

Filming last season’s final scene at an Italian villa, she recalled: ‘That was a 100-degree day with full overhead sun.

‘I was in high heels… wearing Spanx and a tight dress. I had to go and sit in a cold, dark room with a cold compress on my face.’

Snook has told friends she finds the ‘obsession’ over her character’s clothes and body ‘funny’.

One woman, who has known the actress since 2011, said: ‘The refreshing thing about Sarah is what you see is what you get. She’s down-to-earth and real and, yes, she eats. She’s someone who has always enjoyed a drink and a good laugh. She hasn’t changed.’

Those views are shared by her Succession co-stars. Brian Cox said of her: ‘She’s truly gifted. I can’t think of anybody better, she’s just incredible. I adore her, she’s lovely.’

Sarah Snook as Lorna Whyte (L) in acclaimed 2010 telemovie Sisters of War

When Covid hit in 2020, Snook moved back to Melbourne and spent lockdown at a farm on the outskirts of the city with an old friend, Australian comedian Dave Lawson. They unexpectedly fell in love.

‘We were very blindsided by it,’ she said later. ‘We’ve been friends since 2014, lived together, travelled together, always excited to see each other, but totally platonic.’

Snook proposed on Halloween that year and they married in her back garden in Brooklyn the following February, with only a handful of witnesses.

‘Both of us cringe about the ‘I’m so happy, I married my best friend,’ ‘ she said. ‘We’re like, ‘Oh God, are we one of those people?’ ‘

The couple are now expecting their first child, with costume designers keeping her burgeoning bump under wraps during filming for Succession’s final season.

Critics who have seen the first four episodes say there is a ‘bombshell’ which will stun viewers.

The new series is known to include a funeral, leading to speculation one of the main characters is killed off.

The show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, told the New Yorker: ‘There’s a promise in the title of Succession. I’ve never thought it could go on for ever.’

But while it may be the end for Shiv, it is only the beginning for Snook.

Last year she filmed Australian horror movie Run Rabbit Run, and has voiced a character in new animated TV series Koala Man, alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. For now, friends say, she is looking forward to becoming a mum in May and ‘seeing what the future brings’.

‘She’s not boastful but she’s someone who believes in her own worth, her own talent,’ one friend said.

‘In person, she is absolutely gorgeous, but she didn’t conform to the Hollywood ‘norm’. I guess she had to wait for the industry to catch up with her.’

Perhaps, then, Sarah Snook is more like Shiv than she imagined.

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